A visit with Mar Jennings reveals a stunning Westporthome that evolved through custom design, attention to every detail and his vision of inspiring others
By Malia McKinnon Frame
Your home has fantastic curb appeal. I want to walk right in! Tell me about it.
I adore my home, which is named Rosebrook Gardens after the many roses on the property and the calming, meandering brook at the end of the street. When I bought it in 1997, it was new, not quite finished and it was pink! The first month I owned it I repainted the exterior, took down trees and planted new ones, created new garden beds, pulled out the asphalt driveway and replaced it with crushed stone, installed copper gutters and built the garage. Over the years, I focused on renovation and replacements that upped style and function, with the addition of the pergola, a folly, side terrace, cedar shingle roof, custom fireplace and a new chimney and fire pit. I also installed a wonderful Dutch door as I believe their design underscores an air of hospitality.
What’s the Folly?
It’s the cute little outbuilding at the foot of my driveway. A folly, by definition, is “a useless decorative structure,” but mine is decorative and functional. It’s a glorified shed that houses my rubbish bin, recycling hub, gardening tools and real estate supplies. It adds charm and style to the neighborhood with its custom design.
How did you choose this home?
I looked at many, but this was a new construction build that I could finish and make my own without worrying about the infrastructure, versus buying another home I could just make livable. I wanted this to look like an older home that had been renovated, and I knew it had great bones, windows and a fantastic layout. It’s also close to downtown Westport so I, or my house guests, can walk to town. I wanted a sweet, manageable piece of property that would inspire me and others.
As an Emmy-nominated, nationally syndicated TV show host, actor, best-selling author and award-winning realtor, tell us how your home fits your lifestyle.
All of my career platforms have a connection to my day-to-day life. I build everything I represent with the mission of being on top of that said industry. I want to be the foam in the coffee, per se, not the coffee. I strive to be the best in everything I do, and the same goes for my home. Truth be told, when I became a widower in 2005 and left a Senior VP role in banking, I realized my priorities and purpose as well as my skill sets. I felt that life is about what your global footprint will be when you’re gone, so at that moment my home, my TV show and my design books became my legacy of sorts, where I share my talents and passions. As a public figure these are also vehicles by which I’m inspired, and they allow me to set an example of kindness through the many facets of my day to day life.
How do you express your signature style in this home?
My brand has percolated through the evolution of living in multiple places since I was 16, then fully came to life when Rosebrook Gardens became my home. Using my home as my laboratory and through careful experimenting I developed my six core design principles of casual luxury. They are seen throughout my house and can be used by everyone in their own home. They are:
1) Represent Mother Nature: Bring the outdoors into every room.
2) Embrace Light and Reflection: Use mirrors, glass, anything that reflects light and brings it into the space.
3) Use Natural Materials and Colors: Choose colors found in nature for your walls and furniture. Use items like wicker, rope, wood, stone and metals to add texture.
4) Repurpose: Take something you already own and use it in your new space.
5) Repeat Shapes and Patterns: Doing this creates a cohesive look in a home.
6) Consider Size and Scale: There should be a balance of large and small items in each room.
What are some of the personal touches you added to your house?
I wanted to make this home look like it wasn’t cookie cutter construction, and the only way to do that was to do a deep dive with the details. First, I made it a smart home so everything can be controlled by my phone, then I customized the front and back doors, the gardens, my studio, the terrace and splurged on outdoor lighting and an outdoor fireplace. I also had custom gates made for my white picket fence, built a special living room Guilt stone fireplace, and installed a Seura TV, which turns into a mirror when you turn it off. I always recommend elevating a space by doing custom work when possible, especially when it’s a smaller area because every detail matters. Whether it’s cabinetry, millwork, or making the outdoor areas beautiful, it’s about continuity and finding a familiar place for your eye to land and create comfort.
How did you furnish this space?
The house is around 2000 square feet, a great size for me and my three-year-old Red Wheaton miniature schnauzer, Daisy Von Schnorkenheimer. My home is all about the magic of the mix—old and new furniture, artwork and antiques. I always lean towards pieces that have stories and lineage. For example, in my dining room my console table is an old, wonderfully ornate wrought iron outdoor English balcony which I used for the base, and the top is a new thick frosted piece of glass, combining old and new.
How much time do you spend in your kitchen?
