Jill Tran is a design chameleon. She appreciates all styles and carries them out with ease, but it’s her deeper understanding of her clients that allows her to completely transform rooms.
Her happiest clients are the ones who let her interpret their project, leading to squeals of delight at the outcome.
Tran honed her creativity through a “lifelong apprenticeship” — first, learning how to use a band saw at age 5, then helping out at her mom’s business, Jean Bailey Interiors, since she was 8. She bought that company in 2001 and took on partner Carmen Thomas four years ago to create Tran + Thomas Design Studio.
After years of working at home in Shawnee, with paperwork and samples clogging every hallway and surface, it’s Jill’s turn to alter her surroundings. She’s opening up shop in Lenexa and reclaiming her house, which is currently undergoing renovations. There’s no doubt this is where her true colors will shine.
Q: What are some interesting things you’re incorporating in your house remodel?
A: A brass backsplash for the kitchen; gold-backed grass cloth; awesome, unusual artwork; a custom chandelier, and I’m going to build a chandelier for my dining table. In my office, I’m going to draw all over the walls with a Sharpie — or lots of Sharpies. That sounds maybe kooky, but I’ve got a pattern in my head.
It’s back in full force, but it’s not grandma’s brass. It’s got slick design, almost more like gold leaf.
What is your favorite space?
It will be the kitchen. We’re moving walls and creating smarter storage. There will be no upper cabinets, just shelves for accessories to treat it more like a room in the house, and a Chinese console for an island.
I’m getting an induction cooktop and I will have foot pedals for my faucet because I’m obsessed with keeping clean when I cook meat.
How about color?
There will be black and white, gold, orange, turquoise, navy — not all in one space, though!
How would you describe your personal style?
Transitional, contemporary and ethnic. I love unusual things. I’m drawn to ethnic objects — I have a ton of Asian pieces — and funky, crazy things like a faux alligator with gold teeth. One of my favorite pieces of art is an octopus in a dress. It’s so off-the-wall. I love watching people’s reactions to it, especially kids.
I’ve also noticed your work for clients often has some kind of whimsical or novel element. Is that intentional?
You have to have some focal point or conversation starter. I designed a chandelier for a client that’s been pinned (on Pinterest) a gazillion times. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but the scale of the piece or the quantity of objects used is important. Sometimes you might have something that doesn’t make sense, but if you do it right, it can be special.
Do you like to change your design regularly or seasonally?
For my own home, I design to be done. For my clients, I never get tired of watching tear-downs, gut jobs or new builds. I save all of my whims for them.
What is your design philosophy?
Do what you like.
How do you find out what that is with your clients?
I’m good at interpreting what people like before they know it. The more I dig by asking questions, the more I find out what they think they should have and then push the envelope. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but I want them to think differently. Otherwise, they get the same thing they’ve always gotten and why bother?
Do you search for inspiration online?
I try not to get online to design first. I like to do that in my head first. I go online to find how to explain an idea to a contractor. People will say, “I’ve never seen it done before.” And I answer, “I know.” I put myself in a position to solve problems, so I already understand what will or won’t work and come up with Plan B.
If you had a few hours at home alone to do what you wished, what would you do?
Something with my love of building or making things: sewing, painting, working with wood. But I’m not crafty; I don’t like crafts. I build lighting and I’m working on a mirror right now. Even in my free time, this is what I like to do. I’m not a reader, I’m a doer.