Dressed in her staple uniform — a loose knit sweater, relaxed jeans and mules — Jenni Kayne is a snapshot of casual California living. If you peek behind the social media, the ads and the catalogs, every bit of her look and lifestyle is on brand with her eponymous fashion and furnishings company that has garnered a cult-like following. Celebrities, Californians and countless others continue to crave those earth-toned slacks and sofas that seem to shift as easily from farm to table as she does.
A country girl through and through, Kayne grew up riding horses in her native California and now has her own ranch in a grassy canyon outside Los Angeles, tending to 23 animals by sunup and throwing easy breezy dinner parties by sundown. She’s also a mother of three (Tanner, Ripley and Trooper), the blogger behind Rip & Tan (named after her kids), and an enviable cook, decorator and gardener. She’s basically living and breathing her brand 24/7 — and selling a slice of that lifestyle has always been the plan since she was a devout sweater-wearing teenager.
This effortless approach to house and home is exactly what Kayne set out to create both for her family and her growing empire. Her company was named 2022’s best performing small-cap retailer by Women’s Wear Daily and is one of 2023’s most innovative retail companies per Fast Company, which called out the 20-acre Jenni Kayne Ranch in Santa Ynez that gives followers a firsthand look at bringing the brand’s furniture to life.
This strategic, fully immersive experience is now echoed at her pop-up spa in Santa Monica, which features her wildly popular beauty and apothecary line, Oak Essentials. Today, she has two dozen retail locations across the country, and this summer, the brand will expand its reach in another luxe market: the Hamptons. The success of Kayne’s studied simplicity is proof that California is really just a state of mind that anyone can access. We talked with the 40-year-old entrepreneur all about how she brought her teenage dream to life, why women love to replicate her go-to uniform and if, in fact, she’s secretly afraid of color.
What style icons inspired you when you were first starting out? And how has your own style evolved over time?
I started my business when I was 19, so the person I was then and the person I am now are very different. The brand and I kind of grew up together. The influences I looked up to were American designers with their own lifestyle brands: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan. These iconic designers were always super inspiring to me, and I knew I wanted to build a lifestyle brand the same way they had. I don’t know if I ever thought this could come to fruition, but that was always the goal. I was dressing a lot younger then, but even at 19, I was already known for my sweaters.
The idea of “finding your uniform” and “less is more” are what I really believe the business is built on. Then, when I had my first child [in 2009], I realized there are only so many outfits you can try on. Having to dress a certain way or trying to look different all the time just didn’t really work. There’s not enough time in the day to work and cook, be a good mom, wife and friend, then worry about looking a certain way.
Also, my body had changed, so I really homed in on: What works in my life? What works on my body? What works for my lifestyle? And I came up with this idea of “find your uniform.” For me, it’s a pair of high-waisted pants with a collared shirt, T-shirt or sweater, and a pair of flats. Once you own that and stand for it, it becomes who you are.
The collection really reflects this idea of giving women the tools to figure out their uniform and all the perfect pieces without having to overthink it all the time. After all, why do we need to reinvent the wheel every season? Of course everyone wants to feel beautiful and have something new and exciting, but I’ve never believed in this concept of fast fashion.
Why do you think so many people covet the Jenni Kayne look in what they wear and how they decorate their home?
We’ve created something that feels unique. It’s all about this effortless indoor/outdoor California living, which can translate across the country and even across the globe. It’s not about being in California — it’s the idea that things are beautiful, timeless, elevated yet effortless. Nothing has to be too perfect. Linen can be wrinkled. It’s about adding texture without adding tons of color. I feel like people are drawn to that aesthetic, and it translates from what you’re wearing to how you’re setting your table. It’s all one world.
While some of the price points in our collection are higher, the concept and lifestyle that we are embodying is very accessible. There are a lot of women who can afford the clothes and the furniture, but if you can’t, you can look to us to set the tone you want to achieve, then you can go out and be creative — you know, get a sofa at IKEA in a neutral linen and mix in antiques from the flea market. It doesn’t have to be Jenni Kayne furniture to get that kind of vibe and look in your own home.
When it comes to designing a room, I always think about grounding the space with timeless pieces — the sofa, coffee table, rug — that are neutral, beautiful and comfortable, and that fit your space. Then you can go to town with all the other stuff to make it feel like you. Create a mood board for what you want the room to feel like. Where you really get to bring in your own personality is in all the accessories. If you want a pop of color, art, pottery, pillows or throws are a great way to achieve that without committing to something like a yellow sofa that you might not want in a couple years.
You’ve mastered the art of neutrals. Are you secretly afraid of color?
I actually love color; I just don’t love it in my personal space. When I’m designing new seasons and collections, I’m constantly surrounding myself with different fabrics, yarns and colors, so I like to come home to a neutral palette.
If you walk through my house, most of the artwork is neutral, but then there’s a very colorful Cecily Brown painting in the hallway against a white wall. I have color; it’s just more neutral — sage, charcoal, a teal pillow here, a mustard pillow there. If you look through my sweaters, I do have some pops of color that I wear from time to time. It’s in small doses, which is what I love.
But if you look in my 5-year-old’s closet, it is filled with color. He dresses super colorfully; pink is his favorite. He has an incredible wardrobe, looks adorable and just is who he is. His room is colorful, too. He has striped rainbow bedding with floral sheets underneath with all these different colors, plus his window bench is yellow. My daughter has pops of turquoise in her room, too.
So I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of color. I just think that when I put things in my home that have too much color, I get sick of it. White or ivory would probably be my favorite, but if it’s a color color, then I’d have to say mustard. But my whole team would say jute is my favorite, because they love to make fun of me.