A lot. When I redesigned it, I wanted a kitchen that was aesthetically beautiful, timeless and functional, yet I also wanted it to look like custom furniture, and Kitchens by Deane helped me achieve all these goals. I’m not a cook but I know a great deal about designing kitchens, so I wanted some special features in this space. My black custom La Cornue range is one, and the gray custom tile backsplash that Karen Berkemeyer Home created for me by combining four distinct patterns is another great accent.
A traditional dining room is becoming obsolete in many homes today. Do you use yours?
Yes! My dining room is my conservatory and my connection to Mother Nature—I love entertaining in here. I installed a wall of custom black steel doors and windows three years ago as part of my vision to embrace and immerse myself in the outdoors. It opened-up the room so no sight lines were obstructed. My morning terrace just off the dining room and my back patio with a fire pit are such sweet places to sit and enjoy coffee, cocktails or visit with friends.
It’s obvious you love art! Is there anything special about your collection?
I tend to lean towards landscapes, and I think of my home as an art exhibit. I’m told I’m the largest collector of Dennis Shehan paintings in the US; he’s an American contemporary painter whose pieces are moody and harmonious. When you have large artwork, it should be the focal point of a room, as is the case in my dining room. With smaller, more intimate pieces you can create little individual galleries and vignettes. I’ve done this in my living room, guest room, office and bedrooms.
This top floor situation is fabulous. What’s going on here?
My primary bedroom is all about who I was, who I am and who I want to be. It’s my private domain, and because I’m up high I have beautiful sight lines and it feels like I’m living in a tree house. I built out my closets to accommodate my obsession with being a well-dressed gentleman. For example, my closet hanging bars are under lit, and the walls are side lit. I had to maximize the closets and wanted them to look like a special boutique department store.
My custom built-in shelving unit is backed with a pretty seagrass fabric and houses my pocket squares, belts, watches and sunglasses. I also displayed my crazy collection of Hermes boxes on top as well as some of my equestrian trinkets—I still ride horses regularly! I have pull-out tie racks, a folding station, and the area reserved for my jackets is constructed on industrial rollers so key sections can be slid out to access my furnace, of all things! I’ve made great use of every inch of space in this house by hiding things I don’t need to see every day, including an insulated attic storage area behind my bedside table where I keep my luggage and holiday decor. My custom closet and shelves give me a place to tuck things away and make it easy to get dressed because I can see everything.
What’s your favorite thing about your home?
All the outdoor entertaining spaces and garden areas. This home is Mother Nature-inspired and infused, and I love throwing intimate dinner parties with friends so I built layers of design details as well as several comfortable retreats. I want every space to be about indoor-outdoor living, and I created very strategic entertaining areas that lend themselves to hosting groups.
This is the most beautiful garage I’ve ever seen! What is it used for?
I parked my small car in there exactly once, and never did it again. After that, it’s become my pool house without the pool, a garden studio, a bar, a place to get away from the rain, to read, to have tea, I’ve even done book signings in here during a garden tour! A custom staircase on the side takes you up to my real estate office, but most importantly this is an ideal place to view and celebrate the garden. Fun features like the faux fireplace with a living wall and the black and white hand painted checkerboard floor make it a special spot. I even have a custom garage door inspired by a recent trip to New Orleans’ French Quarter. It’s designed to look like the French doors I admire so much. I also had the gas lantern shipped from New Orleans, along with the lantern at the foot of my driveway. They burn 24/7 as an eternal flame for those who have blessed my life and come and gone.
What about this stunning pergola and outdoor dining space?
Because I don’t keep my car in the garage, I turned this section of the driveway into a functional dining space and parterre garden, set around a beautiful outdoor dining table that sits under a wisteria-covered pergola. This is the most romantic place to entertain and appreciate Rosebrook Gardens because you’re among all the finishes, twinkle lighting, and details like the custom designed windows and planters. I organized the garden so that it’s beautiful to look at morning, noon and night, and it’s an amazing place to create memorable experiences. Night lighting and strategic spotlights take it to a whole new level of visual beauty after dark.
How does your home make you feel?
Purposeful, humbled and blessed. This home makes me realize there’s more to life than most people realize. The minute I named this property I knew I wanted to create a legacy and be known as the man who created beauty wherever he went. As I renovate and change things, I try to write something on a beam, tuck a time capsule or leave a dated handwritten note within the walls. As the current steward of this home I can only hope someday someone will discover what life on Mar’s was truly about through my words, my passion and my lifestyle brands.