Steel Magnolia

Bijoux designer and artist Joanie Herring creates a vibrantly hued jewel box of a house in the West End.

Laurann Claridge. Photography Jack Thompson.
April 01, 2011

This is a story about evolution — not Charles Darwin’s controversial theory, but the often winding journey of an artist, from whence his or her inspiration evolves.

Joanie Herring, a jewelry designer and painter who balances the roles of wife and mother with her art, is a delicate blonde who lives in this light-filled house with husband, Lafayette (a renewable energy specialist), and their 10-year-old son, who inherited his father’s regal-sounding name. Like many creative types, this forward-thinking couple seized the opportunity more than a decade ago to acquire property in a changing Houston neighborhood, one whose industrial-inspired constructs were fronted with galvanized steel and floored with raw cement.

Their version of that particular vernacular is a four-bedroom vision created by architect Cameron Armstrong (also a neighbor), with second-floor ceilings that hover more than 20 feet above the floor. “The whole house really flows well,” Herring says. “Downstairs, there are passageways to cut through from the kitchen to the dining and living rooms, all of which open onto the deck in back.” That expansive deck gives way to rose bushes and an herb and vegetable garden, which is currently home to one gigantic grapefruit on a precariously bowed branch.

The daughter of lauded Houston interior designer Beverly Jacomini, Joanie has decorating in her DNA. “When I was three years old, I was moving furniture around the room,” she recalls. Her aesthetic, however, soon began to stray from the influence of her mother’s classic/Southern look. Shortly after she and Lafayette married 16 years ago, they headed to Beijing for an extended work commitment of his that lasted 2 ½ years. It was there that Joanie cultivated her desire for Asian contemporary art, such as a Vermeer-esque portrait rendered in the 20th century and large-scale chinoiserie pieces, including the two mighty armoires in their present-day dining room.

At the same time, she cast her eyes upon the famed South Sea pearls. “When I was in Beijing, I started designing jewelry, and then the pearls came into play — pearls were accessible,” she says. After their sojourn in Beijing, the duo packed their valises and headed Down Under to live in Australia. “That’s when I really got into South Sea pearls and saw the depth and range of colors you could find, from pinks to yellows to a purple shade,” she says.

As time passed and her collection evolved, she felt the pull of sparkling vintage jewelry and sought out quirky paste pieces spanning every era. Today she’s mixing pearls with vintage trappings — a spherical rhinestone-encrusted hatpin re-engineered as a bracelet, a cluster of old chains made more luminous with a handful of pearls. “Many of my pieces are big statement jewels,” she says. “They started getting more dramatic as my tastes evolved in a more modern way.”

As her vision in the world of jewelry — real and faux — widened, so did the variety of art and furniture in the Herring home. Joanie gravitated back to mid-century classics such as vintage Saarinen chairs, Jean-Michel Frank stools and Knoll cocktail tables, combined with contemporary Kartell stools by Philippe Stark and European and Asian antiques. She also embraced pure, saturated colors such as red, orange and purple with abandon.

And speaking of palettes … While she hasn’t totally abandoned the trappings of her past, Joanie the artist has developed a way to reinvent tradition through her paintings. “I find the frame first,” she says. “Usually it’s an old frame with gold leaf that I paint on, and then I envision what I’d like to place inside it.” She forages flea markets and estate sales for such inspirations and has even acquired glass-front frames that once held works on paper. Using the reverse side of the glass, she creates a translucent canvas for her abstractions, many of which “bleed” onto the frame. “It connects the work to the frame in a sense,” she says.

As her work in both paint and pearls continues to evolve, so will the house you see before you. All three are tied as inexorably to one another as they are to the woman who creates them.

For more of Joanie Herring’s vibrant living, click on 'launch slideshow' above.

As her work in both paint and pearls continues to evolve, so will the house you see before you. All three are tied as inexorably to one another as they are to the woman who creates them.