Jennifer Maxcy’s design career was born out of crisis and a bad sofa choice. Today, she is a successful online purveyor of vintage furniture and accessories (via The Ranch Uncommon) and a stylist. A decade ago, she was a burned-out casting agent with a Craigslist buying habit.
How she transitioned from casting agent to vintage dealer, remodeled a decrepit ranch house into a dream house, and pivoted again to become an online merchant is a story of resilience and creative thinking.
It started with the purchase of a Victorian settee. “It was gaudy, but I loved it,” she says. “I was living with my brother in Southern California at the time. I squeezed the piece into my tiny car, got it home, and discovered it was completely the wrong scale and style for the place. I resold it on Craigslist, and made some money. I thought, ‘this is kind of fun!’ It was the first time I seriously considered doing this [selling furniture] for a living.”
It wasn’t long before she had rented a booth in an antique store and was spending time between casting projects scouring Craigslist and flea markets for wares to fill it. She eventually left show business and went on to open her own vintage store, called Hoot n' Anny Home.
That’s when things started to get interesting, design-wise.
“My husband and I decided we wanted to live in a more rural environment, with more land,” she says. “Most people look for a new home based on the house, we were looking based on property size.” (And this is just the first example of how, when it comes to shopping, Maxcy has a knack for looking where others don’t.)
Their search ended with the purchase of a post-and-beam ranch house in unincorporated Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“We went from living in a tract house among rows and rows of tract houses in Los Angeles, to living in an area where people keep horses and chickens,” she says. “In the old days, Hollywood stars used to escape to Newbury Park to go hunting. The area is full of small cabins from that time.”
She believes her own house may have been used for that purpose. But while the house had a great backstory, its condition was not so charming.
The interior was composed of dark wood, the finishes and fixtures were worn, and the terraced landscaping was deteriorating and falling down the side of the hill. “The house was very distressed,” says Maxcy. “I had always had a knack for putting things together, and I had successfully made some updates in the home my brother and I shared before I got married. That said, when my husband and I pulled into the driveway for the first time after getting the keys, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread, as if the house were closing in around me.”
You could call it buyer’s remorse or end-of-escrow scaries—and Maxcy had a bad case of it.
At another point in her life, when she was under job duress, a sofa provided an inspirational spark. Faced with the task of remodeling the house, two workbenches gave her the creative boost she needed.
“Most interior designers start a project by looking at the space and go from there,” Maxcy says. “I’ve always started by looking at a thing and figuring out how it will go in the space.”
Talk to Maxcy for any length of time, and you realize that how she views objects is, indeed, uncommon. For example, when most of us look at wire egg baskets, we see...wire baskets. When Maxcy views the same objects she envisions their potential as light fixtures. As she puts it, “I’ve always seen things in a different light.”
Given that ability, it’s no surprise a pair of workbenches launched the remodel. Today, one is the kitchen island, the other is the media center.
When the couple moved in, the 1,143-square-foot home had three bedrooms. Their first action was to scrap one of those bedrooms to make way for a great room containing the kitchen, a sitting room, a media room, and a dining nook. “We took out the walls of one bedroom, and immediately three quarters of our house was a construction zone,” Maxcy remembers.
The two pieces showed her the way. “I’d had the workbench that’s now the kitchen island in my shop for years, and I never put a price on it,” she says. “It’s a Craigslist find, and it’s something a carpenter made and used in a workshop. It was a dark, reddish color, and I had it sanded and installed it as the kitchen island.”
The second piece is a storage cabinet and workbench that Maxcy guesses came from a workshop in a barn. “I had gone to buy something else, and came away with this 400-pound piece instead. Like many other things, I bought it before I had a place for it,” she says. But in the new house, it fit precisely where she wanted to put a television, and thus began its new life as a media center.
Likewise, the kitchen cabinets and countertop were purchased before they had a home. “When I had my store, someone purchased a nearby kitchen showroom and turned it into something else,” she says. “I purchased one of their display kitchens and removed it.”
There weren’t enough cabinets to fill the space, so rather than try and match the salvaged pieces, Maxcy decided to go a different direction. She used old barn-door wood to fill the “gap” underneath the sink, and she ordered a number of reclaimed-wood storage chests from a wholesale source (they are carried by West Elm) and installed them as lower cabinets. “If you can’t match, contrast,” she says.
The mix of white cabinets with rustic wood is a micro expression of a macro theme in the home: rusticity, refined. The once dark wood paneling is painted white, the formerly brown post that is near the center of the great room is wrapped in rope. “I always envisioned this as a white space, but I wanted to leave the tongue-and-groove paneling, because I really like that rustic, cottage look,” Maxcy says. “I added the rope to soften the beam.”
As the remodel progressed, the melding of Maxcy’s personal interests and profession continued.
“My store was in an industrial space, and I was always trying to make it feel cozy and give it some character,” she says. “At some point, I realized that I was creating that kind of space at home. I started looking at how I could display and sell my items from there.”
She closed her store and, although she maintains a space in a nearby vintage shop, she displays many of her wares at home, selling via Chairish and Instagram. “Using my home, I’m able to show people how they could use some of the goods I buy,” she says.
And for her, that vision is as much about recycling as it is by style. “I wish there were a ‘Green Home Channel’ in addition to HGTV,” she says. “Using these kinds of vintage goods is way of recycling or upcycling. I’d like the country to change its consumption, and I’d like to be a part of that.”