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Every Door Has a Story: Meet Jen, Henry & Kiki

Henry and Kiki, Jen Mooney's daschunds, pose at the front door. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

While photographing doors, Deb Cohen of The Front Door Project met Jen Mooney – and learned about the inspiration that led to her major transformation from NY magazine fashion editor to owner of a West Hartford gardening business.

Henry and Kiki, Jen Mooney's daschunds, pose at the front door. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Henry and Kiki, Jen Mooney’s dachshunds, pose at the front door. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

By Deb Cohen

Do you ever have that feeling that you were supposed to meet someone? Because if not for a random series of events you never would have met them? That’s how I feel about Jen Mooney.

Jen lives in West Hartford in an adorable Cape with her even more adorable dachshunds, Henry and Kiki. A lot of adorable-ness going on over there!

Jen was an early follower of The Front Door Project on Instagram as she recognized that a number of the homes featured were in West Hartford. She would comment occasionally and I would take a peek at her account every so often to see snippets of her beautiful gardens and her sassy pups.

Jen’s classic brick Cape home. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Jen’s classic brick Cape home. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

I had no idea where Jen lived, but on one of my many walks about town I thought I recognized a home as hers from the photos I had seen on her account. I snapped a pic and featured it, and sure enough it was Jen’s!

Even stranger, a month or two later I snapped a picture of a home on the other side of town with the most beautiful front yard garden. Coincidentally, the home belonged to Jen’s mother.

From there, I noticed that Jen had a link in her Instagram profile to Paula’s Perennials. I asked her what it was, and turns out Jen and her mother, Paula, run a garden design business together.

Coincidentally, my garden is a disaster. A streak of bad luck and a number of rookie mistakes had left me seriously disgruntled about my yard.

Sweet little angel contemplating…life? Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Sweet little angel contemplating…life? Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Before I get too far into this post, let me point out that Jen’s garden has already been “turned down” in preparation for winter. Those of you who know your gardening know what that means, but what it means to most of us is that bloom time has passed and its time for most plants to go into hibernation for a few months.

However, as you walk about Jen’s yard you can see the structure that the garden has with its curved flower beds, little stone pathways and walls, various groupings of plants and features such as garden benches, a birdbath, potted plants and, last but not least, a doghouse.

This garden will look like a dream again come spring as you can see in the photos on the Paula’s Perennials website.

Henry & Kiki may not voluntarily go into their doghouse, but they will for treats! Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Henry & Kiki may not voluntarily go into their doghouse, but they will for treats! Photo credit: Deb Cohen

I explained my gardening plight to Jen, and she generously made time in her busy schedule to provide me with a consultation for my garden. Both she and her Mom came to my home and I could sense their expertise and enthusiasm immediately. It didn’t take long for me to decide to have them design and plant the beds in my front yard.

As I got to know Jen through designing my garden, I learned the story of how she came to be in business with her Mom. It’s an inspirational tale and the reason why I think I was supposed to meet her.

I think you’ll agree that what she did is something many of us wish we had the courage to do … she completely changed her life.

Boat cut outs in the shutters add a whimsical touch to the windows. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Boat cut outs in the shutters add a whimsical touch to the windows. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Jen used to work in New York City as the fashion editor of a major magazine. She lived a life that many dream about, with an NYC apartment, high style parties, killer clothes and multiple trips to Italy every year.

You would never guess it from her unassuming gardening attire now, but this girl has bins of designer name shoes that are remnants of that life hiding in an out-of-the-way closet.

The glamour was not all it was cracked up to be, and Jen realized she didn’t want to continue to live someone else’s dream. She enjoyed many aspects of her New York career, but the pressure to stay up with the trends, go out and be seen and travel took its toll.

Her mother told her to come home to West Hartford and they would build a new dream together.

Little angels keep each other company on a garden bench in Jen’s front yard. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Paula is a Master Gardener, and Jen grew up working with her mother in the garden. With their shared love of plants, and Paula’s expertise, they launched Paula’s Perennials in 2009. Starting off taking any little job that came their way, in the past six years their business has grown tremendously and has attracted the attention of a number of high-profile clients.

Jen loves garden design and the immediate satisfaction she obtains from creating something beautiful that her client loves. She and Paula have experimented with dozens of plants and have landed on those varieties that they find to be most successful in Connecticut, although they always try new plant varieties to keep things fresh.

They specialize in perennial garden design and planting which is a unique niche in the state.

A row of mums adds a burst of color to the fall landscape. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

A row of mums adds a burst of color to the fall landscape. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Jen sold her New York apartment and used the proceeds to buy a home for herself in West Hartford. After a time, she realized the home wasn’t quite right for her. She listed it and almost immediately found the brick Cape that she knew would be her home.

It was a fixer-upper to say the least but Jen worked her magic on it, both inside and out.

The sad little Cape that she found shines now and is yet another example of what an older home can be with some effort. It would be hard to find a new home with as much charm.

The interior is a series of smaller rooms that are just perfect for Jen and her pups, and her flair for decorating makes the home magazine worthy both inside and out.

Henry poses sweetly with the fall display of mums and pumpkins. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

Henry poses sweetly with the fall display of mums and pumpkins. Photo credit: Deb Cohen

I so admire Jen’s courage to make a change when she recognized she didn’t want to live out her days in the magazine world. She has no regrets as she looks back and loves the life she has today. The change didn’t happen easily and she has big dreams requiring lots more work to make them come to fruition.

But she says when she sees something in her future, it happens. And I believe her. What is your dream? Will you take a risk and do what it takes to make it happen?

I plan to use Jen’s story as inspiration to make my dreams come true, and I hope it has provided some inspiration to you, too.

If you love the pictures of Henry and Kiki (otherwise known as the weena dogs!), you can find them on Instagram @henryloveskiki. They will make you smile!

Deb Cohen of West Hartford started The Front Door Project in the summer of 2014 as a way to motivate herself to get outside, exercise and pay more attention to her surroundings. She began photographing homes with a primary focus on the front door, which is a welcoming focal point. Social media provided the means to share the photographs and a ready audience to follow along, and her new-found interest soon led to exploring other local area towns in my free time. The “project” has led to deeper interests in architecture, local history and historic preservation and came at a time in Deb’s life when she needed some inspiration. Please join Deb as she continues to share her everyday travels and explorations of other towns and places! You can find her other posts at www.thefrontdoorproject.com.

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