From the December/January 2012 Issue:

Labor of Love

    Writer: Marirose Krall | Photographer: Peter Rymwid | Designer: Jane Austin, Allied Member ASID |

In Tenafly, a designer restores a Victorian home to its original glory

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enlarge | Though this home has witnessed sweeping societal changes in its century and a half of existence, the façade has remained reassuringly consistent. A variety of plants —including boxwood, blue and green pine topiary, azalea, carpet roses and ornamental grasses—and a white picket fence give the residence ageless charm.
When Jane Austin talks about her former residence, you can hear the tenderness in her voice. “I’ve always had a love affair with older homes,” she says. That’s a good thing because this particular house needed a lot of love.

Built in 1860, it survived the Great Depression, subsequent abandonment, habitation by vagrants and conversion into a two-family home. Having been through the mill, the residence was in need of a bit of TLC when Austin and her husband came upon it in 1985.

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enlarge | When built in 1860, the home had double front doors, which at some point were replaced with a single, three-foot-wide door. Designer Jane Austin brought drama back to the foyer by installing double mahogany doors with custom leaded glass inserts.
No Guts, No Glory
Austin, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and owner of Jane Austin Design in Norwood, had a plan for refurbishing the house. “We said, ‘Oh, we’ll just knock this wall down and that wall down.’ We had no problem with it.” That wasn’t the general consensus, however. “My mother walked in and practically cried. She thought we were crazy.”

Not crazy, just passionate about bringing this stately residence back to its nineteenth-century splendor—and realistic about what it would take to get there. “The interior was a loss, so we gutted it,” Austin says. The revamp began at the entrance where, during a previous incarnation, a double-door entry had been reduced to a single door. Austin reopened the space and installed two mahogany doors with leaded glass, a dramatic touch that draws in visitors immediately.

Inside, the front-hall staircase and second-floor hallway had been walled up to accommodate dual entrances to upper and lower apartments. Austin had those walls removed to reclaim the stairwell as a focal point of the foyer in the now single-family residence.

The designer doesn’t mince words when describing the back of the house, which had been added in several phases over the years. “It was a disaster,” she says with a laugh. The addition, which consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom, was unsuited to the style of the home and built from less-than-desirable cinder block. “The rooms were cold, dark and dreary and the roof leaked.” Still, Austin saw opportunity in every challenge. “We learned how the house was built in the process of taking down walls,” she says.

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enlarge | With cabinetry to the right of the fireplace removed and the window behind it restored, the fireplace becomes the focal point of the living room. Symmetry is a guiding principle, from the candelabras on the mantel to the antique cabinets with matching lamps on each side of it. At the end of the room, boxy walls and intrusive cabinetry were removed to reveal the graceful arcs of bay-window walls. The rounded edges are repeated in the furnishings throughout the room.
Hidden Treasures
While the home’s Victorian character may have been obscured over the years, it had not been irrevocably destroyed. When Austin peeled away the layers, she made some delightful discoveries.

During the teardown phase, she found the home originally had 11-foot ceilings, which had been lowered to nine feet during an earlier renovation. The lower ceilings hid plaster crown moldings. Though the classic moldings had crumbled with age, Austin found a plasterer to re-create the design.

She had a similar experience when removing squared-off walls surrounding bay windows in the living and dining rooms. She was thrilled to unearth the original rounded walls, also crumbling but not beyond restoration. That reconstruction was worth the effort: the elegant curves surrounding the windows add a soft, graceful quality to the rooms.

In the living room, the removal of a wall and storage cabinets reestablished a sense of spaciousness. The room also regained its symmetry—with the dividing wall gone, the fireplace reclaimed its center-stage location on the wall between two windows, one of which had been hidden by the cabinets.

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enlarge | With the ceiling returned to its original height of 11 feet and the curves restored to the bay window walls, the dining room carries elaborate décor effortlessly. The sumptuous print curtains are a focal point of the room without overwhelming the space. Austin used the same color palette (with different patterns) in the dining room as she did in the living room, which is located across the front hall.
Dream Come True
Once the home’s original personality had been restored, Austin set about creating an inviting environment that was both appropriate to the home’s history and suitable for a modern family. “We wanted a warm home [with] charm and elegance. We wanted a house that would accommodate [our antiques] and give us that formality, but not be so formal that you couldn’t have a family in it,” she says.

To that end, Austin used her antiques throughout the house, with a particular concentration in the more formal rooms. The rooms that generally get more wear and tear, such as the kitchen and family room, were furnished primarily with newer pieces.

In keeping with a contemporary sense of space, Austin enlarged the master bedroom by combining it with another small bedroom, making room for a thoroughly modern amenity: a walk-in closet.

She also made the most of the cinder-block addition. “We turned it into something positive,” she says. “We carved out a sunny, open family room, a cozy guest bedroom with bath, and a library.” The thick cinder-block walls provided ample room for a window seat and wide window ledges. “It actually wound up being kind of cool. The family room was probably one of our favorite rooms.”

With their children grown, Austin and her husband sold the home to neighbors who had long admired it; but the dwelling left a lasting impression on the couple. “For us, the ideal place to raise a family was an old home. We pictured ourselves in this charming old house with family and friends gathering. When we were dreaming, we wanted this home to feel like a welcoming place for all generations. And we got it. We have the fondest memories.”

Marirose Krall is a freelance writer based in Middletown.


