Read The Current Issue
By Joohee Muromcew
Photography by David Agnello (current home)
Everything warm, intelligent, and inquisitive about the work of designer Agnes Bourne can be summed up by the sight of her daughter’s Jack Russell terrier mix, Capote, snoozing on a signature yak-hair-covered chair. “He’s very smart and has a great sense of humor,” Bourne says by way of introduction. Capote raises an eyebrow as I lower myself onto the matching chair next to him. He assesses me with cautious approval and returns to his nap. These chairs, designed for Bourne by Coup D’Etat and made in San Francisco, are like characters in a story, and this home, Bourne’s fifth residence in Jackson and shared with husband Stuart Plummer, unfolds like a richly detailed chapter in a historical novel.
Bourne’s first Jackson home was on Upper Cache Street and, like all of her subsequent homes here, had stunning views. The great room faced the Tetons; side windows faced Cache Creek. Her next home afforded a larger living space, serving a growing number of visiting grandchildren, and was on a privileged inholding in the National Elk Refuge. Next was a showstopper property in East Jackson, a collaboration with architect Larry Berlin, a frequent partner and creative peer of Bourne’s. She describes that home as “a rare opportunity to personalize an already beautiful design.” The next project combined Bourne’s design work with her commitment to the artistic community. She developed an intimate work-live artists’ retreat—she called it the “Mighty Tiny House”—and made it available to artists-in-residence. In 2012, she moved into the current home, again in East Jackson. “I had been fascinated by a little private road that led to the top of a butte above the valley floor,” Bourne says. “Finally, it [the house] became available, and I had the opportunity to refresh the entire interior. All surfaces, including cabinets, electrical, and plumbing, needed replacement as did the details of the exterior.”
Bourne describes her in-town (but not downtown) location as “on the interface of the built world and the natural world.” The Elk Refuge and the Tetons spread majestically before the living room window, while Snow King’s Fourth of July fireworks explode in the westerly facing windows. “We have an eye on nature, but also a lot of human celebration,” she says. Also in view? Her previous four homes.
Inside, the art and furnishings, many designed by Bourne, speak to her accomplished art and design career. Bourne’s undergraduate degree was in studio arts and psychology, and beyond her work designing homes and furnishings, she is also a highly respected lecturer and professor. Her sensibility is less of an interior designer striving for a perfect representation of her aesthetic and more of a youthful artist consumed with new materials and methods. “There are always lessons learned. I’m always experimenting,” she explains. Bourne was one of the first designers to embrace reclaimed wood as a building material—this back in the 1970s in the Bay Area, years before reclaimed wood and sustainable building practices became common vocabulary in the design world.
Some things and many themes are a constant in her homes. Among the furnishings that have migrated with her are two “Chevy Chairs,” voluptuous leather armchairs with matching ottomans, in bolero red and nautilus blue, inspired by the 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The yak chairs favored by Capote are built on a metal armature with a stretchy membrane that feels custom-made for each body it meets. The fireplace stone is the same stone as the Berlin-designed home’s exterior, which can be seen from the window by a treasured red desk created by Oregon artist-designer Max Leiber. As for regrets, Bourne demurs, her bright blue eyes smiling behind red glasses: “Each house was perfect for the moment,” she says. Current projects include a film/book project with architect Tom Kundig and very selectively working with clients who strongly share her values and commitment to sustainable, highly creative design.
One of the professional works Bourne is most proud of is “Building Better: A Book and Box System,” a proprietary written self-interview with which she begins the design process with clients. True to her foundations in studio arts and art history, she delves deep into the stories that will eventually inform a home. Page five of the questionnaire is titled “Collecting Memories.” It begins: “Experience is recorded through the senses. Favorite smells, sights, sensations, tastes, and sounds may be part of the core design, from the selection of the building site to the smallest final detail. Remembering the beauty of fresh apples in a bowl at your uncle’s lake house might bring refreshing color ideas to the new house. All sorts of memories inform your selections.”
The entire master bedroom in Bourne’s house is painted sky blue, more specifically the blue of the west Jackson sky. The study is the slightly lighter, whiter blue of our eastern skies. These are memories Bourne finely captures in color and design even as they forever change outside.