For Jean Verbridge, principal at Beverly-based Siemasko + Verbridge, the path to a satisfying career as a commercial and residential interior designer ran through a plant store.
After graduating from Ithaca College in New York with a love of plants and no idea what to do next, she got a job working at a greenhouse in Boston. It was the 1970s, when potted plants were all the rage, especially in office design, and she soon sensed an opportunity: In upstate New York, where she had grown up, there were no plant stores at all.
She opened a retail potted plant store in the area and began supplying her wares to businesses such as Xerox and Kodak that were looking to make their offices more appealing.
The process piqued her interest in interior design for commercial environments, so she went back to school at Rochester Institute of Technology for another undergraduate degree in that subject. She then moved back to Boston to work for design firms for the next decade, focusing on commercial clients. Commercial design was a field with a lot of exciting possibilities for enterprising designers at the time. A new concept was gaining steam: open floor plans with workstations rather than private offices.
“It was a great time to enter the field, as no one was trained in this new space planning approach,” Verbridge remembers. “It opened up opportunities.”
Reconsidering Residential Design
Verbridge had always veered away from residential projects, worried that working with clients to make intimate decisions about their homes would be too challenging. But that all changed after she left her job to work independently in 1990. She redesigned the interior of her own home, and in the process came to embrace the intriguing potential of such work, including the chance to design spaces with a purpose so much different than what she was used to with commercial work.
“Once I did my house, it opened me up to the pleasures of the residential end,” she says.
Her newly re-imagined kitchen won a design competition in a magazine, and just like that a new chapter in her career began. She was self-employed for the next 10 years or so, doing both commercial and residential design, and then eventually teamed up with Thaddeus Siemasko 17 years ago to open a full-service architecture, interior design, decorating, and landscape design firm.
Since that time she has done a wide variety of projects, both commercial and residential, and is fulfilled by constantly meeting new challenges.
“Design is always changing; it’s always evolving,” she says. “There are times when design is about creating community, but there might be other times where design is about creating quiet, intimate spaces. Right now there’s a trend for smaller houses that are really well designed and well detailed.”
A Bold Design on the Water
That trend for exquisite detailing is on display in one of Verbridge’s latest projects, the redesign of the interior of a North Shore waterfront Shingle-style home. She created a look to match her sense of the homeowners—active, vivacious, and colorful.
The rooms are full of strong colors, textures, and patterns. In the dining room, for example, a stately dark-wood table is complemented by bright turquoise throughout: turquoise upholstery on the dining chairs, drapes and a carpet with bold blue-and-turquoise patterns, and a hanging lamp with turquoise glass pendants. A similar brightness enlivens the sitting room, where brilliant coral accents the room’s base of off-white. Cushions, drapes, and patterns on the wallpaper and carpet bring radiant warmth and provide sharp contrast with the cool sea tones of the landscape out the windows.
The redesign also included opening up the space by creating partial-height walls, embracing the vivid light of the location, and playing to the water views as much as possible. Combining such improvements with the enlivening decoration allowed Verbridge to create a home that fits the lively family that inhabits it.
Design Improves Lives
Such transformations, she believes, can substantially improve people’s lives.
“In every space, whether you live, work, or play in it, good design makes life much richer,” she says. “Good design does improve lives—it opens up a lot of opportunities for conversations, better relationships, a fuller life.”
Her own life as a designer is full of creative challenge and professional satisfaction. She joins her business smarts—evident from the moment she opened that strategically located plant store—with her artistic sensibilities to offer quality work to her clients.
“I love the combination of business and design,” she reflects. “It’s working both sides of the brain at the same time. It’s not just about making pretty environments; it’s about respecting people’s budgets and time frames.”
For Verbridge, that’s a perfect mix. “I can’t imagine there being a better career out there. I feel very lucky.”
Siemasko + Verbridge
126 Dodge Street, Beverly, 978-927-3745