Interior Designer and March SEEN cover star Corey Damen Jenkins spills the details behind his most memorable projects, his biggest mistake, decor trends he’s loving and more
By Chelsie Dzbanski
Featured photo by Brett Mountain
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background. I’m the CEO and Creative Director at Corey Damen Jenkins & Associates, an interior design firm based in Downtown Birmingham, Michigan. I’m the oldest of 3 boys and my parents are heading towards 50 years of marriage. I’m also proud to share that I was born and bred in Metro-Detroit, and I reside in Bloomfield Hills.
2. Who or what inspired you to get into interior decorating? It’s always been in me to do it, all the way back to the 1980s. As early as age 12, I was constantly rearranging my parents’ furniture and accessories, and reading Better Homes & Gardens late at night when I was supposed to be in bed asleep! I embarked on my career in interior design back in 1996 in New York City. When I moved back to Michigan, I took a bit of a career detour into the business sector for 10 years until I was laid off during the Great Recession of 2007.
Eventually I opened my own interior design firm in late 2009. The phone wasn’t ringing. I then realized that I was being passive, reactive and allowing life to happen to me. So, I decided to happen to my life: I launched a campaign (I went to Kinkos and made brochures featuring hand-drawn renderings of rooms) and I began canvassing subdivisions and new construction sites throughout Metro Detroit. I found my first big clients by knocking on doors — literally, 779 of them — in the dead of winter in 2010.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job? The best thing about my job is the emotional reactions I get from clients when I unveil their finished homes for the first time. It’s always a mixture of glee, excitement and tears of pure joy for their families. I live for that.
4. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far? Seeing my design work grace the front covers of House Beautiful and Traditional Home brought tears to my eyes — both times! The Detroit News has been so supportive of my career as well. And I’ve been honored to appear as a design expert & host on HGTV’s Showhouse Showdown, Open House TV and most recently The Rachael Ray Show. I’m now working on my first coffee table book which will be released on the Rizzoli publishing label soon. I feel blessed!
5. What does a typical day/week look like for you? No two days or weeks are really the same for me! One day I’m visiting multiple construction sites, mediating solutions with contractors and builders. The next day I’m designing protocols for cabinetry for kitchens and baths. The next day I’m drawing up electrical and floor plans in the morning, and then I’m pitching color boards to clients that afternoon. Later in the week, I’m working on my furniture, lighting or fabric collections. And then we’re installing furniture, window treatments and accessories for a client’s entire home — and all that before an 8-hour photoshoot on Friday! I often work 7 days a week. But I love every minute of it!
6. What was your biggest mistake or failure and what did you learn from it? One of the biggest mistakes I made was letting people take advantage of my abilities and skills. Artists, interior designers and architects are sometimes taken for granted because people mistakenly assume that what we do is “easy”. It isn’t. It takes tremendous amounts of time, talent education and experience to do what we do. So, I don’t perform design services for free — even for those who expect me to do so, like relatives and friends.
7. Can you share a few home design or decor trends that you’re currently loving? I’m seeing a big swing towards vibrant, jewel-toned colors and pattern-play. Neutrals are still celebrated, but I’m hearing more clients wanting to mix them in with color for more depth. I’m also seeing a return to traditional elements like passementerie [ornamental edging} —but with modern interpretations.
8. Can you share any memorable projects or fun designs that have really stood out to you over the course of your career? One of my most memorable projects was a 12,000 square foot renovation in Bloomfield Hills. The mansion had been previously decorated by the late decorating icon Mario Buatta. I had the honor of having dinner with him in 2016 and showed him photos of what I had done with the home some 20 years after he worked there. And he liked it! He was quite the comedian and he joked with me “What did you do with all of my chintz?” It was wonderful sharing that laugh with him. Mario was a true statesman of our industry, a definitive face for the vanguard of great American decorating.
9. What is your favorite room in a house to design and why? That’s a tough question! But if I had to pick, it’d be a toss-up between the library and formal dining room. I grew up in a home where we had both, and every night we had dinner as a family at 6 PM sharp. No cell phones or iPads, just chatting and eating. But nowadays, some people don’t want libraries or dining rooms in their homes anymore — they only want a few stools at the kitchen island so they can stare at their iPhones, eat and run. That’s a trend that I really hope we can reverse.
10. If you weren’t an interior decorator, what would you be instead? I’d probably be running for some sort of political office. Women’s rights, civil rights, animal rights and giving back to the community are all issues very close to my heart.
Now onto some fun…
11.What was your first job growing up? I was a stock boy at Arbor Drugs, which I think is now Rite Aid.
12. What’s currently on your playlist? Aretha Franklin, George Michael, SWV, Henry Mancini, Earth Wind & Fire, Heart, Rihanna, and Lizzo.
13. What was favorite TV show as a kid? Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. In fact, I was obsessed with all the superhero TV shows of the 70s and 80s.
14.Three things you can’t live without? My iPods/playlist, pizza, and my gym membership (to offset the damage from said pizza!)
15.Dream vacation destination? Florence, Italy…I really want to see the architectural wonders there with my naked eye.
Local Love Questions…
16.Your current favorite local spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Social Kitchen, The Apparatus Room, Prime + Proper and The Mad Hatter.
17.Your favorite place to shop locally in Metro Detroit? Considering how much I shop for others, I actually hate shopping for myself! But if I have to do it, I’ll go to the Somerset Collection in Troy.
18.Your go-to for a good cup of coffee? Commonwealth for coffee and Eli’s Tea for amazing tea-house options. Both are near me in downtown Birmingham.
19. What do you love about Detroit? What I love most about Detroit is her people. I travel often for work, and I’ve found that Detroiters have such a sage, kind, and humble manner about them. They’re just nicer. Maybe it’s our Midwestern heritage. I also love our historic architecture — Detroit homes are quite unique, and the craftsmanship is second to none.
20.Favorite quote or words to live by? “‘Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm. The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”—Unknown