‘HGTV Design Star’ Jen Bertrand Talks ‘Doctor Who’ and Country Club Punk

Daughter's Room with center divider Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Daughter’s room with center divider. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

Several years ago, my husband and I lost our collective minds. We decided to remodel—and not just a bathroom or six-month kitchen overhaul. No, we decided to go for broke, move out, and take our stately 1920s-era Grande Dame all the way down to the studs.

After about a year of fighting with contractors and praying for fire, we could finally see the beginnings of what could someday be a livable home. And it was about this time that I realized how little I actually knew about interior decorating. What I really wanted was more than just help with cushions and colors; I wanted a guide to help me encapsulate my family’s personalities and tastes within our surroundings.

While our architect, Chris Fein of Forward Design, was doing an award-winning job of modernizing our space while staying true to the original deco feel, neither of us was well-versed in the subtle nuances of embedding personality that would take our project from a house, albeit a remarkably well-designed one, to a home.

Daughter's Room with center divider Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Daughter’s room with center divider. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

Enter HGTV Design Star winner Jen Bertrand. I didn’t choose Jen because of her award-winning status, however cool it may be. Instead, I knew her through our mutual involvement in a community charity, and figured if anyone could “get” me, it would be her.

Some time ago, when asked to describe my personal style, I coined the phrase “country club punk.” It stuck, and if I may be so bold, pretty much works. I’m way too tame for the actual counter-culture, but odd enough to require a two-chair buffer zone at PTA meetings.

Recently, Jen and I sat down to debrief and discuss the project, life, and Doctor Who.

E. Lillith McDermott: Why don’t you tell me a little about your background and why you went into design?

Jen Bertrand: Actually, I am a non-traditional designer, self-taught due to my love (AKA obsession with) interior design. My father was a colonel in the Air Force and we moved every 2-4 years. My mother would choose the most hideous of houses and then magically transform it into a home through creativity and style. It doesn’t hurt that I lived in Germany, Holland, and Italy and got to see great design that stands up to time and looks beautiful 500 years later!

As for my education, I have a B.A. in Art Education with an emphasis in ceramics and a masters in Teaching & Leadership. I learned to apply the principles of design from my art life into my designs. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that I won the show Design Star Season 3 on HGTV. It is lovely, and a little self-assuring, when 5 million people are cheering you on and you pull it off!

ELM: Okay, so I’ve described my personal style as “country club punk.” In five words or less, what’s yours?

JB: Risk-taking comfortable contemporary is my personal style, but my professional style is whatever makes my client’s soul happy! I try to get into their hearts and heads and help them pull off whatever is their dream space.

Son's Room Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: That’s a perfect segue into one of my favorite aspects of our project—how you worked with my kids. It was very important for me that they felt their rooms were really theirs; that they could see themselves in the design. I also wanted them to begin to understand the importance of art and design for making daily life richer.

JB: Yes! To all you parents out there, it really is fun to get your children involved in your home design. Not once has a child ever grown up and said, “My home had the perfect shade of beige!” Having the children be a part of the process really made it easy, because I knew what everyone wanted.

The daughter’s room was fun because I started with the idea of toile wallpaper of a London scene, which you took and ran with!

ELM: We love the wallpaper! The toile idea sparked a memory of an amazing piece of toile artwork I’d seen on Spoonflower.com—which everyone needs to bookmark immediately! We were able to get a toile wallpaper with Doctor Who characters embedded in it, in a deep purple!

JB: It was a great push and pull of ideas. I, of course, love the room divider that we found online and created our own version of with an upholstered aspect. The thought behind it was really to create two “zones,” due to the size and shape of the room. And of course, I love that we used red Mongolian lamb on her tulip chair—which, I have to say, we did long before PB Teen had all their furry chairs! The other aspect of that room was keeping already owned elements and giving them a fresh feel. So often we are quick to throw away and start new, and what is that teaching our children? Instead, look at your items with fresh eyes. Or, I say invite friends over, pop open some wine, and dream up all the ways you can change something and still keep it!

