Summit, NJ

 

Southwest of Millburn/Short Hills, the municipality of Summit, NJ is another town I’ve come to know well as proprietress of Belle Maison Interior Design. The first settlers arrived in the early 18th century.

By the time of the Revolutionary War the area was known as Beacon Hill, due to the bonfires that were lit to warn militiamen of invading British troops. The first known use of the name Summit was connected to a leading New York judge, James Kent, who retired to the area in 1837 to a house he called Summit Lodge. His home is now part of a larger mansion on Kent Place Boulevard, opposite what is now the well-respected private Kent Place School.

The arrival of the railroad began development of the area in earnest soon afterwards.  Wealthy New Yorkers looking to escape the city in summer would take the railroad to the rustic charms of what was then called The Summit. They stayed in grand Victorian style hotels and guesthouses and mingled with their fellow Gilded Age tycoons. These summer migrations mirrored similar trips to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, except that The Summit was much closer.

The City of Summit was incorporated in 1899 and then began the final evolution from summer destination to metro New York suburb, a transformation that was accelerated dramatically after WWII due to a major building boom. In a parallel development, Summit is also well known as the headquarters for several leading pharmaceutical and biotech companies. And Overlook Hospital, a major regional care facility, also fits unobtrusively into the picturesque hilltop terrain.The downtown features quality shops and restaurants near the Summit Rail Station, now a major hub for New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct service.

Still serving Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese  sandwiches is the Summit Diner, built in 1938 by Jerry O’Mahoney. He went on to build over 2000. This is the Summit I know: a beautiful, leafy and well-tended suburban town with many impressively sized homes, often with dramatic views from the top of the mountain; a downtown at once charming and useful; a sprinkling of imposing 19th century structures, now owned mostly by municipal and institutional organizations, which add a historic feel to the prosperous and diverse community.

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Short Hills/Millburn, NJ

Short Hills, NJ

When we moved the shop to Short Hills I knew we would be missing the picture perfect village of Maplewood, but I also knew from many years of projects in Short Hills that there would be plenty of compensations. Millburn/Short Hills is certainly one of the most appealing locations in New Jersey, and now that I spend my working days here, I’ve become an enthusiastic admirer of its many attractions. There is, for example, the sense of scale. Some of the most beautiful homes in New Jersey can be found in these gently rolling hills, yet the roads are relatively narrow, there are few ponderous mansions, and the overall feel is of sophisticated taste and well-trimmed elegance.

Millburn’s downtown has a relaxed, casual character and an eclectic selection of shops and services. Plus there is the Paper Mill Playhouse, one of the leading regional theaters in New Jersey. The historic Short Hills center, with its original Post Office across from the equally original train station was part of the community planned by Stewart Hartshorn in the mid 19th Century. With the adjacent tennis club this quaint area of Short Hills has much of the flavor of Mr. Hartshorn’s original attempt to create “a harmonious community for people who appreciated nature,” a community “where natural beauty would not be destroyed by real estate developments, and where people of congenial tastes could dwell together.”

Millburn/Short Hills is justifiably proud of its schools. The Millburn High School always measures at or near the top in New Jersey and indeed nationwide. And there are the well-respected private schools of Far Brook, Pingry and St. Rose of Lima.

No description of Short Hills is complete without mentioning The Short Hills Mall, an upscale Mecca for discerning consumers whose classy design mirrors the feel of Short Hills itself. Mr. Hartshorn might or might not be pleased to see this mercantile intrusion into his ideal community, but it certainly avoids the garish and overly commercial feel of many suburban Malls.

Belle Maison’s current location in Short Hills was originally a small home, and I think we’ve managed to keep a bucolic and yet sophisticated feel to our interior design studio, in keeping with this tasteful and appealing town.

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French Country

DSCN2202“As I realized growing up in Paris that interior design was my passion, and then when I moved to the US, I began to communicate to my clients the importance of quality and timeless design to the French Country style. As we enter my ideal French Country home you can see that it is filled with a generous helping of stone and millwork, the best silks and other rich fabrics, antique floors and awe inspiring and abundant art work of all kinds. The furnishings are mostly dark worn woods and wrought iron. There are plentiful colors, but they are mostly subdued: greens, yellows and golds, along with rust reds, with accents of blue, providing a strong contrast with the woods and irons of the furnishings. The woods can be painted and the iron can be somewhat rusted, adding to the lived in, comfortable feel. The iron pieces can be light fixtures, tables and accessories like roosters, olives, sunflowers, grapes, and beetles. The French don’t like things to look brand new, there has to be an aged quality that adds character. Toile wallpaper, with its solid color patterns of repeating country scenes, is used in abundance. I like Toile on bedroom walls and window treatments, which gives a cozy and intimate feel. Toile colors in the bedroom should be wheat and cream or jade green and cream. Glazing, trompe l’oeil carved wood details and colored plaster walls add depth, contrast and character. Detailed beamed ceilings and chair rails add architectural interest. The natural wood or stone floors are covered with textured sisal wool or cotton rugs, and there should be a stone fireplace with a brick pattern hearth. Tiles, both stone and ceramic, and colored concrete are additional flooring options. I often tell my clients to assemble charming collections that add decorative detail and whimsy, like pill boxes and tin coffee or chocolate containers, wood turning or farmers tools, old metal advertising or traffic signs and apothecary jars.

