A rebel in her own right, Jessica McKay strays from the perfectly-poised design style, instead encouraging a collaboration of character pieces for a comforting aesthetic. She views each space as an opportunity to touch on the dweller, utilizing family heirlooms and modern pieces to highlight the other.
After working on her own first home, she realized a talent at interior design and founded Birdhouse Interiors. The design company has beautifully tackled many projects, including lofts, houses, and magazine layouts. In our interview, Jessica talks salon walls, Wabi-Sabi, and office culture.
1. Welcome back to House Press! Have you always been interested in interior design, or was your interest sparked by something?
Thanks so much for having me! I did grow up playing “interior design”, which was similar to “house”, as a child because my mother’s good friend was an interior designer. Her daughter was my best friend and so when I would go to their house to play, there would be all sorts of fabric and paint samples around. I would, of course, force my friend to be my assistant and I owned the fictional business. I didn’t have a clue what it really meant.
Later in life, I studied art in college and never really found the medium I was good at. Then, my husband and I bought our first house a little over five years ago. Something really did spark and I ended up renovating a historic 1910 foursquare from the ground up. I fell in love and got great feedback, so I went back and took some more design classes, started a blog, and then people wanted to hire me. It was kind of amazing.
2. What are the smallest and largest projects that Birdhouse has taken on?
We have done one room designs (though, now we tend to work on projects that need at least two rooms done at a time) up to entire houses and small commercial spaces. We are currently working on a couple of projects outside of the state which has been fun to be able to travel. The biggest project we ever took on was more of an art installation that you guys hopefully remember, called, HOME. It was so much work to fully create decorated spaces out of thin air, but it was also some of the work I’m most proud of because I had complete creative control.
3. You’re based in Omaha, a city brimming with both local and national businesses. What are your favorite local shops for home décor? Do you find more people requesting local products?
I love working with local artists, it’s totally my thing. I actually have to make a real effort not to push too hard about it because I think original art is so vital to a house. The great news is that we have several artists in Omaha that are doing great things and offer a wide range of price points. I also like working with local craftsmen for furniture design. My favorite home stores are The Humble Home for really interesting refurbished vintage finds, Allen’s for quality furniture pieces, and McMillan’s Antiques for amazing furniture that is in such good shape it’s easy to recover in cool, new fabric.
4. We see a lot of wall art collages in your portfolio. What are some tips for do-it-yourselfers?
Buy the art that you love, not the art that matches your room! Yes, I try to figure out what is pleasing to the eye with color combos and scale, but I never buy art based on matching anything to my couch. I encourage my clients to buy the art that really speaks to them too. The reason that I use a lot of salon walls is because often a really large piece of original art is much more expensive than several smaller pieces. Plus, I think those walls really tell a story of the homeowner.
When arranging your pieces either pick all the same frame and hang like a grid or find a rhythm in what you have. For example: if you have a silver frame, two black frames, a white frame and a canvas, make the canvas your focal point and hang it in the center (kind of like the game “One of these is not like the other”). Then, work the other pieces around to form a loose square or rectangle shape depending on the wall they are hung on. Space the black frames apart from one another to help balance the look. I always eyeball because I have the attention span of a goldfish and measuring really irks me, but for those people much more practical than me (which is probably a good rule of thumb!) you can lay your pieces out on the floor on top of a sheet of craft paper, trace around the individual pieces, tape the paper to the wall, then start hammering your nails where the art should be. Remove the paper and then rehang the art. It doesn’t matter what the art is because it doesn’t have to match.
5. Besides the Cheap, Fast, and Good triangle, what design theories do you follow?
I like the idea of Wabi-Sabi which is a Japanese concept of accepting that imperfection can be beautiful. Which kind of goes along with my theory that rules are often meant to be broken or wouldn’t life be really boring? I hate matchy-matchy and the design catalog aesthetic. I think, “who lives there?”. I love incorporating family heirlooms and quirky things that match a client’s character. On the other hand, there does need to be some method to your madness. Your house shouldn’t look like an episode of “Hoarders”. A little editing goes a long way.
6. What’s the culture like at Birdhouse Interiors? Describe a typical day at the office.
Well, we are in between design assistants so it seems a bit less like company culture and more like a family business. My husband works for Birdhouse (when he’s not in culinary school, which is possibly the most amazing thing in the world – good food beats everything!), managing vendors, business issues, and also manages our blog, COOP. So right now it’s just me and him. We are pretty laid-back people, but I’m also a person who really believes in creative entrepreneurship and using strengths to your advantage, hence COOP, which not only focuses on interior design and art, but entertaining, fashion, and food. So, a typical day is always different. I’m also a night owl, so the schedule is usually some daytime hours and then some night hours.
// Shop Birdhouse Interiors until January 5 //