Son's Room Photo with Grey Muppet Chair Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room with grey Muppet chair. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: My son’s room was a bit more open, design-wise, as it was a completely blank palette. Since our daughter’s room was one of the least changed areas of the house, but the boy’s area moved sides of the house and had completely new walls, ceiling, everything—I’d say we went even crazier in there!

JB: It was also really fun because I have a son the same age, so I was pretty sure I knew what would make him happy! There are lots of parts of the room that I adore, but I think the most fun was buying super textured bath mats at every Home Goods in the city and then taking them to our upholsterer and asking her to cover a massive chair in them. And the best part was that she was excited to do it!

ELM: We love that chair! We call it the “Muppet chair.”

JB: Ha! And of course, I love that we put steel on the ceiling in his play room. It added the perfect amount of industrial, but in the most unexpected, not in your face, way that really finished off the space. And I would be absurd if I didn’t mention the Doctor Who curtains…

ELM: Once again courtesy of Spoonflower.com!

JB: Which go perfectly with the TARDIS desk and window shade.

Son's room with metal ceiling Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Son’s room with metal ceiling. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: We had a lot of fun combing through Doctor Who quotes to have printed on the shade. My daughter got a book of sayings as a gift and we all went through it as a family. Obviously, the boy got the final say, but we all had fun going through the process. Okay, I’m sure we could talk for hours about the kid rooms, but I wanted to touch on the basement. As we’ve had people over, that is probably the area most commented on. Is there anything you’d like to add?

JB: I have to say, even though I had no part in it and only got to design around it, I am obsessed with the Star Wars diorama. It is amazing and it is probably (besides the piano) my favorite part of the house. To me, it honors the client’s past of owning a comic book shop, their childhood because we all grew up with Star Wars, and their future of bringing in the unexpected into their home design. To me, how a family styles their home says a lot about them and for you all, it was just that… all about family. Which is why the wall map was perfect! We created a custom map to apply to steel panels to create a huge magnetic map for all the magnets collected on family trips—one more family tradition represented in the home design. Also, as you know, you all love to throw a party! I’ll never forget our first meeting where the basement was still showing signs of a massive Halloween party. It’s not often you hear a client say “excuse the fake blood.” I knew I was going to have fun at that point! That being said, the basement bathroom needed to be interactive and the wallpaper was a fun way to create a moment that could house memories and silliness over the years to come!

Basement with Star Wars display Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Basement with Star Wars display. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: And it has! Every sleepover takes place in the basement and all the kids love coloring on the wall! So, you mentioned the piano. Next to the basement, that is second most discussed item.

JB: The piano, I adore! I befriended a graffiti artist and have used him in various capacities over the years. But when I saw the piano and asked if we could paint it and you said “yes,” my light bulb went off! What is unexpected… who doesn’t love a good graffiti tag? Okay, maybe not everyone, but I do! The crazy part is all we did was tell him to stick to a grey tonal palette and have fun. I find that when you work with creative people and you don’t give them too many parameters, you get the best end result. And the great part is that it is subtle and yet a great conversation piece!

Smiley faces made to be colored with markers. Photo Credit: Bob Greenspan
Smiley faces made to be colored with markers. Photo credit: Bob Greenspan.

ELM: It is absolutely a great conversation starter. I get asked so many questions about it every time we have company. Which, as you’ve pointed out our love of parties, happens often! Well, I really loved working with you. I hope you enjoyed it as well!

JB: You had me at “country club punk!” Really? Who wouldn’t love that aesthetic? Plus, it was a job all about collaboration. We had an uber-cool architect, homeowners with unique personalities, and my Willy Wonka brain—how could we lose! Also, I married a Brit, so meeting someone and the first question is “So, who is your favorite Doctor?”—how could we not have fun?

Jen Bertrand and her Willy Wonka brain can be found at www.jenniferbertrand.com. You can also find her on instagram at @hgtvdesignstarjenniferbertrand

E. Lillith McDermott writes dark fiction for young adults and adults who still believe they are young. She collects apothecary bottles, spellbooks and the tears of her enemies.