Heroines for the Planet: Jill Danyelle, Eco Interior Designer

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Jill Danyelle is, quite simply, too talented to fail.  Her artistic prowess, indomitable desire to evolve, and adoration of nature led her to recently launch the interior design business she was always meant to create.

She has triumphed as a therapist, eco-fashion designer and green fashion writer, and with hobbies that include art, photography and travel, it seems apropos that interior design would transform into her next business venture.

Jill recently found some time in her busy schedule to share with us how she incorporates sustainability into her projects, the challenges she’s faced as an entrepreneur, where she turns to for design inspiration, and how her travels have shaped her.

Lindsay: You started your career as an occupational therapist, then studied fashion design with a focus on ecology. What drew you to interior design?

Jill:  Before I went to graduate school to become a therapist, I studied fine art in high school and college, so I’ve always had the desire to be creative.  After graduate school I worked as a therapist and kept artistic hobbies, but at a certain point I felt that my creativity became too marginalized.  I wasn’t happy and knew I needed to make a change.  I experimented with some other careers, such as fashion design and writing/editing, but ended up crossing them off of the list for a variety of reasons.

I have always been drawn to design and style.  I love to  hunt things down and mix them together, but I like the problem solving and functional aspects of designing a space, too.  I was thinking more and more about how design impacts our lives as I began to edit the contents of my own life and change the space I live in.  One day it just hit me.  I thought, “I like to work with people and I like to design spaces, maybe I should try this.”  I felt I had something to offer, so I started doing interior design for free with friends and friends of friends and it took off from there.

jill apartment 1

Lindsay: Can you tell me about your new interior design business? Why did you decide to start your own firm?

Jill: Wow, firm sounds so… big.  It is just me and some contractors I have on speed dial.  I hope I never lose the intimacy of that as I really enjoy getting to know my clients.  I have been an independent contractor for most of my professional life, even as a therapist.  It just suits me, as I really value my independence.

Additionally, without an interior design degree and work history it is difficult to get a firm to hire you as an employee.  I also know what I value in my work, so if you narrow things down to the firms that I would want to work for, the opportunities become even fewer, so the choice was kind of made for me.  I decided to work for free on my own in order to gain experience and it ended up paying off.  Working independently with paying clients was the logical next step.

LB: I pulled this quote from one of your blog posts. You said, “I always say that it is easy to be a critic, but to put energy into a creation and launch it into the world takes courage.”

How did you become so courageous? What challenges have you faced along the way?

JD: I don’t really feel that I have been courageous.  I believe that we all have the ability to create the life we want to live.  Yes, I faced some challenges, but our growth often lies in life’s challenges.  I did a lot of work for free or for very little money and knocked on many doors that never opened, but I don’t look at anything as a failure.  It is all just experience.  I definitely had some low moments where I was not sure what direction I should go in next, but that led me on a journey to really understand myself better and understand what I want from life.  It was then that the path opened up before me.  I think that is the gift I have received from any challenges I have faced, a better understanding of myself and the life I want to live.

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LB: How important is sustainability to each of your projects?

JD: To me, surrounding yourself with things that you love, that you want to keep and use, that is the basis of sustainability. The effort to re-think our belongings or space, can begin a thoughtful process which leads to more purposeful living.

I will admit that people don’t always have those feng shui moments or find their inner zen, but I bring ideas in through the course of conversation when I feel people are open to them.  On a more tangible level, I recommend low VOC paints, try to source vintage/antique items and have recommended recycled and reclaimed materials.  These days there are also mainstream stores with sustainable options, so it doesn’t have to be a big conversation that a client’s sofa is made from soy based foam and FSC wood – it just is.

LB: How have you been able to weave aspects of therapy into your interior designing? Do you have a favorite success story of a client you were able to help?

JD: Getting to know the clients, assessing what their needs are and creating a plan to meet those needs can be similar to creating a treatment plan in occupational therapy.  I have had clients describe how the energy shifted in their space after they arranged the furniture as I suggested.  Aside from themselves, these clients quite literally saw that guests were more comfortable and relaxed in their home.

