From the February/March 2010 Issue:

Classically Modern

  • Writer: Mary Vinnedge
  • Photographer: John Ferrentino
  • Designer: Rachel Minaya, IIDA

Designer Rachel Minaya creates timeless style and comfort in her Bergen County home

Article Photo
enlarge | A handmade silk-and-wool carpet provides the foundation for the family room’s decorating scheme. Interior designer Rachel Minaya (above) says the room is ideal for interacting with her sons or for quiet time such as reading. The boldly matted photos above the settee are scenes from Cuba.
Interior designer Rachel Minaya revitalized her Harrington Park home as an easy-living refuge for her busy family of four. Minaya gave center stage to fabrics and textures in soothing tones on classic, comfortable furniture. “There’s modern flair and classic simplicity … It’s a fusion of modern and traditional. I like midcentury modern furniture. I like neutrals and cool colors,” she says. “But it’s like my personality too, and I like a surprise.”

Minaya, whose firm is RMS Design Inc. in Harrington Park, has been remodeling the interior of her four-bedroom, 41/2-bath home for about three years. She and her husband, Omar Minaya — general manager of the New York Mets baseball team — purchased the 1970s colonial-style home from its original owners, who had changed little except for remodeling the kitchen.

Before modifying the interior, the Minayas altered the exterior, adding a portico that protects the front entry from precipitation as well as resurfacing the sides of the two-story home with shingles and ledgestone. Additional changes included new windows and an addition over the two-car garage that brought the floor space to about 3,000 square feet. “The whole master suite over the garage is new. And the basement [with a home theater and gym] is all new. We took down some walls there … We gutted the bathrooms too.”

Because she was remodeling and decorating her own home, Minaya — a member of the International Interior Design Association — says her approach differed from how she works with clients. “I usually meet with clients first to get a sense of their personality,” she says. “I look at their space and the architecture of each room. I try to use their personality in the design. You don’t want to force a style on them. And you do want some compatibility between them and you as a designer. [Then] I do a furniture layout so they can get an idea of where the furniture will be placed. Next we select colors and fabrics. People need to see it and feel it so they can visualize.”

With her own home, the designer says, “it didn’t take too long for me to decide because I know what I like. I usually did the floor plan for a room first and then the wall treatment and then fabrics.”

Minaya had a free hand with the selections for the home. Her husband is easy-going, she says. “He’s more into the technology, surround-sound” for the video systems, she says, chuckling.

Her rooms express a refined aesthetic in which accessories are used sparingly, though she has incorporated pieces that reflect the family’s trips and heritage. “My husband is from the Dominican Republic, and we have artwork from there. The statue in the entryway is from Africa, when my husband visited Ghana. In the living room, the three pots under the television are from Oaxaca, Mexico,” another of Omar Minaya’s travel destinations.

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enlarge | Interior designer Rachel Minaya likes to decorate using travel mementos such as the Ghanaian carving of three figures in her entryway. She also is a fan of Fortuny light fixtures, with two sconces and a chandelier in her dining room.
Coming Home

All of the furnishings feed into Minaya’s goals as a designer. “You want to come home to a place you can be comfortable, but also a place that’s stylish and timeless.”

So which rooms are her favorites?

I love the master bath,” she says. “It’s a big room. The antique chandelier was the first thing I had for that room. I like baths, and my husband likes his shower. It’s a big shower, about 4 by 7 feet, and has four shower heads. I have air jets in my big tub and a handheld showerhead. I’d just stay in the tub for an hour with candles all around.”

The family room is another favorite space. “There’s no television in there. You can sit down and read, and there are lots of windows — you can see nature all around. It’s so tranquil. It’s a good room for one-on-one time with our sons.”

Even though Minaya says she’s “like a kid in a candy store” at the Design & Decoration Building in New York City, she mostly indulges in “fabrics and textures — I find them exciting.” Many of the fabrics are solids, some with subtle sheen, and yet Minaya bowed to her penchant for surprises with a striking stripe in the basement movie room; her pillows also pack a punch in many rooms. Other obvious surprises come in the form of dramatic light sources and boldly matted photos that invite up-close viewing.

Minaya purchased furniture and accessories from retail and to-the-trade sources and also reused items from previous residences. The classic Jean-Michel Frank chairs flanking the living-room fireplace, for example, have moved with the couple many times during their marriage. “I’ve reupholstered them four or five times,” she says.

The chairs are among the ample seating in the living areas, and the soft furnishings help when the Minayas entertain their family and friends. During the winter, eight to 10 guests may share a meal in the dining room “because it isn’t a huge room.” But in the summer, “we can entertain with barbecues and have more people, 25 or 30.”

Minaya expects the yard and home to forever evolve as the couple add accent pieces from their travels. However, they will take a break from construction. “We might add a library-study area for the kids eventually. But we want to take a bit of time off, enjoy the home and decide whether to go through with it.”

Mary Vinnedge
a writer and editor based in Bryan, Texas.