From the December/January 2012 Issue:

Victorian Secrets

    Writer: Marirose Krall | Photographer: Wing Wong | Designer: Maureen McMahon, Allied Member ASID |

In a designer’s Englewood home, vintage treasures get a new lease on life

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enlarge | In the entrance hall, designer Maureen McMahon replaced a fussy floral wallpaper with contemporary stripes. An antique Chippendale sideboard and vintage photograph greet visitors and pay tribute to the home’s ancestry.
The wonderful thing about historical homes is the stories they have to tell; stories about the people who inhabited them and the lives they led. The wonderful thing about owning such a home is being able to weave one’s own history into those stories.

Maureen McMahon, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and principal of Maureen McMahon LLC, in Englewood and her husband, Tim Sullivan, were drawn to the stories in an 1886 residence when they were house hunting 10 years ago. Still, coaxing the vintage home into the twenty-first century took a gentle hand. The couple faced a delicate balancing act: respecting the dwelling’s roots while making it comfortable for a modern lifestyle.

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enlarge | Sight lines flow from room to room, encompassing a color palette of white, gold, black and brown. Doorways were widened to give the first floor a more open feeling. The original coal-burning fireplace, shown from the foyer looking into the living room, was converted to gas during the renovation.
Living History
McMahon’s primary goal was to honor the home’s Victorian pedigree. That meant working around certain constraints. For example, she kept the kitchen’s relatively modest footprint rather than knock down a wall to incorporate the pantry. “We could have enlarged the space,” she says, “but we didn’t want to change the historical aspect of the house.”

Instead, McMahon maximized the Victorian-sized room by making period pieces a cornerstone of her design. The home’s original wood-burning stove, though no longer operational, sits beneath a mantel as a focal point of the kitchen. It provides extra counter and storage space, and it was the inspiration for the room’s black and white color scheme.

The kitchen is equipped with another vintage gem also: a Victorian speaking tube. This nineteenth-century version of an intercom system was used by the homeowners and the servants to communicate with each other. It’s still functional.

That’s the case with many of the items in the home. In the pantry, dishes get washed in the 1880s copper sink and air dry on the original drain board. In the guest bathroom, the Victorian claw-foot tub, now refinished, still beckons those who want to take a relaxing soak. These furnishings were born with the house and remain an active part of daily life there. McMahon points out, “They are not just to look at or gather dust. Antiques can be useful.”

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enlarge | Light-colored furnishings—sofa, chairs, ottoman, coffee table and draperies—contrast with darker antiques in the living room. The Victorian floor lamp next to the sofa dates from the late 1800s. The French buffet on the wall between the windows was manufactured in the 1920s. The antique chair (at right), which designer and homeowner Maureen McMahon had reupholstered in a leopard print, is accompanied by a “gout stool,” which was intended to ease foot pain.
Updated Classics
Of course, sometimes antiques need a little boost. In 1920, electric sconces were installed when the “newfangled” energy source was still new. McMahon had them refurbished, reclaiming their former glory and bringing them up to code for use today.

Other areas needed more of an overhaul. The hardwood floor in the kitchen had shredded with age, not surprising because the kitchen is, and always has been, the hardest working room in a home. The wood was swapped for tile reminiscent of old-time city taverns. That was a bit of a departure, McMahon says. “Victorian houses had plain floors. I didn’t want that.”

Victorian homes also had drafty windows. Enjoying the charm of vintage items is one thing; enduring a New Jersey winter with century-old windows is quite another. McMahon replaced the originals without giving up classic style by purchasing energy-efficient replicas.

The pedestal sink in the guest bathroom is also a copy of an original fixture. Situated between cabinets made from eighteenth-century French screens and below an antique mirror, the brand-new fixture mingles effortlessly with its more mature counterparts.

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enlarge | Deep colors and intricately patterned wall coverings were a hallmark of the Victorian decorating style. “When we saw this home, it had the bones. [Previous owners] hadn’t taken out the things that made it special,” McMahon says. The thin molding near the ceiling, which Victorians used to hang artwork, is one of those special elements. This dining room gets a fresh twist with sleek, custom-made parsons chairs and a modern centerpiece. The “before” photo shows the opposite side of the room.
Contemporary Comforts
Indeed, all the antique pieces blend smoothly with modern amenities. The house is outfitted with central heating and air conditioning and is wired for Internet service. Televisions and computers discreetly tucked away in cabinets make the home high-tech without sacrificing Victorian ambience.

A 72-square-foot addition at the back of the home adds needed space, but remains true to late-1800s style. “I worked with an architect who really understood historical detail,” McMahon says. “The exterior design looks like it was always a part of the house.” With the addition, the homeowners gained a powder room (there was no bathroom on the original first floor) and a laundry room, both of which feature skylights.

