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Jamie Corley decorates an architecturally rich home in University City

Jamie Corley decorates an architecturally rich home in University City

Two years ago, Jamie Corley embarked on a special project. It was the first summer of the pandemic and, needing a respite from her tiny San Francisco apartment, she decided to drive the four days home to St. Louis with Pompidou, a German shorthaired pointer named after her favorite art museum in Paris. Corley, 35, wasn’t expecting to stay long—two weeks, tops—but she soon found herself feeling more connected to St. Louis than she had since leaving for college in the mid aughts. 

That feeling got Corley thinking about putting down roots here. She hired a real estate agent, and together they started looking at properties. The pair walked through one redbrick house that had languished on the market for months, invisible to those who couldn’t see past the bad lighting and heavy wood paneling. But with her artist’s eye, Corley saw the possibilities, and she’s since trusted her instincts as she’s conceived a fresh look for her new home.  

What sold her on the house was the fact that she could achieve all her upgrades with imaginative use of paint, fabric, and vintage furniture. “I wasn’t going to replace windows. I wasn’t going to install bookshelves. I didn’t need to open up walls. And there were a lot of preexisting architectural details,” she recalls. Corley turned to her own creative process for inspiration: “I do think that having a background in technique makes me more confident in my choices.” 

The house, situated at the top of a steep driveway in University City, provided Corley ample room to get crafty and stretch herself creatively. In “before” pictures, beige and off-yellow wall colors were “all wrong,” she says, and the dark-stained floors and wall paneling dampened the energy inside the house. 

Like many artists, Corley loves color, but she prefers muted tones, and she’s used many of her favorites to create cohesion and flow among rooms. Downstairs, Sherwin-Williams’ Downy serves as a backdrop to fabrics, curtains, and rugs. Choosing that white paint color was more of a challenge than expected, says the artist, but the north-facing living and dining rooms called for a warm white. 

Throughout the house, Corley follows the rule of thirds—“Painting 101,” she says—to help break up space. In the living room, a low-profile sectional in a neutral fabric grounds the room, which is graced with a bay window and arched doorways with wood trim. The artwork hangs a smidge higher than eye level, a design move meant to draw attention to the original crown molding and its leaf motif. 

As an artist, Corley is always mindful of scale. She decorates entire walls in her house as her grandmother, Shirley Hullverson, who studied art at Washington University in the 1940s, taught her to do with the placement of large-scale artworks, tall pedestals, and antique furniture. “It would be really boring…to have everything on the same level,” she says.

Hints of the original green paint color began to show after Corley cleaned the ornate moldings. And that tone has informed some of her design decisions. Traces of moss and mint greens in the living room, dining room, and sunroom provide a sense of continuity, and Corley has also brought in pops of blue with the use of area rugs on the first floor. The grasscloth wallcovering in the sunroom is a terracotta hue; it also appears as a lighter tone of peach in the custom pillows in the living room. She had that sunroom wallcovering color-matched at Sherwin-Williams to ensure that she got the color for the bookshelves just right, and she expertly deploys greens and reds throughout because they’re complementary. “I definitely use what I know about color theory,” she says.  

But not everything in the house is colorful. The couches are neutral shades, and other furniture makes use of wood tones, black, white, or gold. The casegoods are mostly vintage; Corley has an eye for quality. She scored the two black lacquer cabinets for the dining room at The Refind Room for $300. The fact that they’re not pristine hardly matters, Corley says. She uses a black Sharpie to fill in scuff marks: “If you don’t have that crafty vein, you’ll look at this and go, ‘Oh, it’s damaged,’ but it’s not. It just needs a little bit of a touch-up.” 

The dining room chairs, by Baker, are from Jon Paul Designs in Clayton; they surround a sleek table from Wilson Lighting. Corley points out that the chairs couldn’t be further on the design spectrum from the Asian-inspired cabinets, but their color schemes—black and gold—“match almost perfectly.” In the wood-paneled record room, where Corley listens to Fleetwood Mac on the turntable, the furniture is all secondhand. Corley purchased the leather sofa, metal coffee table, and side table at The Brass Alligator, styling them just as she had seen them at the store. “I went home; I measured; I called Brian [Hoffman, the CEO] and gave him my credit card,” she recalls. “I want it all.” 

Over the past two years, Corley has invested time and money in finding furniture, but she rarely buys just because she loves something. “I think I would be a hoarder,” she says, smiling. To her, simply browsing the aisles is relaxing; only when she has a goal in mind is she motivated to buy. “As long as it measures, I’m quite decisive,” she says of her approach to decorating the house. “There’s no shortage in St. Louis of amazing, affordable places to buy secondhand furniture.” 

Corley’s pleased with the relationships she’s established with such local businesses as KDR Designer Showrooms, where she’s set up her accounts for new interior design projects, and small workrooms, like that of design talent Patty McGownd, owner of Castlewood Design in Webster Groves. The two women collaborated on the design of Corley’s custom pillows and curtains, as well as a cornice and draperies in a guest bedroom. 

Speaking of that bedroom: There’s an art to layering patterns and colors, and Corley does it with finesse here, with small- and large-scale patterns from the same color family mixing on the bed, coordinating with the window treatments and the accent chair, which was purchased secondhand and reupholstered. As in other rooms, Corley color-matched the paint to the pillows. 

The move home has given Corley more leeway to act on her artistic interests, both in home decorating and with her paintings, which she sells and shows nationally. “It’s a doable dream,” she says of living and working in St. Louis. And now that the house is almost finished, it’s become a true reflection of her: elegant and down to earth.   

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