Interior Design Is Pure Passion

October 10, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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ADA — She may not be able to make up her mind about which pillows she wants to keep on the living room couch, but Jeanette VanDerVeen long ago made up her mind that she is passionate about interior design.

VanDerVeen, an interior designer for more than 40 years and an independent — as owner of Jan’s Interiors — for nearly 30 years, said she couldn’t have been happier when her passion became her daily work.

A native of France, VanDerVeen always had art in her blood but hadn’t always pursued it.

For nine years VanDerVeen was a French and history teacher at Aquinas College, where she also pursued a master’s degree in metal sculpture and painting.

She now does painting and sculpture as a hobby, as well as a means to decorate her home and others’ homes.

VanDerVeen’s home imparts an eclectic feel because it incorporates Native American art, French art, VanDerVeen art and design elements by her husband, Bob, an architectural designer.

Her home also features commercial furniture, silk pillows, antiques and pieces from Baker Furniture, with family photos adorning several walls.

All items, VanDerVeen says, reflect herself, her husband, their family and their life.

The home is filled with pieces that carry a strong meaning for VanDerVeen or her husband, or both, or that elicit a story.

There are stories, for instance, about a piece of art her husband loves, about a woman on a beach, about a table she received from Baker Furniture’s proprietor for translating a French-language document for him one night.

She said the whole house intentionally reflects the couple and their family, something she tries to bring out in her work for clients.

“A home should not be decorated for show,” VanDerVeen said firmly.

“It should be a reflection of its owner, and everything in it should work for the owner first and for the room second,” she said.

“I love the mix of things, just like the mix of people. I love to take a piece of furniture that has been in the family for years — or something that is dear to their hearts and has a great story — and put that together with something new from, say, Pottery Barn or a piece of high-end furniture. You would be amazed.”

VanDerVeen said her initial meeting with a client is very important. She enjoys these meetings and attributes her success to the expectation such meetings create and to the client’s satisfaction with the final product.

“Meeting the client’s expectations is what I love,” she said.

“It becomes very personal and that is why we love our homes,” VanDerVeen said.

“But when you start with something that you love, you can change the little things to keep it interesting; change the pillows or change the accessories.”

The ideal design setting, she said, would be if a client were building a new home.

The architect, builder and VanDerVeen would meet to discuss certain aspects of the home and to make accommodations to each other’s goals — something that she noted is easier to do in the early stages.

“If there is a piece the client wants to use in a room, maybe there isn’t a wall to put it on right now,” VanDerVeen said.

“So we talk, and the architect says he can do that, and the builder says it is physically possible. And we make changes.”

VanDerVeen said when she is awarded a from-scratch project, she usually starts by obtaining a set of plans of the home’s layout.

From there, she has the electrician draw in the electrical lines, so she can arrange proper lighting and request the necessary electrical outlets to go along with her plan for the interior design.

VanDerVeen said she is then free to sketch in the pieces she wants in the order she thinks they should go — meanwhile taking into account what is pleasing to the clients and what will fit their personalities.

In some cases, VanDerVeen’s husband may design built-in pieces or other pieces for the home to accompany VanDerVeen’s design.

She then begins to plan the details of each room’s interior, using both old and new items to make the room and home as warm as possible.

One of the reasons she is an independent designer is that her mind is full of design possibilities. And being independent of any retail outlet or design firm, VanDerVeen explained, frees her to choose from an unlimited number of resources.

Instead of being limited to lines of furniture, accessories or amenities that a given store carries, VanDerVeen said she is at liberty to look anywhere — from showrooms in Chicago to France, several in West Michigan and even stores in shopping malls, such as Pottery Barn.

She said doing business this way not only removes the limitations on creativity, but it also can sharply reduce the financial stress in a project.

VanDerVeen said, for example, that if she is nearing the end of a project and the money is spreading thin, she may zip over to the mall or to Crate and Barrel and, for a very reasonable price, she can pick up an item that still adds just the right touch to the design.

And while she added that interior designing isn’t always the glamorous business television shows or magazines make it out to be, it is her passion and something she absolutely adores doing.

“It is a dream come true to get paid to do what you love,” she said.

“In the beginning it is very hard, and when you are on your own, if the clients aren’t coming to you or it is slow, you aren’t making any money.”

VanDerVeen said she offers several payment options for clients.

Often, for commercial clients, she will work under contract and on an hourly wage, in addition to the cost of merchandise she acquires for the project.

For her residential clients, VanDerVeen prefers to charge an hourly fee. If she goes shopping with a client, however, she takes the pressure off by only charging a set service fee for that outing.

In that circumstance, she said clients who can’t make up their minds about fabrics or designs aren’t looking at their watch and feeling rushed to just pick something because every minute is costing them.

The comfort and security of a steady paycheck is gone, she said, from the days when she used to be an assistant showroom manager at Israel’s when it was located in the Waters Building downtown.

But since starting Jan’s Interiors in the early 1960s, she said she has enjoyed her work much more.

“I just try and put myself in the client’s place,” said VanDerVeen.

“A room should not be a showcase of items but a showcase of who lives in the home. That is what my home is and that is what I want to help people create for themselves.”

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