“If possible the dining table should be round, so that conversation is easier with larger groups. Upholstered back, cabriole leg chairs are ideal, because they are comfortable during the long leisurely meals the French enjoy so much. Of course there must be flowers everywhere. The French love fresh flowers: roses, tulips and irises should be plentiful inside, and potted plants and flowers on balconies and window boxes and large planters should dot the outdoors.”

 

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English Country

OakLowResBR“I may be French, but I’ve always enjoyed decorating in the English Country Style. While it allows for a variety of interpretations, from formal to more relaxed, and can include furnishings from a variety of different eras, the overall emphasis is firmly on a traditional look, which is in keeping with my personal taste. English style transcends fashion, creating interiors that stand the test of time.

“My preference in English Country Style can combine furniture from Chippendale to Queen Anne, in woods as variable as mahogany walnut and pine. These dark woods predominate, but it is also possible to paint the wood or otherwise use distressed effects. Chairs and sofas can be overstuffed. Down feathers cushions and pillows should give a well-worn, shabby elegance. Decorative pillows are added in profusion, especially on those seating areas that are without comfortable upholstery, like window seats, banquettes or open-back chairs. Oriental influences can also be included in the mix, as the English went through a mania for Chinoiserie in the 19th Century.

“Architectural features may include exposed beams and an oversize fireplace, in addition to chair rails and dados, and raised panels either wood finish or glazed strie English homes are notoriously drafty and window treatments are vital furnishings: panels lined and interlined give a grand look as well as providing significant insulation.

“If the look is formal, particularly in a dining room or living room, then damask fabrics or silk fabrics are the ones I would select. If the look is more casual, for a great room, sitting room or bedroom, then plentiful flowered linen prints are my favorite choices. The colors should mirror the rolling hills of the English countryside, from the greens of the fields to the yellows and reds of a proper English garden. When you add patterned wallpaper and well-worn oriental rugs the effect can be quite busy, but this only adds to the cozy, lived in look that results. Walls should be adorned with portrait paintings or bucolic landscapes, or perhaps antique prints with country themes such as hunting, fishing, birding or the coats of arms of the landed gentry. The English love dogs, gardens, and horses, so you can’t go wrong roaming antique centers in search of these objects with these themes.

“To achieve the decorative clutter that is a hallmark of the English country style, it is necessary to fill the bookshelves, display cabinets and counter surfaces with family heirlooms, perhaps tea sets in silver, pewter and china, framed photos of your loved ones, correspondence or other mementos with special significance. Dried or fresh flowers always have a place on an English mantel.

“Wool or cashmere blankets on a sofa or chaise lounge in a corner further complete the comfortably lived in look. So when you have your friends over for high tea with crumpets and scones, using your Herend china, looking our over your charmingly disheveled parlor, you’ll enjoy the full effect of interior design in the English Country style.”

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Carribean

DSCN7216_2“The Caribbean interior design style is a potent mix of European and African cultures, exotic tropical atmosphere and relaxed, away from it all informality. The feel is sun-drenched, breezy and clean, the perfect style for a getaway vacation home, preferably near a white sandy beach, where the temperature is always in the mid 70s.

“When the imperial powers of Europe settled the many islands that dot the Caribbean Sea, they did their best to bring their culture with them, including architecture and interior design. The Africans slaves they transported to the islands made an equally dramatic contribution to the cultural mix. And, of course, the climate was a strong influence. Out of this stew emerged what we now call Caribbean style.

“Light, bright colors feature the turquoise blue of the sea and sky, the vivid green of lush foliage, the reds and yellows of tropical fruit, and the whites of the ubiquitous beaches. Natural tropical woods like bamboo, teak, rosewood, and mahogany predominate. Furniture is be made of woven materials like wicker, rattan, cane and seagrass. Oversize coffee tables are covered in raffia. Highlighting the dining room is a large refrectory table with benches for an informal feel. The table can also be sectional so that it can be used for more practical entertaining. Floors are made of the aforementioned indigenous woods, or terracotta tile or stone, and are covered by sisal or jute rugs. Lighting is provided by floor lamps and sconces constructed of metal or frosted glass.

