Designing Man

Jay Jenkins takes the helm at one of Baltimore's busiest and most esteemed design firms

November 19, 2006|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,[Sun Reporter]

The evening, unlike the two men it celebrated, was a glitzy affair. Interior designers Jay Jenkins and Alexander Baer -- known for the understated elegance of their designs -- threw what may well be the Party of the Year to commemorate Jenkins' taking over the design firm Alexander Baer Associates from his old friend and mentor.

The event was held last month at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where Baer is a trustee. There were almost 500 guests: past and present clients of the two designers, tradespeople they work with, friends and staff. Every detail was meticulously planned, down to the custom-made ties for the servers.

"From the decorations to the food, it was incredible," raves Baltimore society doyenne Carole Sibel. "Everyone was gorgeous. It was one of the prettiest, loveliest parties I've ever been to!"

Jenkins decked out areas of the museum to look like rooms in a large, elegant home. He brought in all-white furniture and shag rugs. Massive black-and-white photographs of the firm's 27 staff members were hung from the ceiling.

"The whole concept was playing with scale," explains Jenkins. "The space was so enormous I had to respect it or fight it."

To balance the grand statement furniture, Linwood's, which catered the event, provided endless edible delights in miniature: tiny lobster rolls, beef carpaccio, duck, crab, mini Caesar salads and much, much more. The food, everyone agreed, was fabulous. Guests sipped on litchi martinis and, of course, there was dancing.

At the end of the evening, those waiting outside for their cars could get something from the water bar, the coffee bar or the doughnut bar set up near the valet station.

The two designers had decided five years ago that Jenkins would take over the business this year, one of the reasons the transition, not to mention the party, went so smoothly.

"Jay had five years to plan not only taking over, but also the commemoration," says Baer. "It was completely Jay's vision to create an evening of design elegance."

"Alex has been a fixture in the design community for 25 or 30 years," says Baltimore designer Stiles Colwill, who is chair of the museum's board of trustees. "It was wonderful to see him with his protege. Jay brings in a younger clientele. He's the future of that company, and it's a big company."

If nothing else, the party demonstrated Jenkins' ability to transform difficult spaces into something wonderful, an ability that's served the designer well ever since Baer called him 14 years ago to ask him if he'd like to be an associate at Alexander Baer. At the time Jenkins had decided to dissolve his own small firm of two for what he will only say were "very ugly reasons. He took an enormous leap of faith allowing me to come here."

"Here" is now Jenkins Baer Associates, as of Oct. 1. Baer, 58, hasn't left the firm. He plans to remain as an associate. He's not ready, he says, "to wake up and have nothing to do."

"It's more of a change of name than anything else," Jenkins insists. "Alexander and I have similar tastes and design philosophy. We believe in creating beautiful rooms you can live in as well as admire." About the only sort of design he doesn't do, he says, is "the carefree, mix-it-up look. Not the funky coffee table, purple walls and what have you."

'Be flexible'

Jenkins is lounging back in a chair in the firm's conference room as he says this. Looking at him, you'd never guess he now owns one of the most prestigious interior design businesses in Baltimore. At 46, Jenkins is boyish and trim, casually dressed in a lavender and white checked shirt, khaki pants and loafers with no socks. His only jewelry is a wide silver ring and silver ball cuff links.

Jenkins Baer Associates designs homes, second homes and apartments all over the country, and even some in Europe. About half their work, Jenkins says, is out of town. Baer tells of the time the two of them were being wined and dined in a client's Gulfstream jet one day and the very next -- working on a different job -- they found themselves "waiting on the dirty floor of an airport for a Southwest flight that was three hours delayed. Jay turned to me and said, 'The most important thing in this business is you have to be flexible.'"

Jenkins, who was brought up in Rockville, knew early on what he wanted to do.

"I did sit around a lot drawing houses," he says. "I wanted to figure out the puzzle that I saw. The different rooms and how they went together was sort of fascinating to me. I really did want to be an architect, but as everyone knows, I thought math was the issue. Looking back, I think I just wanted to have more fun and enjoyment than architecture offered."

He's The Man

After he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a degree in interior design, Jenkins worked for an architectural firm in Washington before moving to Baltimore. "It was a great education in learning how to manage a project from the ground up," he says.

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