Sophisticated Casual: Interior designer Marilyn Jensen brings her work home

Your career dictates your living space. Builders have massive homes constructed with high quality materials, electricians have convenient outlets everywhere in the house, and plumbers have large bathrooms with luxurious whirlpools. But, when you’re an interior designer, your entire home is an empty canvas waiting to be painted.

Welcome to the home of Marilyn and John Jensen. Their home is camera-ready for House Beautiful. Marilyn’s fifteen years of experience in interior design and John’s skills as a builder and craftsman combine to create a home best described as sophisticated casual. The three-bedroom home is tucked away in a grove of pine trees east of Sister Bay.

Experts in interior design agree that accessories can make or break a home. When you see the fresh flowers hanging to greet you as you enter the Jensen’s driveway, you realize you’ve come across a home where attention to detail is important. As owners of Sister Bay Trading Company, a furniture, accessories, and interior design business, their home is a masterpiece created by color, texture and talent.

“It started one day when we were sitting in our store’s showroom and I said to John ‘I would love a house with the same feel, the same vaulted ceiling’,” says Marilyn. “I loved the double-sided fireplace in the store. Now, the same fireplace in our home is used as a divider between the living room and dining room.”

Every person that longs for their home to resemble the warmth displayed in magazine photos can follow Marilyn’s formula. It’s simple when she explains it: each room flows off of one another with fabrics. It’s finding the right coordinating fabric that takes an expert’s touch.

“I found a fabric I fell in love with and everything just took off from there. It’s a tapestry fabric with sunflowers in reds and greens and shades of mustard yellow. I took different shades of that yellow – almost to the golds – and two or three shades of the family of red. It ties into the golden wall color, the carpet, the brownish red leather sofa, the plaid in the chairs and the 11 pillows on the sectional.” There’s a combination of seven different fabrics combined in the pillows. The plaid and gold leaf is picked up in the ottoman, which ties everything together.

Marilyn’s personality reflects the sunflowers throughout the home. There are sunflowers painted between the backsplash and bottom of the cherry cabinets. Sunflower pottery is displayed above the cabinetry’s black crown molding. And, there are large sunflower prints hanging in the living room tying the rooms together. All decorated so tastefully that nothing stands out.

Except the canoe. For Christmas, Marilyn gave John a canoe made out of cherry and walnut that hangs from the center beam, above the fireplace. It’s an actual full-size working canoe but it’s used as artwork. Artist prints hanging on the walls are by Bridget Kozma, a Door County artist, and exhibit each of the seasons of Door County. And again, the colors in the Kozma prints are in the sofa, which tie into the sunflower fabric chairs, which tie into the cherry cabinets. The flow continues.

The master bedroom has a corner, gas fireplace accented by a cherry bed and dresser. The custom bedspread and seven pillows boast golds and reds in three different patterns – floral, plaid and botanical – in five different fabrics. The pillows on the bed are in all shapes and sizes, including a pouf pillow resembling an onion. A chair-and-a-half and ottoman create a cozy reading space next to the fireplace.

The true test of Marilyn’s design savvy came when John found a bargain and purchased it without consulting her – a teal whirlpool tub, toilet, and sink with brass fixtures.

“It went against an important design rule: keep the fixtures neutral so you don’t date your house. John’s comment was: ‘You’re a designer. Make it work.’ I did. I had one of our contractors, Cheryl Frank, paint a leather faux finish on the wall and add a touch of teal in the painting. I had to try to tone the tub down so I used an old leather hide as a valance and some great artwork. I pretty much neutralized it by focusing on brown tones with red. Surprisingly, it does flow and it works.”

The home is a comfortable size – 2,400 square feet – with two theme guest bedrooms. The rooms are nautical, one with maps plastered into the walls and the other with a Frank painting of a Door County beach, both with a comforting finish made to look like sand. The finishing touches are so complete – from the old suitcases partially displayed under the bed in the map room to the RD Bentley prints of sailboats in the beach room – that upon stepping into them you feel you are a part of the scenery.

Marilyn was born with a genetic marker for good taste as evidenced by her story of needing new summer tennis shoes as a little girl. “I was going on vacation with family friends and my mother gave her friend money to buy me a new pair of gym shoes for playtime. I walked out of the store with black patent leather shoes. I’ve always had an eye for not settling for the ordinary. My mother was furious.” Today Marilyn gardens, cooks and cares for her two labs and cats in style.

Will the painting ever be complete? “I’d love to start all over again. It was my dream project. It was a blank canvas. Because I’m a designer, I don’t know if it will ever be finished. I’ll see another idea and want to change it, like the new tiles out now that I didn’t have access to then.” Fortunately for her, John is building another house.

Secrets of an interior designer

Start with something you love. It can be a pattern in a vase, a fabric, or a painting. Work with those colors to get everything to flow from room to room. Mix and match patterns.

Purposely use odd numbers when accessorizing. Five pillows are better than four. Everything looks better in threes.

Don’t be afraid to step out of the box – try to add a touch of whimsy to each room and remember to have fun with it!

When in doubt, hire an experienced interior designer.

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