Josette Kark is a style institution in Stark County. The interior designer and owner of JK Design in Canton feels her design expertise is a gift from God. And after 30 years of business – much from repeat clientele – it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
“God gave me a talent that, thankfully, I was able to realize and capitalize on,” says Josette. “I wanted to relay this gift to other people.”
She uses an innate ability to read people, grasp their ideas and gently take them outside their comfort zone (often with her signature black and white design scheme, metallics and textures) for a timeless and sophisticated Hollywood glam look.
From early hairdressing and fashion design sketches, to five dogs and fabulous furnishings, we learned all about Josette’s early days – and how she earned a top reputation in the interior design industry.
Josette grew up in Canton as the daughter of an Italian mother and Croatian father. Mom was a waitress, and quite the cook; Dad worked in a factory. “I learned a lot from my mother,” boasts Josette. “I carry on the family traditions and still make a mean wedding soup from scratch at the holidays!”
As a child, she didn’t want to be outside riding a bike or playing hopscotch. Instead, Josette spent a lot of time inside drawing. “I was drawing fashion sketches and got pretty good at it by age 8 or 9. I knew when I got older I would land in the artistic world.”
By age 12, Josette had moved on to hairdressing for friends and neighbors who envied the big bouffant tease she created for her mother.
“I don’t know how it started, but I had appointments lined up each Saturday and pulled in $60 on one day alone,” says Josette. Not bad for the late 1960s, and not bad for just 12 years old!
After high school, the time came to choose a career. Josette wasn’t interested in standing behind the salon chair full-time. She also knew the chances of “making it” in the fashion world were slim. She elected to pursue interior design because she “always wanted more out of life.”
“I was a go-getter.” says Josette. “I was gonna make something out of myself.
Learning the Ropes. Constructing Her Niche.
Josette enrolled in the New York School of Interior Design and earned her degree after studying 3 years via the correspondence program.
“Even with excellent grades, nobody would hire me because I had zero experience,” recalls Josette. “Ruth Friedman, who owned the Sleep Shop on Rt. 62, gave me a chance. I just needed a chance.”
Josette went on to work various showroom jobs in Canton, Cleveland and even Memphis learning the industry of interiors. She measured draperies, attended furniture construction seminars and sold high volumes of furniture and décor.
She didn’t stop there. When she returned to Stark County in 1988, Josette worked with Alex Bourlas to design for the Parade of Homes. Now, she was learning about construction, foundation and a slew of building terms.
“Because of that experience with Alex, I can sit with any builder and understand the language and how everything works together,” says Josette. “Not all interior designers can do that.”
Unfortunately, right after she opened a store on Hills and Dales, business plummeted due to the events of 9/11, and Josette had to put her dream of entrepreneurship on hold. She took a position with Schumacher Homes where she was in charge of staging the design center and each of the company’s model homes.
Years later, and with better timing in the economy, Josette jumped at the opportunity to rent space from Anew Room, a high-end furniture and décor consignment shop. Owner, and longtime friend-turned-landlord, Ruthanne Wilkof is also a client of JK Design. “Little did we realize how well the two businesses worked together,” says Josette. “I can’t tell you how much of my clients’ furniture I’ve put over on the consignment side, and some of it came from my previous designs!”
Today, Josette’s clients turn to her for single-room redesigns all the way up to entire-level remodels. As the scale of these projects grew over time, so has Josette’s team. She hired a contractor, electrician, plumber, painter, and others to keep up in the field.
Inside the Whipple Avenue studio/gallery, the trio of Karen Christman, Wendy Cardi and Lola McFadden work to confirm and track orders, answer client questions, and assist shoppers. They rely heavily on many local vendors like Cabinet Specialties, Morris Flooring, Strata Granite & Marble and painter Paul Purduk. Other go-to suppliers include Marge Carson, Ambella Home, Bernhardt Furniture, John-Richard and more.
With so many moving parts for each project, the team explained how it comes together: they call it “The Josette Touch.” It’s her incredible ability to design and exhilarate clients in a way almost no one else can. They also say she’s one of the hardest working -- and most glamorous -- women they know.
“I couldn’t make my designs and my creations come to life without my team,” insists Josette. “They make my job so much easier.”
Josette cherishes her five dogs: Isabella (16), Tango (14), Bella (13), Coco Chanel (11) and Ava Gardner (1). You know a gal has style when her dogs are named after style icons. “Dogs have always been part of my life,” says Josette. “Those are my babies.”
Her husband, Jim, who passed away in 2019, became very attached to Josette’s dogs, too. “Izzy used to sit on his lap every night and Bella sat right by his chair,” she recalls. The pair was married for 15 years, and Jim was incredibly supportive of her work.
If she weren’t designing home interiors, Josette said she’d run a “Mom and Me” designer dog shop and experience. She’d offer homemade biscuits, and of course, glamorous and personally designed collars, leashes and beds.
Learn more about JK Design at JosetteKarkDesign.com