The Business of Second Homes: Designer Jess Cooney Makes it Hers to Know How We Live and Play

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza
Photo by Lisa Vollmer

Jess Cooney Jess Cooney Interiors

Interior designer Jess Cooney has made it her business to understand how people live in and experience their homes. Most of her clients are New York City lawyers and business elites looking to escape the city with a second home in the Berkshires, a home that will ultimately function quite differently than a primary residence.

In a second home, social spaces and flow are calculated differently, privacy and accessibility present new challenges, the durability of materials matters, and considerations are to be made for multiple generations—elements that for many clients may be less essential in a daily home. Cooney takes the time to understand the lifestyles and habits of her clients, walks with them through the minutiae of their days, asking questions like, where do you like to sit when you pay your bills? The level of detail may be exhaustive, but the result is a space that works. Works for the homeowner, works for guests, works for use outside the norm. “I am always trying to infuse that sense of calm into a space—people don’t know why they feel it, but it just makes sense,” says Cooney. “Making sense of all of that while beautifying a space is my secret superpower.”

Photo by Andrew Ingalls

Jess Cooney Jess Cooney Interiors

Cooney’s eye for beautiful homes developed early. “Growing up, my dad always bought the worst house in the nicest neighborhood and fixed it up. I watched a lot of our homes transform and I really enjoyed the process.”

She would ultimately begin her design career in Colorado. Her husband occupied with a medical residency, Cooney walked into an interior design firm and asked if they needed help, and three years later, was taking on clients of her own.

Back on the East Coast post-residency, Cooney began to run her own design business out of her home in Massachusetts. A mom to young children, she enjoyed the flexibility the job offered, and being on the East Coast, Cooney was able to work on historic renovations. She brought the business even closer to home when she and her husband renovated a carriage house, and a few years later expanded their footprint to the main house. With that, the business grew, and today Cooney runs a full team that includes an architect and a custom furnishings division as well.

Photo by Gregory Cherin

Jess Cooney Jess Cooney Interiors

The client relationships Cooney seeks are ones where there is an element of trust, but not without the client’s willingness to question her decisions. “We end up elevating the design when we work together in that way,” she says. “We have had clients that fully trust us and let us reinvent their space and we have had clients that just can’t really fully let go enough. It’s that delicate balance of them trusting us to elevate the design but staying engaged in the process that makes them really feel like it’s something of their own in the end.”

Cooney and her team have mastered the practicality of second home design. There should always be a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, ample storage space is not to be neglected, nothing in the home should be too delicate (children and dogs and guests are inevitable and welcome), and there’s just as much a need for a hard-working mudroom in a second home as there is in a first—perhaps more.

Beyond practicality, Cooney works with her clients to fine-tune taste and then translate that into plans. “We do a lot of projects that are in traditional homes but mix in modern elements. We also know our clients want durable elements in their second homes and so we use a lot of reclaimed wood, stone and metal that are timeless but durable. Our clients are sophisticated but also very down to earth and love coming to the Berkshires to tuck in with the locals. We draw out their level of comfort with color and their leaning toward one direction or another through a conceptual process before we start the actual design. We can see patterns repeated in things they are drawn to and it starts to paint a picture for us that we can then utilize in the overall process.”

Photo by Andrew Ingalls

Jess Cooney Jess Cooney Interiors

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