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Jewel Murray, an artist, poet and musician best known by her first name, grew up in a log cabin in Alaska with her father and brothers. But her design aesthetic extends beyond rustic country, incorporating handcrafted netsuke from Japan, French and Swedish antiques, and an eye for the telling detail, whether it is where to hang art, or putting framed birds’ eggs from Alaska and Texas in a bathroom.

The Interview

In choosing Jewel to be its 2009 Statement Maker for its national advertising campaign, Karastan recognized that Jewel is a gem. She is authentic, original and courageous, and someone who follows her convictions—an ideal brand ambassador. Our Karastan interviewer had a chance to probe further into what makes this impressive young woman tick and we’re pleased to share this insight with you.

Interviewer:Tell us about the house you and Ty live in…

Jewel: For me, having a home is about bringing the outdoors inside, bringing in an organic feel, different textures, all the things you find in nature. I like to balance hard structures, like hardwood floors, with soft and organic things, like area rugs.

Ty’s ranch house is very functional and practical, with Formica countertops and linoleum in the kitchen. It’s a bit blocked off, a bit choppy. But the house is in keeping with the feel of our property. It isn’t so opulent that it looks out of place. And the neat thing is that it has a lot of Ty’s trophies, a lot of the championship buckles he’s won, his trophy saddles, a lot of the bronzes he’s won over the years.

I believe that things belong together, even though they are from different continents, or different periods. So I combine Western-theme elements in our house with refined French cottage elements, beautiful French antiques, and Swedish benches.

Klimt was influenced by African art. Picasso was influenced by African art and Asian art. So when I’m decorating my house I combine a lot of different elements.

Interviewer:How will you and Ty make decisions when you remodel his house?

Jewel: That will definitely be where two minds come together. Luckily we have very distinct personalities. He’s very pragmatic and mechanical minded, and enjoys the architectural process. He’s very practical, like where the outlets should be, and how far from the surfaces. I honestly don’t notice if a baseboard is crooked. Then too, I want to be considerate. I’m not a woman who wants to edge a man out of the house. And I think it’s silly to have things too feminine and too frilly when you share a space with another person. I don’t mind bending to his tastes. His only goal is to keep things very functional. As far as functionality goes, I like simplicity—surfaces that are easy to clean, countertops that are easy, without nooks and crannies. I think we’ll be pretty much in sync.

Interviewer: Throw pillows?

Jewel: I’ve tried to get away from throw pillows, because I find them kind of fussy. My husband especially finds it kind of annoying to constantly be moving a lot of throw pillows, more throw pillows than a human could possibly need in a lifetime.

Interviewer: How do you establish different moods in your home?

Jewel: I have moods that can change like weather. In Alaska, we have these large moody skies, with clouds coming out of nowhere and the dappled earth beneath. My internal environment feels very much like that: very sunlit one moment, and very pensive and reflective the next. So in the house I like to hit different notes, tell different stories. In the master bedroom I have a monochromatic off-white carpet under the bed that gives a serene feeling, as if the room is levitating. And I have an antique writing desk in there, which is sort of romantic, because I’m a writer.

In the living room I have a dark carpet, with colorful brick colors, mustard colors, whites all woven in. There are these wooden pillars that we’ve wrapped with rope, again combining the hard and the soft. And a mix of modern and antique furniture. The library is very rich and the carpet is more textured there, to go along with that.

The guestrooms are completely different. If I want a certain kind of sunlight and a bright and breezy feel I go into one guest room for that. Another guest room is all black and white, with black-and-white toile on the walls and black-and-white artwork. It has a very specific, old-world feel.

Interviewer:When you are designing a room, how do you use color?

Jewel: I’m mercurial, so I like to keep things that are harder to change a very inviting and somewhat neutral palette. Beige is kind of boring, so I go with soft fairly neutral greens and blues. To add color I use couches and drapes, things that I can change out over the years. You can really change a room by putting in a new area rug and new accents.

Interviewer:What kind of accents appeal to you?

