The local artist sparks her home's lively décor.
This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019-20 issue of Columbus Monthly Home & Garden.
Walk into artist Jeny Reynolds’ home and try not to smile. Odds are, it will be impossible. The 93-year-old’s residence is lively with color, packed with a profusion of objects that delight the eye and touch the heart.
You don’t so much visit Reynold’s house. You bask in it.
Reynolds has lived in her Far East Side home for more than 40 years, and its contents reflect varying times in her life. Elaborately decorated birdcages share space with fields of lavender painted in Provence. There’s a scene of rural Gahanna rendered by fellow painter Emerson Burkhart as well as a multi-media shadowbox that Reynolds created, inspired by a church in Santa Fe.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The overriding theme here is color, from top to bottom: lavenders, blues, greens, yellows, pinks and reds. Reynolds has been called the “queen of color” more than once. “I don’t look at it that way,” says the artist. “It’s supposed to be this way.”
What’s most remarkable, perhaps, is that this queen of color can now see only gray out of her right eye. Reynolds isn’t sure exactly when or why it started. When she narrows the focus in her left eye, “everything seems so bright,” she says. “In my work now, I am using more black, which lets me see the color in the painting better.”
She uses black and white in polka dots or stripes and checks, as a foil for the brilliant color in her home, most notably in her kitchen. The room is a rainbow, with spring green walls, periwinkle blue cabinets and exuberant canvases featuring blooms of many hues. A kitschy chandelier, adorned with beads and red crystals, hangs above a cozy sitting nook.
Reynolds first eyed the chandelier while visiting a Granville shop with one of her sons. She didn’t buy it, but changed her mind a few days later. When she returned to the store, the fixture was gone. “I thought, ‘Who in the world would want that?’” she recalls. It turned out her son had purchased the piece for her as a surprise.
Her decorating philosophy is personal. “You have to have things around you that make you feel good and feel comfortable,” she says. “You just have a good time and enjoy what you’re doing.
“This house is just me,” she adds, laughing. “These are girly things.”
Reynolds was 8 years old and living near Athens when her creative nature took hold. “I built little places for myself. I had the most wonderful hideout in my mother’s garden,” she recalls. Nestled underneath a grape arbor and next to a brick structure, she furnished it with department store castoffs—rolls of artificial grass, silk flowers and other embellishments.
The same attention to detail reveals itself at every turn in her current home. She attaches beaded trims to lamps and chairs, tasseled fringe to drapes and marble-topped tables, and paints furniture legs in whimsical patterns.
Even her kitchen baseboards received special attention. Reynolds cut one of her paintings into strips, then glued them to the boards. She added the final touch by painting the molding with a wavy design.
“I always have to add something,” she says.
Much of the art in the home is Reynolds’ own, spanning different phases of her career. She has worked in oils, watercolors and acrylics, created reverse-painted glass pieces and collages, crafted birdcages and constructed shadowboxes. She also displays pieces by friends and contemporaries Jane Heller and Marti Steffy, and a work or two from former art students.
Most everything else is a family treasure, including an imposing book case that belonged to her grandfather. In true Reynolds’ fashion, she adorns it with working glass-and-crystal wall sconces and other things. The room in which it lives is a warm, lemony yellow, enhanced with florals, as well as collections of porcelain castles and Staffordshire dogs. In a corner, a neat pile of comfy cushions is set aside for her great-grandchildren to nestle upon.
Many items came from her mother-in-law. “She was such a sweet person,” Reynolds says. “She would like to know I have everything here.”
Reynolds calls herself “the keeper of family things,” and as such, has tucked notes into many of the objects, describing their origin. “Everything is a little memory,” she says.
Even the journey to her home’s second floor is an exhibition of art. The risers are adorned with square ceramic tiles, which Reynolds hand-painted with images of dogs, girls in dresses and, of course, flowers.
On every wall and shelf, there are stories. Reynolds points to a painting outside a guest bedroom. The scene is set in Gardner, Montana, an obscure town at the time Reynolds painted it. A few decades later, the work was displayed at Capital University. She and a man visiting the exhibit struck up a conversation about the painting’s locale, and it turned out that he was from Gardner, which has grown considerably in size.
“Can you believe that?” Reynolds asks. “There’s always a story.”
Reynolds and her late husband, David, were married 65 years. They lived on Remington Road in Bexley before moving to the current home, which was the first residence built in a brand-new development 40 years ago near East Broad Street. The home has undergone several changes, most notably the creation of a studio. Reynolds says she tries to create something in the studio every day.
“I make an awful lot of mistakes, but you learn from your mistakes,” she says. “I like to paint puzzles and problems to solve. How can I make it better so I like it more?”
The studio overlooks one of two courtyards decorated with concrete urns, birds and angels. Aged white metal tables, chairs and planters offer other places to stop and soak in the scenery. Flowers color the surroundings during warmer months, but Reynolds has been known to arrange lifelike artificial plants in some of the urns during dreary winter days. Someone, a neighbor she presumes, secretly added lilies to one.
In an era focused on decluttering, Reynolds’ home sparks joy of a different kind. Instead of removing objects, she still makes space for items that speak to her. “I do like to decorate,” she happily acknowledges. “There are days I walk around and think, if I had just two more little rooms …”