By Patrick Straub
From her office window, Erika Jennings looks out across the West Fork of the Gallatin River. It is a fitting vantage point for the Big Sky entrepreneur—she’s been designing homes in Big Sky for over two decades and her passion for the mountain community flows constant and unbroken. Like most longtime and new residents to Big Sky, she came as a visitor but soon found a way to make it home.
“My heart is in this place,” Jennings says sipping coffee while fresh snow sparkles in the morning sun, “and my home is too. I want to give our clients the same feeling I get each day here in Big Sky—that this is the perfect place and that their home is the perfect place.”
But in the time of a global pandemic—COVID-19 is, and will be, a fact of life for awhile—a home is called upon to share more responsibility than ever before. Homes are now offices, schools and businesses when they used to be only sanctuaries from the hustle of the rat race.
“Our homes must do so much more, but we can design spaces that can do it all,” says Jennings. “Whether it is redesigning a kitchen to utilize every nook and cranny to incorporating home office spaces into a new construction, designing interior spaces that fit people’s lives is what inspires me … pandemic or no pandemic.”
Inspiration is crucial, but so is boots-on-the-ground knowledge, and Jennings brings that every day. For over two decades she’s developed personal connections with the diverse array of trade partners in the Big Sky area. In exploding markets like Big Sky and Bozeman, having an inside track on suppliers, sub-contractors, and industry talent is paramount.
“My team has been together a long time. We’re small and intimate, which our clients really like, but over the decades we’ve built so many strong relationships that we can run with the big dogs,” says Jennings.
“We understand the local materials and how to get them and incorporate them into a home,” adds Jennings. “Pair that with our passion for living here and knowing why people want to live here, designing a home for our clients never feels like work to us. It feels like welcoming someone new to our community, not just being a part of their transaction.”
But many clients have not yet moved to Big Sky permanently and may only live in the community seasonally. When Jennings or her team meets a new client, creating that personal connection is important for both the homeowner and the design team. With an office of four design professionals plus two fluffy Golden Retrievers—Tinker and Bear—it is easy for new clients to feel welcome.
Whether it is multiple visits with Jennings herself or Zoom calls with the entire team, clients of Erika and Co. often feel at home throughout the entire process. Even in today’s world of distancing and remoteness, Jennings has been able to maintain the personal connection and trust that are vital to interior design.
“Our clients vary greatly. Some come from down the street while others come from across the globe,” Jennings says as she runs a finger under Tinker’s collar. “We become the eyes and ears for them. We invest time and energy to learn about them and then put our hearts into every detail.”
In December Erika and her team completed a design and organization project for a local client’s master suite. Before Christmas Eve Erika received a text from the client praising the work. “As corny as this sounds,” she told Erika, “I think this was life-changing for me.”
As the sun now rises higher in the sky, lighting the West Fork of the Gallatin River into a pearlescent blue, Jennings’ phone buzzes and then her email pings. One message is from a team member letting her know they found the perfect reclaimed mantlepiece for a master bedroom fireplace that a client was desiring and the other is from a client wanting to grab coffee to discuss a new home office reorganization project.
Jennings picks up her phone, places it in the chest pocket of her jacket and walks out of her office. Tinker and Bear rustle on their dog beds, then resume their morning dog nap.