“Stucco walls are painted in bright colors or, for a more colonial style, wood paneled. Architectural wood ceilings add a more formal look, and large, open verandas bring the beautiful outside environment into the living space. The windows are shuttered on the outside and covered in simple sheer fabrics on the inside, and there must be ceilings fans gently washing the rooms in a light breeze. Fabrics emphasize the tropical flora, with brightly colored patterns of orchids, hibiscus and palm.

“Accessorizing in the Caribbean style means an abundance of large terracotta or stone planters with palm or other oversize tropical plants, large glass jars with shell collections and oversize candlesticks. Accessories featuring fish, coral, tropical birds and animals are also popular.

“When I’m designing vacation homes in the Caribbean style three attributes are paramount. The space must be especially comfortable, to ensure that the relaxation promised by the getaway is complete. It must be designed for entertaining, so that when friends and family arrive the space is open and the layout encourages large groups to gather. And it must be practical; easy to use and easy to keep clean, because a holiday is not meant to be spent worrying about breakages or stains. This is one reason I tend to use Sunbrella fabrics, which prevent sun fading and clean easily.

“The goal is for the homeowner to be able to sit on the veranda, sipping a tall tropical drink, sitting on a comfortably oversize wicker chair with deep, soft cushions, reading a trashy novel without a care in the world.”

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Art Nouveau

art nouveau“For me the genius of Art Nouveau is the emphasis on bringing a design aesthetic based on natural forms to everything we touch in our daily lives, from a cathedral to a jewelry box.  There is no object that couldn’t be improved by seeing it as a work of art, as the leading Art Nouveau artists did. It’s no surprise to me that although this design movement was preeminent for no more than 15 years, surviving examples both large and small remain strongly fixed in the public consciousness today.

“Art Nouveau first appeared as the name of an interior design gallery in Paris–Maison de l’Art Nouveau–that opened in 1896. For many artists and designers neoclassicism—the predominant aesthetic of the day–was staid, inert and soulless. Looking to the past was dull. Why not look to the forms of the living things that surround us, these artists suggested, to the curving lines and colors of nature, rather than the straight lines of the man-made forms of the distant past? Why not use these organic forms as a jumping off point for the human imagination, creating dramatic, stylized compositions that throw off the tired historical conceits? And why not apply this aesthetic to the decorative as well as the fine arts? The result of this revolutionary manifesto was a design idea that produced art that was startling to say the least when it appeared in the closing years of the 19th century. Victorians were either elated or appalled by what they saw. Many thought it would be a passing fad and that art would quickly revert to the accepted classical rules. While Art Nouveau wasn’t to last, there would be no going back, as the modernist art movements of the 20th century built on many of Art Nouveau’s innovations.

“Fine artists like Klimpt typified the Art Nouveau style, but it’s the architects and decorative artists who really fulfilled Art Nouveau’s promise. Antonio Gaudi created his whimsical, eccentric spaces in Barcelona. Charles Rennie Macintosh designed everything from buildings to chairs to wallpaper to jewelry cases. Furniture was not an Art Nouveau focus, but in ornaments, specifically glasswork, the style reached its apogee. We’ve all heard of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the glassmaker whose colored lampshades are as well known today as they were 100 years ago. Nearly as well known is the work of Rene Lalique and Emile Galle.

“The primary thematic visual elements of Art Nouveau are flowers, roots and buds, as well as spider webs, peacock feathers and locusts, featured on everything from wallpaper to fabrics and furniture. Serpentine curving lines and complex patterns, taken from nature, were to be seen on painted and carved surfaces. Silver, pewter, iridescent glass and exotic woods as well as semi-precious stones were the materials most often used on interior surfaces and furnishings. Colors were tastefully subdued browns, greens and mustard, supplemented by purple, gold, lilac and robins’ egg blue.

“Today, Art Nouveau is seen primarily as the bridge from stuffy classicism to modernism. But it is much more than a link between two design eras. Especially in it’s emphasis on the potential beauty of even the most mundane object, Art Nouveau elevates the work of the decorative artist, celebrating the art in the artisan.”

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Art Deco

Art Deco Design“When a group of leading Parisian artists organized an exposition dedicated to modern industrial and decorative art in 1925, they sparked the birth of a short-lived but highly influential design movement later known as Art Deco. In the 20s and 30s it came to dominate the entire range of decorative arts, in fields as diverse as architecture, industrial design, and, of course, interior design. We can still see Art Deco buildings in many cities and, thanks to a resurgence in the 80s, in hotels and other commercial spaces. To get the complete picture all you have to do today is take a look at any Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical film of the 30s and you will be instantly submerged in the total Art Deco experience. I love the futurist faith central to Art Deco, a faith that now seems whimsical and naïve, but that created a thoroughly unique design language that can add a wistful element of nostalgia and playfulness to contemporary interior design.

