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We’ve long turned to Jean Brownhill, founder of homeowner-contractor matchmaking service Sweeten, for advice on all things reno, from the mistakes to avoid to the magic formula for kitchen cabinet plans. After 2020’s quarantine-induced reevaluation of what we need from our homes (in short: a lot), she was one of the first people we wanted to call in the new year. 

“We definitely have seen an incredible increase in demand,” Brownhill tells Domino’s editor-in-chief, Jessica Romm Perez, on this week’s episode of Design Time (out today on Spotify and Apple Podcasts). “We were up 100-plus percent year over year, as far as projects posted and people wanting to renovate.”

What features are people prioritizing now? Where can you find hidden square footage? How do you make the most of your budget? Perez and Brownhill delve into these questions and so much more—including 10 things that are making the architect-entrepreneur happy. Here’s a sneak peek.

Design Heroes

David Adjaye—I continue to be so impressed with his work. I’m looking more at hospitality spaces, museum spaces, other types of spaces. Only because, like 17 hours of my day is spent looking at homes. I [also] love Phil Freelon. He was a great architect. For those who don’t know him, he partnered with Adjaye on the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. But he was also an incredibly beautiful human being; unfortunately he passed away fairly recently. Just a spectacular, spectacular person. I’m in his fan club.

Favorite Color

My favorite color is always the same, which is not a color that I actually ever wear or use in any element in my home. I have a lot of plants—anyone who knows me or has come to the Sweeten office knows this. I’m such a plant mama. It’s the same: growing plants, growing a business, growing relationships. That’s what you have to get good at in life—growing things. So my favorite color is the color when sunshine comes through the leaves. It’s a dark green that then turns to light green with the sun through it. I love that so much. 

Material of the Moment

Let’s be honest, the favorite material of the moment is jersey or Lycra or anything that is stretchy. I put on jeans for our interview. For the listening audience, know that I have jeans on. But they are like 95 percent Lycra. I can’t imagine those Levi’s I used to wear with no stretch.

Courtesy of Faena Hotel

Dream Destination

I’m actually sitting in one of my favorite cities and favorite places. I’m at the Faena Hotel in Miami; I drove down to get some work done for the new year. So obviously this must be one of my favorite places. Because the second that I was able to do any kind of travel, I came here. 

Favorite Design Object

I was thinking a lot about so many moments; we’ve all lived what seems like a decade in 2020. The thing that has really stuck with me is that portrait that Amy Sherald did of Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair. That painting is so haunting and beautiful and obviously painful and something that I will remember for the rest of my life as one of the design objects of 2020.

Plant Pick

This one’s easy. I have a night-blooming cereus that blooms once a year, and it’s absolutely my favorite plant. My best friend from college gave me a clipping from hers, and now I have a huge bush. They are surprisingly not [hard to maintain].

Favorite Vintage Source

I’ve been obsessed with EstateSales.net. It is so fun. Even just as a new type of real-estate voyeur experience, I highly recommend it, because it’s people who are selling estate sales—not all estate sales, some of them are just sale sales—and it’s fantastic.

Forever Inspiration

Nature. This time period has been so important for me to get out into nature and to remember that there’s something so much bigger than all of us. As much as I love architecture, as much as I love urban environments, those are man-made systems. It’s important to appreciate the beauty and the systems that are around us. There’s just been nothing more inspiring to me than standing by the ocean and realizing this ocean will be here tomorrow; this sand will be here tomorrow; you will be here tomorrow if you are so fortunate.

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.