Jennifer Black’s Jumeirah home is full of kitsch conversation starters, rare paintings and striking vintage finds.
“What are you staring at?” The question has been painted in hot pink, over an oil painting of a vase of flowers, framed and situated right where the wall meets the ceiling, amid a cluster of other frames in Jennifer Black’s living room.
An artist, designer and embroiderer extraordinaire, she repurposed this painting herself, and her unique, DIY touch is spotlighted in each room of her home, where designs from her newly-launched fashion and interiors label, Wear The House, are also on display.
“My brand comes from an artist’s point of view, because, as you can see from my home, I love art,” says Jennifer Black. Nestled in the heart of Jumeirah, Black’s two-storey villa is a treasure trove of coveted paintings, embroidered cushions, statement accessories and one-of-a-kind décor pieces – many of which hold deep sentimentality.
“Everything has that vintage element, and is brought back into the contemporary world of fashion and interiors,” she explains. Walls are dressed in patterned wallpaper – some, like the tiled vintage stamp design in her kitchen, have been created by Black herself, while others, like the floral accent panels in the foyer, and the snarling tiger faces adorning the staircase, are Gucci designs.
All of these plush-yet-playful possessions are enveloped within walls that feature velveteen curtains and umpteen frames. Kitsch-couture is one way to describe the designer’s décor aesthetic. A round mirror in her living room is bordered by close to 200 pencils, sticking out at different lengths.
Nearby, a wooden table is home to an eclectic array of ornaments – from a gold eye-shaped mirror, a set of rose quartz coasters and a trinket dish containing a pair of bejewelled earrings, to a cactus in a snow globe, and a painted porcelain pig. These sit atop stacks of fashion magazines and books, which include the biographies of Frida Kahlo and Vivienne Westwood, a collector’s comic book and a fashion business manual.
A rare Romero Britto pop art painting picked up by Black during a trip to Miami is fixed high on one wall and overlooks the colourful curation of small sculptures, baskets, books and baubles, which make the room look more like a boutique gallery than a place of residence.
For Black, who specialised in embroidery at London College of Fashion, and print design at Central Saint Martins, putting together different patterns, textures and embellishments is an instinctual practice. In Dubai, she worked with Zayan The Label prior to launching her own brand, and memories from her days with Zayan, including prints she designed and fabrics she embroidered, are displayed in acrylic frames around her home.
Before moving to Dubai from the UK seven years ago, Black worked at a print supplier in London. “I once designed a painterly floral collection, and COS bought some of the prints from my range. That was really cool – to just walk into COS stores around the world, and see all these dresses made up in my print,” recalls Black.
Fizzing with energy and boundless imagination, Jennifer Black dresses in ikat-patterned silk pyjamas (meant to be worn both indoors and outdoors) from her SS20 range when we meet. Her experience in print design, she says, along with her passion for all things vintage, set the foundations for where she is now with her brand, Wear the House.
“This Ikat print I’m wearing now was inspired by a vintage scarf that, for some reason, ended up in among my possessions. Carried through to each of my places in London, then packed away in my parents’ attic, I remember digging it out of a box when I was starting Wear The House and thinking, ‘this is such an awesome print, I should use it,’ and that’s how this came around,” says Black. “I’ve always been obsessed with this pink and red colourway.”
Hot pink clearly tops Jennifer Black’s list of favourite colours – from the wooden bench that sits on the porch, the villa’s inner garden walls and the ground floor powder room to the stately candles set in silver poodle-shaped holders, the vibrant shade is splattered throughout her home.
On one gallery wall, it’s the colour of the yarn woven through a white grid, forming the words, “don’t look back,” but spelled backwards – you can only read the phrase when you look into the ornate, gold mirror propped up against the opposite wall. “I made that myself. When you look at it in the mirror, it reads the right way round. It’s one of my favourite sayings,” smiles Black.
A streak of fuchsia also covers each of her eyelids, though the designer reveals this was achieved not with typical eyeshadow, but with a favourite matte Gucci lipstick. Typically reserved for dressing tables, prettily-packaged beauty products and statement jewellery pieces form part of the décor of Black’s home, and can be found in decorative trays and dishes along tabletops in every room.
In the hallway, floral Gucci lipstick tubes sits atop a wooden trolley – a piece the designer says is one of her most treasured antique possessions. “This was my great auntie’s cutlery drawer,” Black says. “You would die if you opened it up – it’s a full set of silver cutlery, on bright blue velvet. I obviously have never used it.”
Nearby sits another vintage piece – a wooden chair fitted with an embroidered seat – though this one has been upcycled by Jennifer Black. “I love finding vintage pieces and giving them a modern twist. I brought this back from the UK – it was just a dark brown wood, then I got it stripped back and we painted it,” she explains. “I fell in love with the embroidery – we took it off and re-upholstered it too. Not that anyone is allowed to sit on it – it’s quite delicate.”
It’s not easy transporting vintage furniture from overseas, but Black’s love a air with antiques is what motivates her to carefully protect her finds in bubble wrap and cardboard, carrying them by hand when flying back from London to the UAE.
“Here, you don’t get a lot of vintage, and that’s what I miss about the UK – there are so many places where you can find these amazing pieces of furniture that they actually don’t make anymore, and you can upcycle them – change the print, the fabric. If I eventually move back to London, that’s something I would just throw myself into doing,” smiles Black.
“It’s such an amazing thing to do now, because you don’t need to keep buying new – it’s that whole sustainable thing about giving something that’s already been made a new home rather than going to a contemporary furniture store and buying new pieces.”
One of the designer’s trademark upcycling techniques is to use yarn to embroider over oil paintings. A scenic painting in her daughter’s bedroom, for instance, is decorated with the phrase “happily ever after.”
The designer makes it a point to inject creativity into the upbringing of her two children, aged 7 and 4. “Today you have iPads, but we didn’t have any of that growing up,” she explains. “We would get more involved with these crafty things, and I used to do those for hours and hours,” she says.
Encouraging her kids to undertake their own arts-focused DIY projects, sometimes they surprise her by inspiring new directions for her fashion label. “Randomly, the kids were painting shells outside the other day, and then I started painting shells too, and outlining them in gold,” Jennifer Black says.
Illustrations of these gold-rimmed shells are now pinned to her mood board, which sits on a table near a rack of AW20 samples for Wear the House. “It’s quite funny how little things that they do give me ideas for my business,” she says.
It makes sense that Jennifer Black would raise a future generation of artists, as her own creative techniques were heavily in fluenced by her elder family members. “My step-mum crocheted these blankets,” she says, gesturing to the multi-coloured throws draped over an arm of the olive- green sofa in the hallway.
Paintings by her grandfather meanwhile, make frequent appearances in her home. “I was really lucky, growing up – my grandparents were super-creative,” she recalls. “My grandmother always embroidered, and my grandpa was an architect and painter – quite a few of the landscapes in the kitchen are his paintings, and one of his paintings is featured on pyjamas in next season’s collection. He painted this beach where we used to go to as kids, and I’ve made a digital pattern out of that painting from 1993.”
“I really do put my heart and soul into everything I create,” says Black, whose eclectic and inventive spirit shines through both her fashion and interior designs – from the silk pyjamas inspired by her grandfather’s paintings, to the lockdown-inspired posters she made, which encourage social distancing. Against the background of her tiled vintage stamps, bold black text, bordered by a fluorescent pink shadow, reads: “let’s stay home.” Wearthehouse.com