The condo foyer’s black-and-white theme is reminiscent of early Hollywood./Photo by Joe del Tufo
If life imitates art—and it often does—Jody Jaeger would feel at home on a movie set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, resplendent with luxurious layers, shimmering surfaces and sleek silhouettes.
Travis Cook gravitates toward masculine settings, with streamlined furniture, bold art and a futuristic vibe that reflects his interest in astronomy.
Three years ago, when they decided to combine households, the couple agreed on several key elements. First and foremost, they would begin their life together in a home they would choose together rather than one of their existing households. It had to be in the city of Wilmington, where they enjoy the arts and entertainment scene. And it must be a condominium or townhouse, a place they can turn the key and travel without worrying about maintenance.
“Mowing a lawn doesn’t speak to either of us,” Jody says.
They found their new home in a two-story 3,000-square-foot penthouse condo on the Brandywine River. The couple appreciated the building’s substantial concrete construction. Aesthetically, they gave a thumbs up to a stately foyer with a black-and-white marble floor set in a checkboard pattern and an elegant staircase with black wrought iron balusters and a brass railing. “So Deco,” Jody observes.
The couple also liked the floorplan, especially a grand and spacious gathering space with a floor-to-ceiling expanse of glass with sweeping views of the city skyline.
“It’s very appealing to come into a room with such great natural light,” Travis says.
Subway and black-and-white tile highlights the master bathroom./Photo by Joe del Tufo
Despite the condo’s size, bringing in diverse collections from their previous homes—his 19th century townhouse in Trinity Vicinity and her vintage-inspired home near Bellefonte—wouldn’t provide the couple with the harmonious feeling they wanted to achieve.
“Taking all our stuff over here and fitting it all in was not going to work,” Travis says. “We had to let the space help us decide which pieces would fit into our home.”
To come up with a healthy solution, the couple turned to Mike Dodson, aka MD the Design Doctor.
“We brought Mike in very early and he started generating ideas,” Travis says.
The designer coined a term for the decor: Art Techo, a fusion of Art Deco and leading-edge styles. He also devised a recurring circle motif throughout the condo, from the rings of Saturn depicted in one of Travis’s favorite art works to an inlay of Carrera marble discs in a feature wall in the master bath.
Centering the gathering space is the ultimate ceiling medallion, a circle 16 feet in diameter. Because the circle is so large, Dodson organized a dress rehearsal for the installation.
“It’s custom wood, made in four different pieces,” he says. “I painted it myself, six coats of metallic gold. The ceiling inside the circle is painted in a slightly darker color to create the illusion of a recess.”
The original pantry was converted to a sophisticated bar in the kitchen./Photo by Joe del Tufo
Because the space is so large, it accommodates two inviting seating areas. For relaxing, there’s a more casual grouping with a tailored sofa, wood coffee table and a television mounted on an architectural bump out that mirrors the woodburning fireplace on the opposite side of the room. The fireplace, with its Adamesque swag and vine details and an overmantel of applied moldings, anchors the formal seating area, with a charcoal velvet Chesterfield sofa embellished with nail heads and a Deco-inspired brass and glass cocktail table.
The dining area is set against expansive windows to take advantage of
Streamlined end tables got a custom paint job in taupe-tinged grey to make them one-of-a-kind pieces. They are topped with sleek, gourd-shaped battery-operated lamps.
“You can place them anywhere because there is no cord,” the designer says. “You just have to remember to recharge them.”
Guests are greeted with a dramatic entry, a foyer papered in a black-and-white Fornasetti pattern, a stylized rendering of clouds. Two-foot tall wired crystal baton sconces flank a gilded pier mirror, passed on by the condo’s original owner.
“It’s a glamorous first impression,” Dodson says.
The round dining table in Travis’s former home made the trip to the condo, in keeping with the circle theme. The upholstery on Chinese fractured latticework chairs got a sophisticated update.
“The upholstery is traditional flamestitch, but in a metallic silver, like you might find in a mountain landscape in an ancient Chinese painting,” the designer says.
A guest room is furnished in Jody’s vintage pieces, which include her extensive collection of books and art depicting goats, her favorite animal.
“Travis and I have settled into a system of one person having the final say on a given area,” she says. “The other is consulted and requests are given real consideration, but this allows us both to be project manager for things that are important to us.”
The palette throughout the condo is a hip blend of neutrals from Benjamin Moore: Brandy Cream, a cotton-soft off-white; Ashley Gray, an elegant, muted shade with a touch of olive; and Black Jack, a round, saturated off-black without a hint of blue. For a dash of spice, the couple decided to add a bold accent color.
“I knew I wanted red, but classic Chinese red felt a little too orange,” Jody recalls.
She found the perfect shade in an unlikely place, her Kitchen Aid stand mixer. “Burgundy, like red wine,” she says.
Burgundy lacquer—five coats of it—proved an ideal choice for a sleek, Deco-inspired back bar in the kitchen.
“It used to be a pantry, but Travis and Jody thought beautiful liquor bottles are much nicer to look at than cans of soup,” the designer says.
Travis Cook’s fondness for space and flight is exemplified by details like a mobile suggesting planetary orbit and a desk that mimics an airplane wing./Photos by Joe del Tufo
Dodson worked with Kevin Bowman of Bolster in West Chester to craft the cabinetry he designed. Jody collaborated with David Govatos of Swig in North Wilmington to stock the bar, positioning bottles on risers to better display the labels.
The existing wood cabinets are of good quality, but the dark wood made the kitchen feel cramped. The solution was to paint them, gray for the uppers and black for the lower cupboards, adding contemporary brass pole hardware. The counter on the pass-through is sheathed in brass. Erica Swalheim of ES Drapery in Hockessin made the relaxed Roman shade above the sink from luminous silk in tones of bronze and gold.
Personal touches reflect the homeowners’ interests and histories. The black-and-white rendering of ports of call in the gathering room was created by an artist the couple met on a cruise ship. A silvery metal desk reminiscent of an airplane wing is Travis’s favorite spot, a place where he checks email and does finance work. Binoculars are at the ready to observe turtles sunning themselves on rocks in the Brandywine below.
In an Art Deco-infused powder room there’s a black-and-white portrait of matinee idol Rudolph Valentino carrying a canoe over his head that Jody found on Etsy. Whimsical volumes of old books with such titles as “How to Find A Husband After Forty” are stacked on the sink top.
And when it’s time for their next adventure, the couple bids their condo a fond farewell.
“We stop the mail, lock the door and go,” Travis says.
Take a geometry lesson. Circles are a recurring theme in the Cook-Jaeger condominium, found in shades, sconces, furniture and striking ceiling moldings.
Go for the “wow” factor. Dramatic wallpaper, free standing columns and a gilded antique mirror create architectural excitement. Invest in classics. In the master bath, crisp white subway tiles and black-and-white basket-weave marble will stand the test of time.
Shop ’til you drop. Specialized products like battery-operated lamps provide unique design solutions. Savvy shopping also provides an opportunity to compare costs.
There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint. In the condo, paint transformed dated kitchen cabinets into contemporary cupboards. On the floor, a band of paint creates the effect of an inlay.