SOURCES Overall: interior design, Jane Austin Design LLC in Tenafly; construction, Paul Creonte Construction in Elmwood Park; five-inch door and window casings, custom milled by Center Lumber Co. in Allendale (recently purchased by Black Millwork Co.). Exterior: landscaping and stone wall, Robert Bradley Landscaping Inc. in Closter; fence, Emerson Fence Inc. in Emerson; shutters in Rockwood Shutter Green (654), Atlantic Premium Shutters in White Plains, New York; trim color, Benjamin Moore White Dove (OC-17); window casing color, Benjamin Moore Pittsfield Buff (HC-24); stucco color, Benjamin Moore Simply Irresistible (205); white wicker furniture on porch, Lloyd Flanders in Menominee, Michi­­gan; porch railing, custom-milled by Center Lumber to match existing railing; balusters and trim, custom fabricated by Paul Creonte Construction to match existing. Foyer: leaded glass, Art Glass by Stained Glass Design in Lodi; mahogany front doors, Doors By Decora in Montgomery, Alabama; custom carpet, Stark Carpet Corp. in New York City; chandelier, purchased at an estate sale; wallpaper border, Laura Ashley; custom wall color, Eagle Paint & Wallpaper Inc. in Englewood. Living Room: green sofa, rescued and restored with fabric by Stroheim in Tulsa; fireplace mantel, Wohner’s Inc. in Englewood; window treatment fabric, Scalamandré in Hauppauge, New York; wing chairs, family antiques upholstered in fabric from Old World Weavers in New York City; coffee table, purchased at an estate sale; custom carpet, Stark Carpet Corp.; mirror and lamps, purchased at an antique store in Nyack, New York (now closed); cabinets next to fireplace, family antiques; custom wall color, Eagle Paint & Wallpaper; chandelier, rescued and restored; white sofas (one shown), Interior Crafts Inc. in Chicago; two armchairs and pie crust table in window bay, family antiques; pilasters on both sides of fireplace and bay windows, Sal Wagenti LLC in Lodi. Dining Room: window treatment fabric (discontinued), Clarence House in New York City (T); mahogany table and chairs, B. Altman (now closed); dining chair fabric, Stroheim; cabinets on both sides of window, antique; custom paint, Eagle Paint & Wallpaper; chandelier, Waterford; sofa in bay window, candelabras, Limoges hanging plates, family antiques; sofa fabric, Scala­mandré; custom carpet, Stark Carpet Corp.; shelf next to window, estate sale; china, Red Aves pattern by The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Co. Ltd. in North Hollywood, California. Kitchen: range, GE; stove hood, cabinetry and Windsor chairs, Quality Custom Cabinetry in New Holland, Pennsylvania, through Kitchen Technique Inc. in Fair Lawn; valances, Metropolitan Window Fashions in Paramus; wall color, Benjamin Moore Yin Yang (824); countertop and wall tile, Standard Tile in Paramus. Family Room: sofa, ottoman and sofa pillow fabric, Kravet Inc. in Bethpage, New York; bergère chairs, La Maison by Robert Allen/Beacon Hill Showroom in Foxboro, Massachusetts; window treatments and bergère fabric, Thibaut Inc. in Newark; custom window treatments, Nancy’s Draperies in Boonton (T); carpet, Persian Traditions by Nourison USA through The Rug Importer in Paramus; wall color, Farrow & Ball Ground Green; fascia color, Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green; table next to sofa, Decorative Crafts Inc. in Greenwich, CT (T); lamp, garage sale find; striped chair, custom by Masters Interiors Inc. in Clifton with Concerto fabric by Kravet Inc.; end table next to striped chair, family antique; window seat fabric, Paoli by Robert Allen/Beacon Hill Showroom. Library: window treatment, Laura Ashley; carpet, Einstein Moomjy in Paramus; end table and table lamp, family antiques; sofa and pillows, Interior Crafts Inc. in Chicago; sofa and chair fabric, Robert Allen/Beacon Hill Showroom; armchair and chest with photos on it, family antiques; coffee table, antique; wall color, Benjamin Moore Pale Almond (951); trim color Farrow & Ball Savage Ground (213); custom cabinetry, Sal Wagenti. Son’s Bedroom: wall color, Benjamin Moore Pumpkin Patch (055); wall art, Home Goods; bed, Ikea; bedding, West Elm; turquoise pillow fabric, Osborne & Little; brown and paisley pillows, Expo Design Center (now closed); window treatment, Nancy’s Draperies. Guest Bedroom: wall color, Ben­ja­min Moore Wilmington Tan; window treatments and bedding, Martha Stewart Home Collection; lamps and headboard, family antiques; pillow fabric, Osborne & Little; mirror; Ballard Designs. Upstairs Landing: sofa, chair and chests, family antiques; curtains, Laura Ashley; custom wall color, Eagle Paint & Wallpaper; chandelier, Capitol Lighting in Paramus. Master Bedroom: carpet, Nourison USA through The Rug Importer; window treatments, Bloomingdale’s; dresser, bed, mirror, tub chairs, Baker Furniture in Kohler, Wisconsin; fabric on tub chairs, Osborne & Little in Stamford, Connecticut; bedding, Donna Karan Home; lamps, family possessions; wall color below chair rail, Benjamin Moore Wolf Gray (2127-40); wall color above chair rail; Benjamin Moore Feather Gray (21270-60); ceiling color, Benjamin Moore Cascade White (2127-70); wood trim, Benjamin Moore White Dove. Daughter’s Bedroom: custom window treatments, Nancy’s Draperies with Gloria fabric from Bergamo in Mount Vernon, New York (T); bench, estate sale find with fabric by Osborne & Little; wall color, Benjamin Moore Peace and Happiness (1380) and Raspberry Ice (2072-70); custom cabinetry, Reid’s Custom Cabinets in Bergenfield; dresser, mirror, headboard, footboard and lamps, family possessions; carpet, Einstein Moomjy; chandelier and bench, estate sale finds; bench fabric, Osborne & Little. T=to the trade.

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