Another client told me that he now stops in the hallway just to look at the living room because it makes him happy.  I don’t want to overestimate the importance of creating a home that you love – I know interior design is not saving the world.  Yet, there is no doubt that it can have an effect on our lives – positive or negative.  If it is something you can control, why not make it positive.

jill danyelle living room

LB: Describe your design aesthetic in three words.
JD: Relaxed, neutral and natural.  I tend to gravitate toward a relaxed vibe, neutral color palette and natural materials as a base.  Clients don’t necessarily need to have my style, though; I love to mix it up.
LB: Do you have a favorite space that holds a special place in your heart?
JD: I don’t really have a favorite man-made space, but the Catskills hold a special place in my heart.  I grew up in Woodstock and that area is just in my bones.  I am in the process of buying a house up there and definitely want to expand the business to work both in the city and Upstate.
jill danyelle home and garden ART

Jill's Artwork from her VOGUE + GARDEN series. I love this one.

LB: Where do you turn to for inspiration?
JD: Everywhere. When I am doing interior design I also need to know what inspires my clients. I have them tell me about their space, what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I also have them look through or bring me images to see what they identify with.  Pieces play off of each other, so if I fall in love with one piece, it can definitely dictate and inspire the direction of a room.In my artwork I am also inspired by a variety of sources.  Although it has been a challenge to find the time to explore themes, to create a series of work.  I liked the VOGUE + GARDEN seriesI made last year, which was quite literally inspired by sitting in a garden in my neighborhood, having a coffee and reading VOGUE.  The next thing I knew I had spent the entire day there, collecting bits from the garden and setting up a mini photo shoot.  I like how it turned out, but somehow never found the time to do more of them.  This is definitely a big goal and challenge, carving out and committing to time for more personal creative projects like these.  Although, perhaps I should just embrace the happy accidents too.
LB: I understand you have a penchant for traveling. What places in the world have influenced your work the most?
JD: No one place has influenced me aesthetically as much as those experiences have just helped shape who I am I would guess. That said, I lived in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona in a great flat that I shared with an Italian architect.  I loved the juxtaposition of modern life being layered on top of a Medieval back drop there – and who doesn’t love the Mediterranean lifestyle. I spent six wonderful, unforgettable and humbling weeks in Oaxaca. Mexico is just amazing – the artisans, the food, the native cultures – it seemed almost mystical at times. I have also spent time on sailboats on the coast of New England and in the Med. I think if you can live on a sailboat, it is very good training for living in a typical Manhattan apartment.
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Jill's Manhattan Apartment

LB: Since many of us are urban dwellers, can you offer up any tips to make a small space seem bigger?
JD: Hah, led myself right into that question. Living in a small space requires mastery over one’s possessions. Believe me, this is still a work in progress over here.  I recommend decluttering and editing on occasion. Focus on keeping the things that you use and love.  Storage is key too. Simplifying and storing things out of sight helps create a sense of calm.  Mirrors can visually expand a space and maximize light. Furniture that does double duty is helpful too. For example, I store off season clothes and infrequently used items in a trunk that I also use as a coffee table.
LB: What’s one eco design piece that you’re loving right now?
JD: A fiddle fig tree. They make any space look better.  I always add plants in my design plans. I think I need two fiddle figs, actually. They are slated for the 3.0 version of my apartment.
jill apartment 3

Jill's Kitchen

About Lindsay E. Brown
Lindsay is the Director of Communications at CBS EcoMedia and is a co-owner of Eco-Chick along with Starre Vartan. Previously, she was the managing editor at Eco-Chick, and created the acclaimed interview series “Heroines for the Planet." She has written for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, Huffington Post, EarthHour.org, Livia Firth's Eco-Age.com, Ecover US, Laura Turner Seydel's blog, and Gather Green. Lindsay was featured on the Veria Living Network as a “voice for the planet’s health” and was named in Ecover’s “30 Under 30″ contest which recognized those who are making a sustainable difference in their local or global communities. Lindsay holds a B.S. in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award for Top Student in RW1 at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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