From the February/March 2009 Issue:

Balancing Act

  • Writer: Judy Jeannin
  • Photographer: Peter Rymwid
  • Designer: Tracey Butler

Designer Tracey Butler mixes high- and low-end in her stylish Essex Fells home

Article Photo
enlarge | An antique horn table is the focal point of the double-height entry. The paneled wall wears a high-gloss finish, the custom railing has a bronze finish, and the flooring comprises poured concrete pavers laid in a random pattern.
The pottery displayed in Tracey Butler’s elegant living room was purchased at thrift shops and flea markets; the cocktail table is from Restoration Hardware. A quintet of Ikea vases tops her vintage dining room table, and silk drapes in the master suite were found at Bed, Bath & Beyond. The best part: No one is the wiser. Butler, owner of b. home interior design in Essex Fells, is so skillful at mixing high- and low-end products that she has turned it into an art form.

A former fashion buyer for Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel, Butler has a well-honed eye that appreciates good design wherever she finds it. What’s more, as an interior designer, she knows how to give the ordinary a bit of cachet.

One of her favorite tricks is to avoid highly advertised items and mix her inexpensive purchases with antique and high-end pieces. “That educated mix of high and low makes it imperceptible that there is low in there,” Butler says.

“If something is too identifiable, I change it so it doesn’t look like something everyone sees in the catalogs we all get. I might take a piece from Pottery Barn done in a light stain and have the refinisher do it in a dark stain with a high-gloss finish or take an upholstered piece and add nail heads. I have taken inexpensive couches and gold-leafed the legs to make them look expensive. Or you can take something they show in a cloth fabric and do it in leather.”

The designer also likes to use architectural and natural pieces as accessories. “They look expensive because they are mixed with more expensive pieces.”

Placement is key, Butler says. “It is in knowing where to put an item and what kind of use it will get. A couch in the living room doesn’t get the same wear and tear as one in the family room. The living room is basically a showpiece — you don’t need such high quality there.” Children’s rooms and bedrooms are other spaces where less-expensive furnishings serve well.

Article Photo
enlarge | The honed granite used on the countertops wraps up to form a backsplash. The high-back banquette in the breakfast nook is covered in black leather, which complements the countertop and is indestructible for kids. The red metal chairs are antique.
Add Personal Style
Butler admits that as a design professional, she has an advantage shopping in stores such as Crate & Barrel. “Most people end up getting frustrated and buy what they see. Then they feel like it isn’t individual enough,” she says. “It is mixing those things with other furnishings that brings you the most personal environment.” And that, she says, takes a trained eye.

Butler is a fan of stores such as Target, Home Goods and Marshalls, which she feels offer stylish items at low prices, but she’s not a fan of television makeover shows. “I think these shows are horrible. They give a home-cooked look,” she says. “In the end you don’t get a professional look.”

No one would question the professional look of Butler’s own home. It has the quirky elegance achieved only by talented designers. From the antique horn table in the foyer to the meat-locker doors in the mudroom, it is a home filled with imagination. It is there in the massed factory lights above the cleverly designed kitchen island, in the wall-mounted pharmacy lamp illuminating artwork in the family room, in the factory spools and a saddle used as accessories in the library, and in the clever juxtaposition of different furnishing styles throughout the house.

Butler eliminated upper cabinets in her kitchen. “I wanted to maximize the windows, and I wanted it to feel as if you were still in the living space of the house. The lack of upper cabinets gives a liberating feel in the kitchen,” she says. “It also gives you the opportunity to put artwork in the kitchen and to focus on the lighting.”

Problem-Solving Design
Other innovative touches include fire poles in the mudroom closet, a long table tucked between the back of the sofa and the wall in the library, and mirrors floating before the windows in the master bath. Each solves a problem: the hooks on the fire poles provide easy storage for the children’s outerwear, the table offers added display space and somewhere for guests to set their drinks, and the mirrors mounted on brass poles allowed Butler to place the sink vanity along that wall.

Butler, the mother of three active children, also knows how to balance her taste for fine furnishings and finishes with practical materials. For example, an expensive mohair velvet sofa sits atop a sisal rug in the living room. “It makes the living room more accessible, and I wanted a rougher rug that could take high traffic.”

The dining room has a poured concrete floor. Metal chairs are pulled up to the kitchen table. There are slip-covered sofas in the family room where the children watch television. The library sectional provides sleeping space for guests while the adjacent powder room serves as a guest bath.

This is a house of many contradictions — high- and low-end, practical and elegant, industrial and traditional — that meets the needs of the sophisticated Butler and her three children. -DNJ


SOURCES Foyer: antique horn table, b.home in Essex Fells; custom stairway railing, K&R Welding in Fairfield; concrete pavers, Peacock Pavers in Atmore, Alabama; sisal stairway runner, J&S Designer Flooring in Morristown. Living Room: diamond sisal area rug, J&S Designer Flooring; sofa, Artistic Frame (T) in New York City; chairs, Barry Dixon through b.home. Den: sofas, Verellen Inc. in High Point, North Carolina; grass-cloth wall covering, Sonia’s Place in New York City; drum shade fixture, O’Lampia Lighting Design Studio Inc. in New York City; television credenza, Crate & Barrel; draperies, Window Scapes Inc. in Livingston. Library: sectional sofa, Verellen Inc.; Nobilis (T) wall covering, and custom cocktail table, through b.home; leather chairs, ABC Carpet & Home in New York City. Guest Bath: mirror, Brocade Home catalog; sconces, Capitol Lighting in East Hanover; vanity, Oly (T) in Berkeley, California; tile, Artistic Tile in Paramus. Dining Room: light fixture, O’Lampia Lighting Design Studio; vintage dining chairs and table, b.home. Office: carpet, J&S Designer Flooring. Kitchen: antique pendent lights, ABC Carpet & Home; barstools, Donghia (T) in New York City; cabinets, Prestige Kitchen & Bath Design in Livingston; honed granite counter tops, Style With Tile & Marble Inc. in West Caldwell. Mudroom: sliding doors, K&R Welding; perforated drum shade light fixtures, b.home. Master Bedroom: bed, Niermann Weeks (T) in New York City; dresser, b.home; carpet, J&S Designer Flooring. Master Bathroom: marble tile, Artistic Tile; vintage vanity, b.home. Spencer’s Room: sisal wall covering, Sonia’s Place (T); carpet J&S Designer Flooring; leather chair, ABC Carpet & Home; wood blinds, Window Scapes Inc.Madeline’s Room: grass-cloth wall covering, Sonia’s Place; antique French bed, b.home; shag carpet, J&S Designer Flooring; desk chair, West Elm; mod daybed/sofa, ABC Carpet & Home; wood blinds, Window Scapes Inc. Chloe’s Bedroom: grass-cloth wall covering, Sonia’s Place; bench, Bungalow 5 in Oakland (T); carpet, J&S Designer Flooring; wood blinds, Window Scapes Inc. Children’s Bathroom: white oak wash stand, b.home; limestone tile, Artistic Tile. T=To the trade. Some items from Ikea, West Elm, and Restoration Hardware may no longer be available.

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