JCPenney Design Director Geoffrey Henning And His Kessler Park Home

JCPenney design director Geoffrey Henning uses simple organic shapes such as circles and squares to define space inside his 1950s ranch-style home in Kessler Park.

FAR LEFT: Geoffrey Henning (left) and partner Troy Sams. NEAR LEFT: The laundry room takes on nightclub cool with dramatic, dark walls, retro-style lounge chairs, glass coffee table, and light fixture.

Geometry 101
JCPenney design director Geoffrey Henning uses simple organic shapes such as circles and squares to define space inside his 1950s ranch-style home in Kessler Park.

A Balinese mahogany table stretches across the vast dining room, originally the den, and tempers the modernity of artichoke light fixtures and caster hole-back chairs. Less-than-precious pieces mingle happily with expensive ones. Chairs like these can be found at Ikea.

Four benches map the perimeter of a square in the center of Geoffrey Henning’s one-time garage. They are red, certain, and swank – and, somehow, they know it. “If I like it, I buy a bunch. But never three. Never one,” he says with a smile. “Even numbers create balance.”

And balance, it would seem, is central to Henning’s philosophy.

“Unlike a New York apartment, your home here can really be a sanctuary,” says Henning, who, as JCPenney’s design director for women’s apparel, is charged with setting the vision for what is becoming a fashion-driven operation. For artistic motivation, Henning and his team – Penney’s has plucked 45 designers from leading New York and LA companies and is set to hire 20 more – travel regularly to Europe and Asia.

A cowhide rug picked up on a Houston roadside adds an organic element to a room of right angles. Henning’s pen-and-ink fashion illustrations are framed and mounted on 8-foot-tall stained cherry panels. Ultra suede wraps couches purchased at Urban Home.

“Our intent is to see how people in fashion cities such as Milan, Barcelona, and Paris wear clothes, to see what’s going on in restaurants, stores, museums,” Henning says. “It truly is a design inspiration dialogue.”

The creative charge gleaned from these global adventures spills directly into his 5,500-square-foot modernist house in Kessler Park. If Henning, or his partner Troy Sams, can’t find the desired object in London, Capri, or Thailand, Henning makes it himself.

Coupling tall objects with low ones creates a dynamic visual picture. A Henning-made mirror provides a backdrop for a stool discovered years ago in Canada and dueling armless chairs.

In the living room, for instance, an old wood-and-glass door salvaged from the downtown Wilson Building provides the surface for the coffee table. On a bedroom wall, wine racks have been dismantled, painted, and rearranged in two dimensions. “I like to take obscure objects, manipulate them, and use them unexpectedly,” says Canadian-born Henning, who after studying three-dimensional design and fine art at the University of Alberta and the University of Oklahoma, worked as a fashion illustrator and stylist for The Montreal Gazette.

Henning’s style at home is an effortless merging of modern and storied, of right angles softened by color and the occasional curve, of handmade undulating window sheers and stark rectangular frames. “It is about the shape of things,” he says, “organic shapes and contrast.”

A garage, painted in high-gloss, was converted into additional space for entertaining. Sams replaced the original solid wood with glass panels.

While Henning has a decided predilection for squares – they are etched into the front door, glossed onto closet doors, laid in both foyer and exterior tile – his affection for them is a quiet undercurrent, tempered by well-chosen compatible elements. Like a Highlights Magazine hunting game, one is unaware of the shape until the secret’s out.

The master bedroom in brown and orange stays sharp with starched pure white. Nesting tables from Crate & Barrel.

A work in constant decorative evolution, the house retains a few 1950s icons, a tribute to the day as well as a reminder of its solid construction. Built into a rare Dallas hill, one with a veritable grade, the brick home still has the original bubble gum pink tile in one of the bathrooms as well as the dining room chandelier, which he moved to an open-air porch. Some of the 1956 parquet floor tiles remain, but they have been stained a deep ebony and high glossed, as have hardwoods elsewhere in the house. Though outfitted with contemporary appliances, cabinetry, and countertops, the lengthy rectangular kitchen is the shape it was on the first blueprint, and it functions handily for entertaining.

On a wall in the adjacent dining room – a square wall, yes – Henning has painted pure white branches on a flat lime background. “Birch trees in winter,” he says of the current display. Not too long ago, there were squares of brown leather. “I am ready to change,” Henning discloses, viewing the space as a sort of personal canvas in flux. “I’m thinking that I will shave wood logs and mount them to the wall. Very architectural.”

The wall has become a testament to ongoing growth and challenge. “I am here right now, and I will learn from it.” Then, he says, “I will see what’s next.”

Nine-foot-tall maple mirrors (there are 10 in the house) reflect the full length of the living room, including a Buddha purchased from a well-known carver in Bali and the original ceiling molding, freshly illuminated with a halogen bulb.

Oversized mirrors are both easier and cheaper to fabricate than to buy. Paint or stain a sanded wood panel, cut a few inches longer and wider than your sheet of mirror (purchased from a mirror and glass supplier), and affix the glass with a heavy duty, commercial-grade glue. Or, have a framer frame the glass like a painting, making sure the wood is at least 4 inches wide.

Wrap suede canvas-style for visual impact. Buy four strips (used to create a painting canvas) at any art supply store and fashion a square or rectangle of your own dimensions. Or, purchase a ready-made frame. Stretch your fabric from one side to its opposite side, wrapping it tightly around the wood, and staple in the back. Alternate directions between length and width with each stretch.


 

Add unexpected zip to objects by removing them from their traditional environments. Here, weather friendly lamps venture outside and are plugged into exterior sockets. In a series, they glow in a pattern, rather than singularly. Flea market 1960s chaises sit at attention on a side porch.

For the porch, antique wrought-iron table and chairs contrast the fluidity of solid white canvas fabric. Unusual wicker forms sit atop poured concrete in the open-air porch, used mainly in summer and fall. Painted lanterns add geometry and height to low-slung seating.

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