From the December/January 2016 Issue:

Up Close & Personal

    Writer: Robin Amster | Photographer: Peter Rymwid | Designer: Marilee Schempp, CID, Professional Member ASID |

A designer’s own home features personal elements that warm the space for the holidays—as well as year-round

Article Photo
enlarge | Chairs in tone-on-tone beige flank an ottoman in front of a fireplace with a faux-painted limestone surround in designer Marilee Schempp’s living room. The mantel is decorated for Christmas with a garland of greenery interspersed with red and white berries and tiny lights. Large brass lanterns are there year-round.
Designer Marilee Schempp doesn’t care for spaces that look like a showroom. And that goes, of course, for her own home, whose design scheme includes generous helpings of books, art, photos, antiques and contemporary pieces throughout. These “real” things add the personality and warmth that make spaces approachable, says Schempp, a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers and owner of Summit-based Design I.

The personal elements are part of the distinctive mix Schempp fashioned for the Summit home where she and her family have lived for some 30 years. “I really don’t give this style a name; I selected pieces for their compatibility,” Schempp says. “It’s nice to have a mix of things that don’t match. That makes it much more interesting—like you’d find in nature and with paintings.”

In Schempp’s living room, for instance, an antique settee covered in camel mohair finds space near a collection of eclectic tables, including a cocktail table with an Asian feel and contemporary side tables in a bronze color with marble tops. A contemporary painting rests above a traditional fireplace while dark brown matchstick blinds at the window are flanked by drapery panels of light tan silk.

And built-in bookcases flank a large window in the living room with views to the back of the property.

Article Photo
enlarge | A mix of styles adds personality during the holidays and year-round, Schempp says.
More Is More
It’s here—in front of that window in the living room—that the family decorates the Christmas tree. Schempp’s philosophy on decorating for the holiday is in keeping with her general design instincts. “Holiday décor should have personal elements,” she says. And when it comes to the holidays, “it’s the one time that I say more is more—don’t hold back. Rather than remove things, I say, ‘one more, one more.’”

Her tree is filled with lights and family ornaments. “There really and truly is no theme; it’s a total mix,” Schempp says. “Some come from my husband’s family, some are funny, some are of paper with photos of the kids, others are metal or crystal or have a traditional Christmas theme—it all works.”

Schempp carries the holiday to other parts of the home also. The fireplace mantel in the living room bears a garland of greenery mixed with artificial red and white berries and interspersed with tiny lights. In one of the home’s renovation projects, Schempp transformed the fireplace from wood burning to gas. “Changing it to gas gave us a powerful reason to enjoy the room on a regular basis,” she says.

In the dining room, a traditional wreath with a green bow and tiny lights hangs at the window and a miniature Christmas tree is part of the holiday table setting. In the kitchen, Schempp improvised a creative holiday decoration by filling the top of two figurines—a Chinese man and woman holding baskets over their heads—with boxwood topiary balls with red ribbons. Between them a terra-cotta vase holds live greens.

Bringing a bit of nature into holiday décor is important, Schempp says. This also means that, regardless of the season, “the interior doesn’t stop at the window.”

For Schempp’s home that means putting lights on an outdoor tree that’s visible from the large windows in her living room and dining room. The tree is lit year-round.

“People focus on the front of the house, but don’t forget the lovely views at the back of the house, especially in rooms in which you entertain,” she says. “It’s always nice to bring the outside in. It becomes part of the décor.”

Robin Amster, a regular contributor to Design NJ, is a Madison-based writer and editor.


Overall: interior design, Design I in Summit. Living room: chairs and ottoman, Sherrill Furniture in Hickory, North Carolina; fire screen, Ironware International in Nashville, Tennessee; blinds, Visual Creations through CMI Interiors in Springfield; settee upholstery, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; painting over mantel, oil by Robert Calcagno. Dining room: table and chairs, Hickory White in Hickory, North Carolina; chandelier, Currey & Co. in Atlanta; triple sconce, Laura Lee Designs in Burbank, California. Kitchen: countertops and backsplash, Statewide Granite & Marble in Jersey City; island countertop, All-Wood Custom Woodworking in Elmwood Park; cabinet hardware, Hardware Designs Inc. in Fairfield; counter stools, Lorts in Goodyear, Arizona; pendant over island, Kozo Lighting in Anderson Island, Washington.

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