For Tulsa interior designer Jill Croka, designing the perfect home is not just about aesthetic beauty, but creating spaces that are serene, revitalizing and ultimately, therapeutic.
Croka, owner of Jill Croka Designs, draws on her background in psychotherapy and reverence for the natural world to inform her interior design practices, focusing on collaborating with her clients to conceive designs that not only look refined, but actually serve them.
Croka’s influence reaches beyond the Oklahoma interior design world as well. One of her recent projects — a ranch-style family home in Tulsa — was recently heralded in Homes & Gardens magazine as being “one of the world’s best homes.”
Croka talks therapy, design and nature and shares her insight into upcoming interior design trends with the Tulsa World.
Tulsa World: You were a psychotherapist for many years. How does your career in mental health intersect with your work as a designer?
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Jill Croka: “In my early thirties, I went back to school to change careers and do interior design. After working with women with eating disorders, I found that I still wanted to help people, just in a different way. My background in mental health just adds another level of understanding, helping clients communicate what they’re wanting and needing and what they like and don’t like.
“My master’s thesis (when studying psychology) was about the impact of the built environment on healing — studying all the data that came up showed that there are actual physiological responses in your body that you have from your environment. Once I learned that, it really implanted in my mind that the indoor-outdoor relationship in residential homes is really important, and the materials we choose for interiors can actually make a difference in how we feel.”
TW: Your website says that you like to take cues from nature when it comes to your design process. What elements of the natural world tend to inspire you the most?
JC: “I like to incorporate a lot of natural colors. Colors — especially the earthy tones you see in nature that are less saturated — and textures are the most important to me. For materials, stone is important, too — if we’re doing a new build or remodel, stone is one of the first things I choose. I like to use materials like marbles and limestones that have good movement. I prefer honed or leather materials instead of things that are shiny and polished.”
TW: A big part of your work is creating spaces that are relaxing and restorative. Have you noticed an increased need for this kind of space since the COVID-19 pandemic?
JC: “The pandemic really changed how people think about their homes — not just what they want to surround themselves with, but also rethinking spaces that weren’t really used before the pandemic got occupied in different, more creative ways. For instance, a reading chair in your bedroom that you were just setting clothes on before got looked at in a new way. It really made people think differently about appreciating their homes — our world has gotten really stressful, and people wanted to find ways to feel more calm.”
TW: What does your interior design process typically look like?
JC: “When someone approaches me with a new project, I try to really understand what they’re wanting. I like for them to gather information and show me what they like, and instead of copying and pasting that imagery, I like to sit on it and rework it, so I can be a little bit more interpretive. Then, we can present to the client and get started. If we’re building, I like to start with hard materials like stone, and if we’re furnishing, I start with lighting. It’s all about working in layers, and the client is a huge part of it. I don’t think every one of the houses I do needs to look the same, because my job is to create what they want and be a problem-solver.”
TW: One of your projects was recently featured in Homes & Gardens magazine. How did it feel to have your work recognized in that way?
JC: “It felt really great. I come from an academic background — I have two master’s degrees and was teaching before I had my son — and I think the academic in me really loves print articles and stories, so it was very gratifying to me.”
TW: What direction is the interior design world headed?
JC: “There’s a trend toward a more curated home more so now than ever before — there’s more value in the home. As far as trends, we’re seeing a lot more diversity and a lot more openness to all different types of creativity. There doesn’t just have to be one look, which I appreciate, because I don’t think that’s as interesting. We’re all different, right? So it makes sense that we’d all like different things. You should surround yourself with the things that make you feel good.”