Injecting light into the space was an important part of McMahon’s design. She avoided the overwrought, heavy feeling often associated with Victorian homes by introducing a lighter palette of fabrics and wall colors to balance the darker tones of the antique pieces.

The result is a sensitive merging of old and new that doesn’t feel forced or strained. These beautiful, yet practical, living spaces span centuries with style and grace.

Marirose Krall is a freelance writer based in Middletown.


SOURCES Throughout: interior design, Maureen McMahon LLC; windows, Marvin Windows and Doors; paint, Benjamin Moore; woodworking, Wendell Thomas in Hackensack; tile installation, Ken Brown in Hackensack; majority of antiques, Rose Hill Auction in Englewood (now closed). Foyer: antique Chippendale side table with marble inset, Alan Gusse Estate Services and Antiques, Esperance, New York; table lamps, Capitol Lighting in East Hanover; window treatment, Duralee in Bay Shore, New York; brass sconce, circa 1920; bull’s-eye mirrors, Global Views in Dallas; area rug, ABC Carpet & Home in New York City; fireplace fender, antique. Living Room: sofa, Huntington House in Hickory, North Carolina; side chairs and ottoman, Expressions in Chelmsford, Massachusetts; coffee table, Julia Gray Ltd. in New York City; carpet, ABC Carpet & Home; and these antiques from the homeowners: eighteenth-century pie-crust table, late-1800s floor lamp, nineteenth-century English corner cabinet, nineteenth-century French side table with bronze gallery and ormolu, 1920s brass sconces and French buffet with mirror and inset marble top with ormolu. Dining Room: Biedermeier mirror, early nineteenth-century onyx and brass candle holders and antique vase, homeowners; table, National Mount Airy in High Point, North Carolina; parsons chairs, custom by J. Design & Decorating LLC in Linden; area rug, The Rug Importer in Para­mus; light fixture, Gallo Lighting in Fairfield; ceiling medallion, Van Dyke’s Restorers in Louisiana, Missouri. Pantry: light fixture, Schoolhouse Electric Co. in New?York?City; hardware, Van Dyke’s Restorers; flooring, Daltile Corp. in Dallas. Kitchen: cabinetry, Kitchen Expo in Edison; appliances, GE Profile; farmhouse sink, Kohler in Kohler, Wisconsin; light fixture, Schoolhouse Electric Co.; table and chairs, IKEA; flooring, Daltile Corp.; mantel corbels, Van Dyke’s Restorers. Den: wallpaper, Phillip Jeffries Ltd. in Fairfield (T); rattan fan, The Modern Fan Co. in Ashland, Oregon; stained glass window, custom by Arthur Nesser Studio in Algonquin, Illinois; sofa, sofa cushions, ottoman and side chair, Expressions; woven side chair, Crate & Barrel; accent pillow of African leopard, handmade in Africa; custom window panels, Nancy’s Draperies Inc. in Boonton (T); art over sofa, purchased in China; fluted wood sconce holding twigs on wall, Crate & Barrel; leather tray, Arteriors in New York City; carpet, Einstein Moomjy in Paramus; bamboo side table, White House Fine Interiors in Fairfield. Green Bedroom: early 1900s American dresser with mirror and antique magazine wall rack, homeowners; custom window treatment and pillows, Nancy’s Draperies; iron bed, Wesley Allen in Los Angeles; mahogany bench, HomeGoods, upholstered by King Upholstery in Paterson; chenille bedding, Pottery Barn. Powder Room: wall painting, Gallo Studios in Boonton; wall mosaic inset tile, Apex Tile Gallery in Parsippany; black subway tile, Ideal Tile in Howell; metal trim, Porcelanosa in Ramsey; floor tile, Daltile Corp.; sink, American Standard in Piscataway; mirror, original to house; hardware, Van Dyke’s Restorers; plantation shutters, John Gherardi Interiors in Wharton; lighting, Rejuvenation in Portland, Oregon. Guest Bathroom: Kohler sink and all brass sink and tub hardware, Hardware Designs Inc. in Fairfield; reproduction Savannah chandelier, Bellacor in Mendota Heights, Minnesota; custom cabinetry, 1760s French screens; cracked porcelain subway tiles, Ideal Tile; brass rain shower fixture, Van Dyke’s Restorers; plantation shutters, John Gher­ardi Interiors; brass side table, Antique Design Center in Saddle River. Yellow Bed­room: day bed, Sleepy’s; early American mirror, hand-painted floor cloth and wicker planter, homeowners; bedcover, pillow and window treatment, made by Milton Decor­ator Fabrics in Lodi with 1940s fabric; sconce, Rejuvenation. T=To the trade.

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