TARA MANGINI & PERCY BRIGHT: exploring the original beauty of spaces
Tara Mangini and Percy Bright started Jersey Ice Cream Co after their own vintage renovation was met with admiration. Their alternative approach to the design process makes them not only unique but also passionately involved in every project they endeavour. I chat with Tara about their process, vintage finds and their future plans from their studio in upstate New York.
Q: How did you start your company?
TM: I met Percy about seven years ago. When we met, we were both in a flailing state: he had bought a house and got laid off and I was in Philadelphia waiting tables. After meeting, we quickly knew we had this common interest in vintage things and design and naturally we started working on this house that he had.
At first, it seemed like we were going to just take that idea and turn it into a vintage business, selling finds on Etsy and at flea markets. We did that for maybe a year or two but we were feeling that it wasn’t fulfilling enough.
As we were wrapping up the house, we started playing with the idea of putting it out into the world as our first project to see what people think. We wanted to see if anybody liked it; if anybody would hire us.
So, we did that and Design Sponge very graciously posted the story. And then we started getting work – just small jobs at first: putting in some shelves and redoing somebody’s kitchen; some piecemeal jobs. But we really wanted to do a full house project.
Image Credit: Heidi's Bridge
We posted something on our website saying that our real dream was for somebody to give us the keys to their house and give us the money and say, “do whatever you want with it”.
A woman emailed and said that she had fallen and broken her hip. She had just bought 2 houses and she said that she knew it was crazy, but she was really into this idea. She didn’t have a lot of money but what if she could just give us what she had and then we could do whatever we wanted with the place. I think she was expecting a really light renovation at that point.
And we thought, “Ok, what if we take that and just go for it?
So, we did this house that was the catapult for what we wanted to do as a business: to do these full houses and really take design control and live in them when we do the work.
Q: There must be a story behind your company name as well.
TM: Yeah! When we first started getting into the flea markets, we were one day looking at a table of embossing stamps. You can’t really see what it’s going to say and then you put it to paper to see the embossing. Percy was showing me how it worked, and the first one we did said “Jersey Ice Cream Company”. We thought that was a great name! So, we decided that whatever we do, we’ll have that as the name of the business, thinking it would be retail or something like that.
Image Credit: Beth Kirby of Local Milk
Q: How would you define your style?
TM: This is a question everyone asks and I’m not always sure how to answer. I feel like we’re always going for something that’s timeless. It’s rooted in the past and we don’t really tend to be too modern. It’s traditional in a way and there’s definitely some Americano vibes in there, but hopefully with a little bit of European elegance as well.
Q: Tell me about your process. You’ve already touched on that earlier but you have a unique way of starting a new project.
Because we were so naïve coming into things, we were just so uninformed about the normal design process. To us, our way of doing it never really seemed all that strange.
- Tara Mangini
TM: This year we did one of our first more traditional design projects, and then for the first time could we see the difference between what we do and what the design process usually entails.
Typically, somebody reaches out to us. Then we go see the house, spend the day with them, see how everybody clicks and then we do some back and forth with the client: what do they really need, what do they think of using the space for, do they want friends to come over, do they want no-one to come over? We talk a little bit about their hopes, dreams, wants, wishes.
And then we create a general mood board for each room and for the house which shows what we’re thinking, without getting too specific about anything, it’s just our first impression. Usually, they say that it’s great and then from that point on there is little client interaction.
Image Credit: Heidi's Bridge
If it’s their primary home, there might be some more back and forth because they want some more involvement. They really want to see the couch and the counters and they want to make sure it’s the right stove and things like that. But a lot of the time, we are doing vacation homes where the client asks us to do what feels right. “Keep to the budget and if we have a few requests we’ll let you know. Otherwise, good luck!”
Traditionally, there’s a lot more client involvement, a lot more approvals. I think in skipping that, we’re able to stay true to our vision and we’re able to make the client’s life less stressful.
It’s so strange to me to be having them take on that burden of decision making. Because for me, that’s so much of what I do as a designer. “Which one should we do? What should be the right thing?” And when the client must make that choice, I’m not even sure why they would hire us, because they’re still carrying this burden! But it takes a special client to get on board with a process like that.
Q: How many of these kinds of projects have you done?
TM: We've done about 10 or 12.
Q: And you’ve done some of them in the UK as well?
TM: Yeah, those were a little different because we were working from here and trying to explain what we wanted people to do over there.
Q: Do you travel for work or do you mainly do projects in the US?
TM: Yes, we do travel. We’ve tended to get a lot of projects in upstate New York. We’ve done some in Maine, Tennessee and then there are some in the UK.
Q: You spoke earlier about the burden of decision making, so what do you do when you hit that creative slump and you don’t know which way forward?
TM: I don’t know if I really get a creative slump. I guess that’s not my biggest problem. It’s more like wow, there’s a lot to decide and to choose! We naturally figure things out but if I’m really having an impossible time, I just tell myself that it’s going to be fine either way. I’ll have Percy choose, or I ask someone else, or I’ll just pull the trigger on something and make that work. I don’t mind the burden myself but it seems harder when someone else is involved. If it’s just my own brain, it’s one thing but when 5 brains are involved, then it gets very difficult for me.
Q: Do you have a favourite project?
TM: We did a project a few years ago that we ended up calling The Magic Egg. The clients were super sweet and live 3 blocks away from us now. They were just very encouraging and willing to give us the ultimate freedom to go bold or keep it safe, whatever we wanted. It was such a loving relationship between the 4 of us, so it turned out great.
Because we did a guest house on the property, we got to spend some time in the house as well which is something we never get to do. We usually finish in haste and then leave and never see the house again. So, with this project, we had some time to actually be there. And what the owners bring to the house on top of the design that we did just adds a great energy and positivity. It’s a big heart-warming project.
Q: If you could pick your ideal clients, what would they look like?
TM: More than anything, they would be really trusting, and they would appreciate good design but not want to give input. They would have a general budget that we could work with - nothing too high, nothing too low. We want them to say: “we want to do what’s best for the house, we trust you guys.” Nothing too complicated.
Image Credit: Beth Kirby of Local Milk
Q: Where do you end up sourcing most of the furniture, fittings and fixtures that you use in a project?
TM: It’s funny because ever since we started, we really had to use vintage and used stuff because our budgets were just so low. I think because of our roots being there, the more work we do, the more I want everything to be vintage. If everything in a project could be vintage, that would be ideal. Inevitably, we do end up getting new stuff, like light fixtures and faucets, but we get a lot from flea markets and eBay and Etsy and use weird Craig’s List finds. Lights are probably the thing that we mostly get new.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
TM: I feel like we’re at a company crossroads, where we’ve been doing a lot of other people’s houses which is nice and kind of safe. We’ve lucked out with a lot of amazing clients but we are itching to do something for ourselves. Even though the clients are so great, they’re still in your brain a little bit. I want to do something for ourselves, I just don’t know what’s that going to be.
Q: Explain to me in one sentence what it is that you do, that you bring to the table.
TM: We really try to bring back the original beauty of a home in the most organic and light-handed way we can.
Image Credit: Tristan Spinski