Hidden Gem in Montclair

Koi pond

I’m working on a lovely cottage-like home in Montclair that reminds me of old world Europe. A short semi-private road leads to a hidden driveway. Echoes abound of the Latin Quarter in Paris or Hampstead in London. Or perhaps a pavilion de chasse (hunting lodge) in the Loire Valley. It has three levels, with charming nooks and cozy, comfortable rooms. Construction is stucco, and the mansard roof and arched windows are all nods to classic design. French doors lead to a secluded patio area, surrounded by lush grounds. Then there’s the Koi pond in the photo, the burbling fountain providing a soothing sound track to this idyllic retreat.

More to come as the design proceeds. 

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Dazzling Light, Open Plan

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The dazzling light and open plan of our Union Street apartment were what first sold me. That, and the fact that it required a complete restoration, giving me a blank canvas to work with, my favorite. There are just two apartments on each floor, with 180 degree exposure and ten foot ceilings. The kitchen/dining area bears little resemblance to a traditional kitchen, its tall, sleek cabinets and minimal hardware forming an integral part of the adjacent living area. Sisal rugs further underpin the unity, as does the placement of the brass chandeliers. The country wood table sits at the foot of a picture window, and at meals we sit side by side, facing the big sky. A contemporary sectional sofa hugging the angled, windowed walls and four comfortable club chairs provide abundant seating. The library/TV area uses the same palette with slight variations in texture—a wool patterned rug in place of the sisal. Built-in bookcases ring the room, and pocket doors allow a degree of privacy to my husband’s inner sanctum. Additional sound deadening insures that TV noise doesn’t bother me as I read in bed.

We don’t use artificial lighting a great deal, at least in the summer. Even at night, the view of New York lures us, and we tend to keep the lights low. I happened to be up at dawn a few days ago, and was transfixed by the spectacle.

So it’s safe to say we’re happy with our new home. We may have downsized in square footage as we make our lives simpler and easier, but we’ve upsized the breadth of our vision and unity of our surroundings.

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The Bath on Union Street

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My goal with this bathroom was to make a modest sized space appear spacious. My major advantage was that I had the ideal client—me. I created plenty of storage, added plenty of mirrors, and accented the room’s height. I made design choices I’d always wanted in my bath, like separate his and her mahogany cabinets, beautifully executed by Jack Chong, on either side of an oversize mirror. And I had to have multiple shower heads: an overhead rain shower fixture, hand shower and conventional angled head. I chose ceramic tile rather than stone for the shower walls. It’s more economical, easier to repair, and to my eye looks as sumptuous as quality stone. The shower floor is a Rumboid design with tiny glass accents. The main floor is covered in large grey stone tiles, which lessens the use of grout and gives a clean appearance. The vanity top is calacutta Caesarstone. The two pendant lights by the mirror are attractive and luminous. The overhead light is a funky starburst design in metal thread, drawing the eye to the high ceiling. The bathroom may not be oversized, but in this case small is beautiful.

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Design on the Water

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I’m working on the interior of my client’s cabin cruiser, an interesting twist on the design challenges I’m familiar with. It’s been fun learning about issues specific to marine design: the need for furnishings to be tied down and fully weather resistant, especially to salt, and the structural demands a boat places on interior dimensions. I have found fabrics as elegant as any I’d use in a residential interior. Brilliantly polished wood is mandatory, and lighting is mostly recessed. Welts and borders are key, as they add decorative flair while being firmly attached. While specific marine requirements are important, the basics of design remain universal: it’s all about proportion, color, texture and design harmony.

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Right Hand

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I’ve worked with many assistants over the years, and they’ve ranged greatly in ability and experience, but I have to say that Rena, my assistant for the past three years, has a level of commitment and competence that sets a new standard. In the photo you can see us working together at a client presentation, always on the same page, finishing each other’s sentences. There are so many details in an interior design project, so many suppliers, so many balls that have to be kept in the air. Rena is at virtually all my client and supplier meetings, and when I have a question about a hardware finish or chandelier style or room dimension she either knows it or finds it. She mucks in with me to do all of the decidedly unglamorous parts of our work—shlepping, stitching, hammering, yesterday we were potting outdoor greenery. We’re a great team, and I am lucky to have her.

