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Designer William Cullum Delights in Details

No two Jayne Design Studio projects look alike. Each, in its own surprising way, tells a story that weaves together the house, its location, and its owners. Founded in 1990 by Thomas Jayne, the studio prides itself on understanding the history of objects, creating rich and rewarding dialogues between them. 

“Every project is very personal to the client and they don’t necessarily look like they were designed by the same person,” says Senior Designer William Cullum. “They’re rooted in where they are.”

For a Long Island guest house (recently featured in the New York Times) Cullum drew on the client’s love of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Storybook moments merge with Queen Anne style and details drawn from English Arts and Crafts designer C.F.A. Voysey. The result is a fantasy world of enchanting, tucked-away nooks and crannies.

“Narnia House” Bath Room by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

Transcending Time

William Cullum and Thomas Jayne have worked together since 2011, when renowned designer Bunny Williams introduced them. The two share a love of history, fantasy, and the eclecticism of storied houses. 

“In the 19th century, there wasn’t one style,” William explains. “You could walk into a home and have a Gothic library, a Louis XVI parlor, and an Aesthetic Movement bedroom. It’s similar to the way we live now.”

While Thomas is inspired by 18th century Georgian architecture and design, William is more focused on the 19th century Victorian era. They complement one another’s eye, creating rooms that transcend time.

Narnia House Guest Room by Jayne Design Studio

“Narnia House” Guest Room by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

For a 1st Dibs showhouse, virtually reimagined for our current moment, William and Thomas created a moodboard for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Lansdowne Dining Room. They asked themselves, “What would it look like if it were a great 18th century apartment we could live in with no budget?” Prioritizing patina, they layered the space with bamboo furniture, paisley pillows, elaborately upholstered French chairs, and gilded Chinese lanterns. Spanning cultures and time periods, the room collects and connects diverse artworks in a single space — skillfully aligning itself with the Met’s mission.

“Narnia House” Living Room by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

Another storied project from a different place and time, Balderbrae is a 1910 country house in upstate New York. The estate was once owned by legendary designer David Easton. Tasked with reviving the Easton qualities that were lost in subsequent years, William and Thomas channeled the eclecticism of the early 1900s. In a vestibule to the main bedroom, for example, they paired contemporary Jennifer Shorto wallpaper with terracotta tile floors, taffeta curtains, and dark green trim.

“Balderbrae” Main Bedroom Foyer by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

Attending to Details

William applies a creative eye to projects large and small. He works with a decorative painter to create custom lampshades and looks for just-the-right paint shade to pair with artwork. Looking to the past, salon-style galleries and rich wall colors inspire inclusive arrangements.

“It’s a common misconception that you should display art on a white wall,” he says. “That can be really distracting. A pattern or a medium-toned background allows the artwork to come forward.”

William also recommends quilts and throws as another easy way to update a space. Recently, he’s been gravitating towards hand-blocked Indian coverlets, printed in earthy natural inks. “A small-scale print can blur into a solid,” he says. “It does a lot to add whimsy to a space.”

Upper East Side Library by Jayne Design Studio. Photography courtesy of Jayne Design Studio.

Upper East Side Library by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

Nothing needs to match, but everything should have a relationship. The studio is known for its ability to bring together contrasting objects and eras while still creating spaces that feel purposeful, as if everything had been collected over time by a discerning curator.

“Thomas’ firm is in its thirtieth year,” William says. “A lot of the clients I work with now have been with Thomas for a long time, and many of them are the children of original clients. Those children grew up in beautiful, warm homes that they loved, and they want that now for themselves.”

The objective is always to choose objects and create spaces that live multiple lives, whether a family moves or an item is passed down from one generation to the next: “Our goal is to have a house that looks better with patina and age.”

“Balderbrae” Entryway by Jayne Design Studio. Photography: Don Freeman.

To learn more, visit Jayne Design Studio.


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