Jennifer Howard makes kitchen duty a beautiful experience.
A sparkling JWH kitchen
Rustic beams are a nice complement to the sophisticated feel in this JWH kitchen.
Jennifer Howard Feels Right at Home
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Celebrating 20 years this month, Rye’s JWH Design & Cabinetry has become synonymous with efficient and beautiful design, meticulous planning, thoughtful budgeting, and timely execution.
“My kitchens are more about flow and function. I take a space and breathe a whole new look into it,” said owner Jennifer Howard, who never would have dreamed that her kitchens and other renovated spaces would have a life in homes from coast to coast.
In a classic case of a career choosing the person rather than the other way around, Howard’s spot-on instincts about space planning and layout brought her here. She may have had a business degree in marketing, but she fortuitously discovered that when it came to architecture and renovation, she could see the forest through the trees, then take care of the trees, too.
“I found this tiny Cape on Forest Avenue that belonged to my best friend’s grandparents. I walked in and I knew where to move the walls and raise the roof. When I explained it to my parents, they thought I was nuts,” she said.
She and her husband Rob grew up in Rye, but it wasn’t until they were in college (she at Boston College and he heading to Cornell) that they met outside of Jerry’s Post Road Market.
“I was running to Jerry’s in my cut-off sweats and T-shirt to buy a gallon of milk and a carton of cigarettes for my mother. Rob was standing on the opposite corner dressed in shirt and tie, ready to start his shift as a waiter at Tripp’s,” she recalled. “I was mortified, but it didn’t dissuade him from asking me out.”
Thirty-six years later, the Howards work together only a few blocks away. Married for 31 years, they lived in Pittsburgh for a bit before returning to Rye when Rob’s business as a general contractor brought them back to that “tiny Cape.” (Rob is a trained chef, but that’s another story in the life and times of the Howards.)
Within five months, Jennifer had renovated the house from top to bottom, earning the nickname “the general” from her family. Soon after, people began trying to buy it. When the offers became too good to refuse, Rob assured her that they could do this again.
Indeed, they found another house in a cul-de-sac on Gramercy Avenue and remodeled that one within six months. Again the offers came, and the rest is history.
The Howards have moved into, renovated, and sold 21 homes in Rye. Initially, they always remained in the Midland School District for their two older boys, then they jumped over to Osborn where the younger three attended elementary school.
Moving was such an integral part of the Howard kids’ childhoods that one daughter’s “fast fact” for Georgetown University was that by the age of 18 she had moved 18 times.
In the meantime, Jennifer had begun working for Rob and before she knew it, she was his project manager. “I understood all the structural stuff. It’s like a puzzle to me.”
In 2000, raising a family of five and renovating her own homes, she founded JWH Design & Cabinetry. About the juggling act that she managed to pull off, she said, “I do best when I’m busy. Back then I’d only have three clients. I started small and conservatively.”
Today, the JWH team can run 45 jobs at a time, albeit in different stages. The focus is on kitchens and cabinetry, but they also do family rooms, bathrooms, home offices, laundry and mudrooms, as well as total homes. Through referrals, she has managed to acquire jobs throughout Westchester, New York City, the Hamptons, Greenwich, Fairfield County, South Carolina, Florida, and San Francisco. Jennifer also has her own state-of-the-art mill shop in central Pennsylvania, where all the cabinetry is custom-built by seasoned craftsmen.
The design process begins with a complimentary consultation in the showroom at 1111 Boston Post Road, a building which the Howards bought and renovated. Potential clients are encouraged to bring in photos, dimensions, a wish list, and a budget. They are shown examples of comparable projects and once JWH is retained, they’re given an exclusive online tool that streamlines the design process and gives them one-click access from the start.
“Although I can see transformation options when I enter an existing home, the real aha moment comes when I am working with the exact dimensions on my computer,” explained the Westchester Home and Houzz award winner. “I start with the overall flow and function of the space and then I can make small changes, like moving a doorway, or bigger changes, like rearranging walls, doors, and windows, and sometimes even flipping rooms.”
Once Jennifer determines exact dimensions and every obstacle, like what’s hiding behind the walls, she said, “I eat, sleep, and breathe it until I come up with two to three options that I can show the client.” She believes presenting clients with cabinetry details, appliance sizes and locations, and overall style in 3-D views is critical.
The JWH team includes Carol Love, who Jennifer calls the “first face and voice at JWH.” An interior designer, Love lends her creative eye and technical expertise to pull together all the details, from the countertops and lighting to the hardware and fixtures. She makes sure everything works together visually, functionally, and within budget.
As a licensed general contractor in New York and Connecticut, husband Rob handles the Construction Management services and coordinates all the moving parts, from permits to project completion.
“He got me started, but now he works for me” she quipped.
Angelo Ocampo is the “super detail-oriented” technical draftsman, responsible for ensuring the cabinetry is built and installed to JWH’s exact specifications. Rich Malisse, also a Rye resident, is JWH’s Project Manager supervising the job and updating clients. New to the firm is design assistant Colleen DeBellis, whose focus is the Connecticut clients and builders.
As far as trends, Jennifer had a hunch that popular white and gray hues “were too cool a look for most people’s innate palate.” She’s glad color and wood tones are coming back. “I always like to shake things up with varying textures, more personality,” she noted.
Is there another move in the Howards’ future? “We have at least one more,” she admitted. “We are ready to down-size, so I’d like to design the model for the perfect empty-nest home.” Of course, the Howards are staying in Rye.
<For more information, visit jwhdesigns.com or call 967-6020.>