“Art Deco was, above all, modern with a capital M. The geometric shapes, sharp angles, stepped patterns and sweeping curves were meant to capture the rapid advances in industry and technology that characterized the early 20th Century. This is why some of the most iconic examples of Art Deco style are the hi-tech symbols of the time: skyscrapers, ocean liners, radios and even phonographs. It’s why the favored materials were aluminum, glass and stainless steel. Even the wood was shiny, either lacquered or inlaid. The floors were shiny as well, marble or tile, often with checkerboard patterns. Rugs featured geometric patterns, while Zebra skin and shagreen (snake skin) covered decorative surfaces. Mirrors were usually round and plentiful. Sunburst and chevron motifs could be seen on everything from furniture to woman’s shoes to radiator grilles on cars. Paradoxically, while Art Deco was the epitome of Modernism, influences included patterns and symbols from Aztec Mexico, Egypt and Africa.

“Poster art was in its heyday, with some of the finest illustrators capturing the Deco style in advertising for consumer products, the performing arts and sporting events. Ivory, jade and stained glass were common materials for accessories, which were usually tall and thin and graceful, with gentle curves. Patterns on wall coverings often featured foliage, stylized animals and nudes.

“The cataclysm of World War II closed the book on Art Deco, as modern technology became more identified with death and destruction than advanced design. And while there has been some isolated resurgence, today Art Deco is mostly viewed nostalgically as a look back to time that is long gone. Due to its ubiquity in architecture and public places, you can still see great examples of Art Deco in cities around the world: the Chrysler Building and Radio City Music Hall in New York are but two of the many examples.

“A few years ago I worked on my sister’s Art Deco apartment in Paris. The living room featured sofas in grey leather with shiny burl wood, the custom cabinetry which hid the TV was done in cream lacquer, the walls were finished in very smooth Venetian plaster in a yellowish palette, and round, heavy mirrors were framed in Zebra and Ebony woods. Window treatments used a simple sheer to cover large windows and the floors were limestone squares. If you’re going to do Deco, you need to follow through with at least an entire room, as the style demands continuity in all the elements of the space. The resulting effect transports you to a different and altogether more glamorous high society, where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced the night away, drinking champagne without a care in the world.”

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Adirondack

Adirondack Interior“I have worked on a number of Adirondack style projects over the years, and it’s been a pleasure to immerse myself in this uniquely American decorative style.

“When the rich Robber Barons of the Gilded Age decided to escape the fetid air and sweaty humanity of a summer in New York City, they decamped to the mountains upstate, to Lake George and Saratoga Springs in the Adirondacks. Although these wealthy railroad and steamship tycoons emulated Europe when they decorated their Fifth Avenue townhouses, for their summer retreats rustic was the rage. The more authentically woodsy their surroundings the better. So the hallmark of Adirondack style is using wood in as many different forms and on as many different surfaces as possible, from polished dark mahogany to the bark of birch trees to the rough pitted knots of Knotty pine. The wood panels can be positioned vertically or horizontally in beaded board of various widths, or in the elaborate concentric squares of stepped back ceilings. On the outside, local stone is used as highlights. Brown weathered shingles and slate roofs are sometimes substituted for traditional log construction.

“The most typical Adirondack furniture is the sloped back chair in a variety of woods, used primarily on a porch or deck. Traditionally it is kept in its natural color; modern interpretations find the chair painted in bright colors or with natural scenes. To achieve a more rustic effect, chests, end tables and mirrors might be made of rough hickory wood, with drawers and tops covered in applied bark. The authentic feel continues with chandeliers made of antlers, and standing lamps and sconces swathed in applied tree branches and twigs. I use these elements sparingly, as highlights, while using other textures and materials as the anchors for the design. Sofas and armchairs should be solid, large and comfortable, with deep cushions.

“Floors are mostly wood, though slate or quarry tile can also work. They should be covered with geometrically patterned rugs or worn Oriental styles. Window treatments should be simple, wool plaid, linen, or you can use shutters or wooden blinds.

“Colors emphasize the wilderness connection: rich greens, beige’s, reds and browns. Motifs from nature, whether flora or fauna, add interest to pillows, window treatments and tablecloths.

“The tradition of antlered lamps is extended through use of all manner of taxidermy, from deer heads to pheasants to owls, though you can retain the natural feel without going overboard on stuffed animals by using prints or wooden carvings. Plush wool blankets should be prevalent, perhaps with geometric patterns, and fishing paraphernalia, boat paddles and duck decoys are popular decorative accessories, as are antique framed black and white photographs.

“The level of rusticity in an Adirondack home can of course be dialed back. My feeling is that less is more. Elegant use of warm woods, stone and tile, an outdoor palette with simple patterns, “field and stream” accessories and rough-hewn highlights, give my Adirondack home a rustic feel combined with casual elegance.”

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