Janie Molster’s work has splashed the pages of design hubs like Traditional Home, House Beautiful and Southern Living—and it’s easy to see why. The Richmond-based designer, who got her start helping friends choose paint colors, has a dazzling portfolio of residential projects that spans a career of over 25 years. Her captivating style blends southern charm with vibrant colors, surprising textures and contemporary and vintage pieces for a look that’s truly delightful.
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How did you discover your passion for design?
It discovered me. I was bumbling about as a young mother, delving into my passion for food and cooking, pondering what I might do one day with my English degree, and mostly nesting. With a modest budget and big ideas, I tinkered around with our first home — an early 1900s, three-story townhome in Richmond’s historic Fan District. I was soon selecting paint colors for neighbors and then rearranging things in my friends’ homes. A friend gave me business cards as a birthday present and I was off.
What is your favorite decorative object at home?
Portraits of my five children are a favorite. I have made an effort to capture them at different ages. I’ve also selected different portrait artists whose style and medium best reflected each child’s temperament. For example, one son was painted at age four in loose Conté crayon strokes and stands shirtless and bold at one and a half times his size. Now an adult, this one can still be larger than life. Another son was painted at age 18 casually leaning against a table in my foyer wearing jeans and T-shirt. He looks at the artist but also appears deep in thought. True to form, he is always one worth further study, as he never lacks for an original and interesting perspective.
Is design an art or a science?
To be successful, it must be both. Today, it’s art. I am working on pulling together more schematics for incredibly game clients who love the mix of genres and want to be pushed toward edgy combinations. We just wrapped room number one and it’s a salon-style receiving room adjacent to their foyer. We are combining a 17th-century Flemish tapestry wall hanging with a pale pink velvet sofa (mod and low slung) and an antique Spanish-carved coffee table. Yesterday, however, it was all the science of design as we dissected an architectural lighting plan and laid out a beam pattern for a ceiling treatment.
Do you have any go-to color or pattern combinations?
I think I am regularly associated with the color pink. It’s true, I do love pink; and unlike some, I find it unintimidating. It’s a color that I find easy to mix with most any palette and any interior. Besides, who doesn’t look good against rosy pink everything? But the combo that makes me catch my breath is black and white — patterns, in particular. In our studio’s library, we have loose bins of wallpaper samples, and when I begin rummaging through the black and white samples, my mind races with ideas for applications and combinations. And I agree that it’s weird that someone who is associated with bold use of color gets inspired by the absence of it.
When do you consider a completed project a success?
So many times, successful projects are the gift that keeps on giving. If we have done our job right, it’s a success at the end of installation, but we do love those clients that remind us of the successes. It can be as simple as a referral of a houseguest who slept in a comfy bed and wants to purchase the entire bedding package (mattress included), or clients that send us pictures of pets and children napping on comfy sectionals. A very dear client regularly sends pictures of tablescapes of large dinner parties and quotes from happy houseguests.
Share your biggest design secret.
I am imminently practical and a constant recycler of design elements in my own home. My clients are going to call me when reading this because one of my mantras is “If you don’t love it, then leave it — all of it — and start again.” Friends and visitors to my home assume it is in a constant state of redesign. In actuality, it’s in a state of rearranging. I will not only rearrange but also recover, rehang, repaint, redo and renew just about everything. Moving things around makes them seem fresh and new to me.
What is the most common design mistake you see?
Cookie-cutter clutter. We are constantly looking at design images everywhere. Open your phone or computer and you can get lured into the pages of Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram, big-box store websites, etc. Those images stay with us in the recesses of our brains, and we often find clients gravitating to styles simply because they have seen them in such great repetition. It’s the same old, same old again and again, and it clutters our creativity and the appreciation of the new and different. We strive not to fall prey to predictability. When surveying trends at trade shows or interiors markets, I coach my team to note repetition and avoid those product styles.
How do you balance style, comfort and functionality?
With the right client and on the right project, form will trump function and we can focus on the visual beauty of every object. But designing a functional project that can stand up to the daily wear and tear of life while still looking fabulous is one of my biggest and most rewarding challenges. To begin, our team does a deep dive into our client’s lifestyle, with questions about the frequency of entertaining, meal rituals — i.e., eating in laps or at tables and/or snacking about the house rules, habits of four-legged friends, etc. Keeping a good high/low ratio in design elements keeps the project refined. For example, luxe wall finishes and elegant lighting are appropriate for all, but durability is most telltale in fabrics and carpets. We have tricks in our toolbox on these items for clients who need tough. Comfort is everything for the long-term happiness factor of a client, so we only propose items that we have touched, sat in, reclined in, bounced on, etc. It’s a real circus when we attack a new showroom and their product lines.
Is there a specific item you typically use as a starting point? (ex: rug, art work, statement piece, furniture)
Not necessarily, but it is so much easier to begin with an inspiration. I will take anything as a launch pad, including crumpled-up pieces of magazine pages (often the case). If the client is struggling with a vision as well, we work a little psychological discovery on them and begin to channel a fictional person who will be living there that reflects who they want to be or rather, how they want to live. When they step outside of themselves, they can begin to more easily discern preferences. So the starting point is rarely a thing — but more of vibe.
What do you think about Sotheby’s Home?
When I direct clients to the site, they feel an immediate confidence with the Sotheby’s brand. It can also be a one-stop shop. There is a remarkable variety of products; the range is deep in every genre, and multiple price points are represented. The website function is intuitive and fast — no slow load issues here. And the people on the other end of the phone really exist. There’s no black internet hole to fall into here — there are real people representing vetted dealers and selling fabulous products. It’s an amazing tool for the professional designer, antique dealer or homeowner.