Jewel: I’m fascinated with craftsmanship. Because I travel so much, I tend to be attracted to smaller things, like Japanese netsuke. Beautiful snuff bottles. Beautiful old perfume bottles that are hand painted inside. Old spectacles. Tortoiseshell spectacles or gold- rimmed spectacles, the scissor kind that fold up. I’m just fascinated with great craftsmanship of almost any sort. Lately I’ve been into antique canisters, old coffee cans from the 30s, old Armour meat cans with the labels on them. They add a lot of color and character that’s in keeping with the rest of the house. And if you get tired of them, you can change them out with something more refined or more rustic, like carved wooden bowls, which I particularly like.

Beyond that, I love lamps, which add specific lighting without blowing out a room. My husband makes these amazing little lamps out of things I find. For Christmas, Ty made me a lamp with an octagonal rawhide shade stitched together with leather. The stand was an old iron wagon wheel axel from the 1800s and he made a burnt wood base. He’s very crafty, and mechanical, and makes gorgeous things.


Interviewer:Are you a packrat, or do you edit your collections?

Jewel: I appreciate modern architecture, but I tend to enjoy the comfort and coziness of a cottage. I am, however, a fan of the modern aesthetic, where you edit a lot and don’t have a lot of clutter. When you have a home that’s more cottage-y, it’s almost an excuse to start collecting a lot of kitschy, cottage-y arts and crafts. I really try not to be a packrat. It’s hard for me in my travels, because, after all, I can bring back a basket from Australia. But when I get too much, I give things away.

Interviewer: You mentioned netsuke, the Japanese small-scale sculptures. Are you aware of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, a celebration of the natural, the worn, the humble, the modest, the imperfect, the impermanent? It sounds like your aesthetic.

Jewel: I’ve never enjoyed things being too perfect. (She laughs.) And this comes from a perfectionist. But I’m a perfectionist of a certain type. I believe in refinement and polish, but not where you kill the spirit of the thing. Otherwise it just becomes a slave to your eye, and it has no will, no voice, of its own. I think that’s true in every aspect of life, whether you are hearing music so slick, so overproduced, so generic that you can’t tell it apart from another song. Or whether you are talking about artifacts, home decoration, beauty. I think to some degree originality only exists in oddity.

Interviewer:You have an Edward Wormley style tête-à-tête sofa that you particularly like in your living room, with no back and opposing corners. Can you tell us about it?

Jewel: I think it was Pascal who wrote he could achieve immortality through words and through shape. That fascinated me when I was an art student in high school, because I felt that shape was the original language. Before there was an alphabet, before there was a written language, there was shape. I love this sofa’s shape. It doesn’t have a back that’s imposing, so it doesn’t cut you off, like a couch back that is staring at you when you look from the kitchen into the living room. I enjoy having a conversation with someone in the living room when I’m in the kitchen. It was hard to find a piece of furniture that wouldn’t block off the kitchen.

Interviewer:So, having a conversation with someone when you’re in the kitchen. Do you and your husband entertain a lot?

Jewel: Ty and I are famously reclusive. My life is so public and so busy and so noisy. I’m very rarely alone while I’m working. I’m on the road at least 250 days of the year. So when I’m home I really enjoy getting away. Ty and I, when we come home, we shut the gates. We just enjoy being together and alone. For us the house is a retreat, safety, privacy. At the same time, we both enjoy the outdoors, so it’s important that the outside is brought in with large windows and plenty of large doors, so you can get outside quickly and from anywhere.

Interviewer: You once said “In silence you hear who you are becoming.” How important is quiet to you?

Jewel: I’m definitely a quiet fiend. It’s also the way I was raised, in a log cabin without electricity. So I’m very, very sensitive to sound. Even when it’s turned off, I can hear the TV when it’s plugged in, that electrical humming that just drives me batty and I can’t sleep. When the refrigerator kicks on in the kitchen, it wakes me up at night. I like propane appliances because they are very quiet. I unplug everything electrical, including the television, when I sleep.

