We Love To Push The Envelope With Design, Not Design Cookie-Cutter [Spaces].
This house in Norton Commons was built and decorated with an easy access to outside and even included a bar in the garage. Photo by Tim Furlong Jr.
If you are an Instagram-famous interior designer and your husband is a homebuilder, you will probably move often.
Gretchen Black and her husband Jason, have just finished remodeling and designing their 12th home together — the historic Edgewood, a 150-year-old property in Glenview, Kentucky.
“Our joke has always been. ‘Well, a light bulb just went out, must be time to move,’” Gretchen says with a laugh. “I love to design a new home, but the moving is always painful.” While the couple have primarily built and designed newly constructed homes, this 7,000-square-foot historical gem was definitely a labor of love.
(Right) Gretchen and her husband work together. Photos by Melissa Donald.
Years ago, Gretchen and Jason met and fell in love while attending Bellarmine University, so when this home came on the market from Bellarmine’s former president Dr. Joseph McGowan, they felt it was meant to be. Now, it just might be where they stay, but if not, like most of their collaborative projects, it will forever be documented on social media.
Each step of the acquiring, demolition, and remodeling can be viewed on their YouTube channel “Building a Better South.” In 35 episodes, Gretchen and Jason narrate the construction and intentional design choices meant to preserve the home’s legacy — a summer and weekend retreat, one mile from the river, where original families used to travel from Old Louisville via horse and buggy.
But this is not the story of Edgewood, this is the story of Gretchen Black’s tenacious DIY spirit and eye for design.
Gretchen, 44, didn’t set out to be an influencer, but her Instagram success — she has 42,000 followers — has come from her perseverance and passion. She graduated from Bellarmine with a nursing degree and spent 10 years in the nursing field while raising her three boys. Each weekend, however, she and Jason would dabble in home renovation and design. “I grew up in a creative house, took sewing classes from sweet nuns when I was young, and my liberal arts education allowed me to take plenty of art history classes, but I didn’t go into design because it wasn’t an option for me. My mother told me to go into nursing because it was safe, but like I tell my boys, if you find your passion, you’ll figure out a way to make a living out of it,” Gretchen says.
Gretchen and Jason did just that — turned their weekend hobby into a successful partnership. Jason is now the CEO of Artisan Signature Homes and Gretchen the owner of Greyhouse Design. She also designed the 2019 Designer Welcome Home Tour home and is the brand ambassador for Our House Furniture and the New Cafe appliance line by GE. While each works a different facet of the home industry, they have a shared commitment to creating the modern-classic Southern aesthetic.
“I like to call my style traditional with a modern twist,” Gretchen explains. She is drawn to bold patterns and tends to work with a blush, navy, aqua, and pale gray palette. In her design, you will see bright whites interrupted with mixed wallpapers, tile patterns, and fret work. Geometric and floral patterns adorn shiplap, textiles, and lighting. Above all, incorporating vintage and antique elements is a consistent thread in her design, as is her signature feature: a brass swan.
This space was designed by Gretchen Black in a home in Norton Commons. Photo by Tim Furlong Jr.
The textures make all the difference – the flooring, the walls, the ceiling show the layering of the textures in the Black’s office. Photo by Melissa Donald
Photo by Tim Furlong Jr.
Southern architecture is Gretchen’s main inspiration, and each time she travels to Charleston, Beaufort, Savannah, or New Orleans, she comes back with new ideas. “My boys know that when we go on vacation, at least one day will consist of Dad and me driving around and looking at houses, getting all the yummy inspiration from Southern towns.”
You can see these Southern elements in homes they’ve designed for Homearama, spec houses in Glenview and Norton Commons, in Jason’s Norton Commons office space, and at Edgewood. Shutters that line the length of the door, porch railing, tall trim and baseboards, herringbone and chevron patterned floors, and loads of warm brass tones.
“We love to push the envelope with design, not design cookie-cutter [spaces]. I love when a room is filled with patterns and you don’t know why it all works together, but it does. It feels intentional,” Gretchen explains about how her family’s ideas help others live beautifully. “We build for the sake of keeping architecture interesting.”
Despite the fact that Gretchen is uncomfortable with the term “influencer,” thousands look to Gretchen’s Instagram and Pinterist pages for inspiration, whether for a paint color (Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams is her go-to) or for fresh ideas on tile design (use gold or brass strips instead of grout).
Her biggest advice for design, however, is to make sure your home is a reflection of you. “Your home should feel well-collected over time; use family heirlooms and keepsakes over what is popular or trendy…and you can never go wrong with a brass swan,” she says with a chuckle.
She does caution against using social media too often, though, and knows when to step away. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” Gretchen warns. But most of her experience with social media has been positive. “It is fun to see your room has been repinned on Pinterest or that someone has used your paint color in their home. Long after the paint dries, these images document our design legacy. It is a way of being published, of leaving a legacy. Someday my boys can look back on my design aesthetic and see what I was able to accomplish.”