Jessica Ahnert Davis ’00 always liked design that people use and interact with every day. She grew up drawing floorplans. But when she chose her concentration at Princeton, she chose art history, with a focus on architectural history, rather than architecture.
“In the end, I like to design things that can actually be built, and that are useable and practical,” Davis says. “Architecture at Princeton was too theoretical.”
Today, Davis designs objects people use every day in their homes: hardware found in bathrooms and kitchens, such as knobs and towel racks. Her company, Nest Studio, based out of northern New Jersey and Atlanta, produces several lines of luxury hardware sold in kitchen and bathroom showrooms, as well as custom hardware for individual clients. Davis splits her time between Nest Studio and her interior design firm, Atelier Davis.
Despite her lifelong interest in design, Davis’ path to hardware and interior design was “not a straight line,” she says.“It took me a while to realize that was really what I wanted to do.”
After beginning her career as a producer for the interior design television show Bob Vila’s Home Again, she completed a master’s degree in interior design from the New England School of Art and Design. This led to luxury-hotel design with Wilson Associates. Working on high-end projects, Davis realized there was room in the market for luxury hardware designers, which prompted her to start Nest Studio in 2012.
“It’s always fun when you design something to get the prototype,” Davis says. “It’s like Christmas, seeing if it looks like how you imagined it.”
Despite her lifelong interest, Davis has always internally pondered the value of design for society. While some might argue that other careers more directly benefit the world, Davis believes design and art comment on present reality in a meaningful way.
“The art movement is always moving along with culture,” Davis says. “And people who are really at the forefront are almost always commenting on something that’s happening outside of the art world, whether it’s cultural or political.”
And design is also valuable in and of itself, she argues.
“I think there’s also value in the purely aesthetic enjoyment of something, even if it isn’t providing some sort of cultural or political commentary,” Davis says.
On Nest Studio’s team based in New Jersey, Davis employs working mothers who like having flexible hours to be able to take care of their families. She has also worked with Youth Consultation Service in the past to employ new mothers in need of work through a “moms-helping-moms” internship program.
“We love working with moms because everyone on our team is a mom,” Davis says. “It felt like a natural fit to be helping other mothers locally find job training and income with a flexible schedule because they have a young child.”
Davis is a mother of two and started Nest Studio when her first son was born. She hopes to continue to grow Atelier Davis and Nest Studio, and perhaps eventually open a retail location. In everything she does, her motivation remains the same.
“I think that beautiful things make people happy,” says says. “It doesn’t have to be expensive beautiful things. The worth is really what you see in it and the beauty you derive from it, the joy and happiness it gives you.”