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The Kitchen on Union Street

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Back in the day—1901 to be exact—our apartment in Montclair was designed to house a live-in servant in a small room adjacent to the kitchen. Both kitchen and servant’s quarters were located away from the plentiful light bathing every other room. This had to be changed. So I moved the kitchen into the light, displacing the dining room, the ex-kitchen becoming a guest bedroom with adjacent laundry and bath. Putting the kitchen front and center made it imperative that it look and feel like a seamless part of the living area. I used a sleek wood finish for the cabinets which rise to the ten foot ceiling, an induction cooktop which is almost invisible, and a country wood table, facing the picture window, that easily expands to seat 8. Choice of carpets, colors, textures and furnishings enhance the integrated flow. I’ve cooked for guests several times already, and the easy accessibility of the kitchen makes for convivial entertaining.

My husband and I feel we’ve been liberated by the convenience of our new apartment. And if I don’t feel like cooking, we can always choose from the abundance of restaurant choices within a few blocks that will, if we’re lazy, deliver right to our door. Montclair may be suburban, but there’s a strong accent on the urban.

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The Library on Union Street

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After months of renovation our apartment in Montclair is close to completion. The last major element—extensive built-in bookcases—is finished. Our books are finally liberated from their boxes, and the library, my husband’s favorite room, is ready to be enjoyed. He has alphabetized the books, and plays games with visitors showing how quickly he can locate a title. Of course I like books as well, but I also appreciate (as does he) the quality Jack Chong’s cabinetmaking, brought into the apartment in 20 pieces and reassembled. Light floods the space, which is why I’ve installed silhouette shades for my husband’s other serious pastime, TV. The chairs are super comfortable, and we create an ottoman with cushions stored under the cocktail table. The room has a magnetic appeal: we are inexorably drawn to the literary memories behind the rows of multicolored book spines, not to mention the latest episode of Better Call Saul.

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Made to Measure

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Sometimes the metaphor of a design fitting a room like a well-tailored suit is especially apt. This recently finished family room for my client in the Florida Keys is a good example. The L-shaped sectional hugs two of the three walls, providing comfortable, expansive seating to exactly the room’s dimensions. The oversize cocktail table/ottoman precisely fills the same facing area of both wings of the sectional. An area rug defines the boundaries of the non-existent fourth wall, which is an open hallway. Three side tables of different styles yet similar footprints face the three sides of the room, balanced by three low ottomans under the TV. The lighter shaded furnishings bring out the richness of the carved wood beamed ceiling and wall housing the TV. It just all fits together, pleasing to the eye and to the touch. As in the best made to measure clothing, this room shows off the benefits of bespoke design.

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My Favorite Cabinet Maker

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I’ve worked with expert cabinetmaker Jack Chong for many years. The list of my clients who have been wowed by his creations is long. Here he’s installing built-in bookcases at my new apartment in Montclair. My husband and I are bibliophiles, so it was important to have ample storage for our books. Jack has produced elegant built-ins that ring the room. All available wall space is utilized. Because our apartment is accessible by a  relatively small elevator, Jack designed these massive structures to fit together like an intricate puzzle. He’ll be returning next week for the finishing touch: crown molding that marries the top of the built-ins to the ceiling. Jack keeps threatening to retire. Of course I understand and wish him well, but I have several clients who will be very disappointed if he finally decamps to Florida. We’ll just have to make him an offer he can’t refuse!

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When Business is a Pleasure

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Some jobs are more fun than others. This condo in Aventura, just north of Miami, definitely goes into the fun category. First, I will be working with a dear friend and my husband’s cousin. Second, it is a spacious apartment, on the 24th floor, with spectacular views of the Intracoastal and the Atlantic. Third, it will give me an excuse to visit these lovely people more frequently. I spent a few days there last week, and a preliminary floor plan for the main living/dining area has been sketched out. Pride of place goes to a concert grand piano—the husband is a musician—and a sophisticated integrated sound system will be essential. The building is only ten years old, so while the kitchen will be redone and the crema marfil floor will be refurbished, additional remodeling will be minimal. The style will be contemporary, a sort of relaxed chic, with a light monochromatic color scheme merging the ocean with the space. 

In any interior design project the homeowner and designer must forge a partnership; the better the partnership, the better the results. In this case, the partnership could not be better. I’m confident the results will be spectacular!

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