What does minimalism mean to you? Do you consider yourself a minimalist?
I don’t know that I consider myself a minimalist, but I really believe in restraint. Whether you’re accessorizing a room or getting dressed, there’s that moment when you need to know when to hit the brakes. If you want to keep it clean and minimal, you have to exercise restraint. I do believe in the concept of things being super beautiful and clean — this idea of timeless pieces that last forever, that less is more and definitely not overdoing it.
What’s your take on maximalism? Do you ever crave “more is more”?
I don’t personally crave “more is more,” but I can appreciate maximalism. Like if I am staying at a hotel with that kind of energy, I can really appreciate it. And I definitely have friends with homes where there’s a lot going on! I can appreciate a room with moldings and wallpaper and color and pattern and all the things that go along with it, but that’s not where I feel at home.
As a person and a designer, you really have to identify what your style is and what makes you feel calm and grounded in a space and in your life in general. You either lean toward being more minimal or having a lot of layering. There are always going to be people on both sides.
I think that everyone’s gone super minimalist at the moment. I don’t pay much attention to trends, but people seem drawn toward that look right now. I don’t want to blame everything on the pandemic, but it could be from everyone being in their spaces and realizing what they really need — that they don’t want so much clutter and so much going on, but rather a sense of calm embracing the nature outside and the soft tones inside.
For me, I feel most quiet and at peace when my surroundings reflect that. I am just drawn toward things that are classic and clean. I’m all about this kind of California living, which leans more in the direction of minimalism. But there’s room for everyone, right? The pendulum always swings, so I’m sure we’re going to go back in the other direction at some point.
Some argue that Jenni Kayne — both the brand and the founder — looks pretty picture-perfect. Are there times when you let loose and even make a mess?
If I read my Instagram comments then yeah, I’ll hear that! But I don’t hear that from people who actually know me. I have three kids and tons of animals, so it is messy! It may look really clean, but you know there are paw prints and dirt on the floor and kids going crazy kicking balls against the walls. It’s real!
I recently did a pantry walk-through on Instagram and people were like, What does Virgo have to do with it? And I’m like, Everything. My husband and I are both Virgos, which sometimes makes people wonder what the correlation is. Virgos have this reputation of being super discerning and organized. For the two of us, that’s really true. I take pleasure in cleaning out closets and drawers, organizing things, and having everything just so. But that doesn’t mean if you come into my closet it’s going to look perfect every day. Of course there’s mess! But I’d say in general we keep a pretty clean house.
That said, I don’t think what you’re seeing in a photo shoot is necessarily reflected in everyday life. But the furniture is! There’s a white rug in the living room, so we take our shoes off. That’s how we deal with it. I love to be surrounded by beauty, so I enjoy creating beautiful spaces, then I try to keep them clean and maintained. If I have friends over, I’ll clean up just like anyone else would. But I don’t feel an outside pressure to be perfect. I’m definitely not perfect.
You’re so busy! How do you spend your rare free moments to recharge?
I love traveling with my family. We love little weekend trips; we just did Montecito and Santa Ynez, and we’re going to Palm Springs next weekend. We spend a lot of time together as a group. And then girl time. I just went on a wellness retreat in Napa, and I’m looking forward to some self-care at We Care Spa with friends.
I also love horseback riding and meditating outside in my garden. I just love to move my body, so I also do Pilates and Gyrotonic. I love to go in the infrared sauna if I can. For rituals, I dry brush and foam roll. I have a little routine both in the morning and at the end of the evening. I don’t drink coffee, so I love yerba mate, plus I’m addicted to the Alfred’s matcha latte or Merci when I’m in Santa Barbara.
I love cooking; I’d say I cook two to three times a week. That was another funny comment on Instagram when I was in my pantry talking about how I store my dry lentils and rice in glass jars. I never read the comments, but I read this one. Someone said, This girl clearly doesn’t cook. And I thought, What are they talking about!? I love to cook. I’m super into frittatas with all the eggs from the chickens lately. I’ve never been so appreciative for our chickens!
What does your ideal at-home dinner party look like?
If I were to host a dinner party this weekend, I’d plan a small gathering with a few friends and keep the decor simple with flowers that feel in sync with the season. I love the idea of a family-style taco night: delicious, effortless and always fun. I’d set my outdoor table with our Sierra dinnerware and make a batch of margaritas beforehand for guests to enjoy. From there, I’d just let the night unfold.
You’re a country girl at heart. What about this lifestyle appeals to you?
I grew up surrounded by animals. My parents always had a ton of cats and dogs in the house. I also grew up horseback riding. I still ride horses every day, and my 11-year-old rides with me. I just feel most at peace when I’m out in nature and with animals.
We became super passionate about rescuing mini horses and mini donkeys that end up at auctions. It’s a horrible situation; people get these animals as pets then can’t take care of them. When we decided to move to the westside, I told my husband that I wanted to find a big piece of land and have animals and the whole thing. He’s a real-estate agent and found exactly what I described: a big piece of land with old oak trees and sycamores.
So we built the house, and we built a little barn down by the pool. Now we have three rescue mini ponies, two rescue mini donkeys, two goats, as well as the other ones that live up in Santa Ynez. Plus, all the dogs and cats and chickens and bunnies. And the bees! I’m definitely a farm girl.
It’s funny when people talk about me being perfect. What I really love is being outside and getting dirty. I garden without gloves; I’m not afraid of dirt. So I guess that’s where the mess comes in. I love animal energy, and I love that we’ve saved these animals’ lives. It has created an amazing sense of responsibility for all the kids. Everyone pitches in and takes care of them. It’s chaotic but heartwarming!