I had to insulate the guest house I built, so the recording studio would be soundproof. I have seven different densities of insulation, to capture the different frequencies of sound. Not only does it create an amazing, damp, muted feel inside a room, it gives your ear silence. It even makes your ears ring a little bit, because it’s such a change.

And having all that insulation is really green. You barely have to heat or cool those soundproofed rooms. When we’re remodeling Ty’s house we’ll focus a lot on insulation, because it has that double benefit.

Interviewer: Growing up in Alaska, a large part of the year is spent just staying warm. How did that affect you?

Jewel: I was raised with a coal stove, and I enjoy natural heat. I think it warms you in a more comfortable way than central heating, although I’m a big fan of central heating and not having to make a fire in the morning to keep warm. Still, it’s lovely to sit around our wood fireplace. It draws conversation and it draws reflection, even from some who aren’t always reflective. It’s magical.

Another thing about growing up in Alaska was the light. It’s dark nine months of the year. So I like real light sources. I think the circadian rhythms of waking up with the sun, and going to sleep when it’s dark, are important for your health, and your mental health. Having many natural sources of light is important. They are doing so many great things with windows right now, keeping out the UV rays, keeping your house cooler. There’s no reason not to have lots of great windows and doors that are weatherproof and efficient.

The other thing about Alaska was being so confined at home. I lived in a small log cabin, and shared a room with my brothers and my dad. So that’s why I think not only having warmth in a house, and light, but a feeling of expansiveness is important. I like room layouts to feel open, so they aren’t claustrophobic.

Interviewer:Do you have a design pet peeve?

Jewel: I can’t stand fluorescent light fixtures, the old fashioned ones with the long tubes. They’re the loudest, most annoying things. The way they oscillate, the way they quiver, drives me to distraction. Besides, the light is ugly and makes every color bland. It’s like overcooking your food.

Interviewer:What’s the difference between a hotel room and a home?

Jewel: A hotel is a blank canvas, where everyone is meant to have a joyful experience. A home tells a story of its own. It can be any story – opulence for show, or restraint, or carelessness. I’ve always enjoyed metaphor and poetry so I like putting touches in the house that have a meaning. It might be something only I know, or my family knows. But it gets translated into the soul and the spirit of a house. When you walk in it gives the house a tangible vibe.

Interviewer:How important is our environment?

Jewel: I’m constantly amazed that for so many years we’ve been told you have to be rich to have a lovely environment, because you don’t. You don’t need an education to have a lovely environment. You don’t need money. It’s just putting thought into it.

Our environments are more powerful than mere environments. There’s a reason prisons look like prisons. It’s no accident that people don’t enjoy hospitals. I don’t think enough attention is paid to how our eyes affect our minds and our spirits.

Interviewer: What’s your greatest extravagance?

Jewel: The greatest luxury I’ve ever been afforded is that I get to do something I love for a living. I certainly wasn’t destined to have such a great job. It’s beyond my education level, which would have afforded me only a chance to answer phones somewhere. My life has been the product of a lot of hard work, for sure, but it’s also an amazing gift. That’s the most opulent and extravagant thing I ever could have imagined for myself.

Interviewer:What motivates you?

Jewel: I’ve always believed that great art has the ability to shift generations. It can be more profound than politics. I always felt it was my duty to try to make great art, while I was also aware that your best work doesn’t usually come until your 60s. You spend your life trying to build your craft. Then, if you are lucky enough, and have kept alive enough as an artist, hopefully you can deliver a great piece of work.

But over my short life I’ve also changed: I now want my life to be my greatest art. I’ve seen so many people develop their careers into a giant, well-defined muscle, while the rest of their lives have atrophied. They become estranged from their families, or are deeply unhappy in other ways.

I want my paintings to be beautiful, but I also want my life to be beautiful. And that takes diligence, focus, and commitment.

I’ve turned down things that could make me more rich, or more famous, but definitely not happier. When I’m on my deathbed, looking back on my life, I want to feel that my life was a beautiful painting.