From the August/September 2010 Issue:

Everything New Is Old Again

  • Writer: Robin Amster
  • Photographer: Peter Rymwid
  • Designer: Diane Romanowski

A new Rumson home is designed to look like it has always existed

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enlarge | Designer Diane Romanowski gave the foyer’s French limestone floor a “natural, subtle” impression with a honed rather than polished finish. The insets are black marble. Below the staircase a gold-and-cream striped velvet settee breaks up the space and provides seating. Beyond the foyer, the rear hall with a bead-board barrel ceiling leads to French doors that open to the patio and pool.
There’s always a trick to transforming a house into an elegant and gracious home that looks as though it has always occupied its own special place over time. That trick becomes even trickier if the house in question is brand-new construction.

Still, designer Diane Romanowski of Diane Romanowski Interior Design in Rumson prefers to work with a clean slate. And that’s just what she got with a new center-hall colonial-style home whose owners gave her a charge that was as clear as it was simple: give us a home that is elegant and refined but without pretension, filled with character and comfort, and with a completed look as if it had been furnished over time.

Romanowski collaborated on the project with Kathleen Wallace of Kathleen Wallace Interiors in Allenhurst.

Starting with that clean slate was an advantage, Wallace agrees. “That allows the designer to work with the client to develop a vision of the home, its use and function, without prerequisites or existing conditions that would compromise that vision,” she says.

The five-bedroom, 8,500-square-foot house is situated on a three-acre property in Rumson that had been the site of the homeowners’ former home: a nondescript 1970s-era ranch demolished to make way for the new residence. An active couple with two young children, the homeowners wanted a larger home that included a study for the wife, a library for the husband, a playroom for the kids, a large kitchen and adjoining family room, formal living room and dining room, master suite, and loads of storage. For details on the kitchen, designed by Leonardis Kitchen Interiors in Morristown, see “Pared-Down Design, Pumped-Up Style,” page 98, August/September 2008, Design NJ.

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enlarge | The wife’s study, located on the first floor overlooking a swimming pool, is secluded from the rest of the rooms. With its snug seating arrangement of heavily textured cream linen sofa and wing chair, it also functions as a sitting room. The daughter’s riding saddle (at left) is an unusual — and artful — accent.
New Direction

The homeowners took a totally different direction with the new house, Romanowski says. They wanted the home to have a timeless, casual elegance and to look as if it has always been here, she says. Beyond that, however, they didnt have any preconceived ideas or stylistic preferences, and that gave the designers freedom to exercise their creative vision.

Romanowski and Wallace credit architect Thomas Pedrazzi of Studio Pedrazzi Architecture Design in New York City with laying the foundation for their work. The architecture has a classic character of quiet restraint and includes abundant natural light and well-proportioned spaces that provide a seamless flow from one room to another.
Pedrazzis New England colonial architectural design itself made the job of fashioning a gracious old-home atmosphere easier. The builder on the project was Jeffrey Tilly of Fair Haven.

Once Pedrazzi set the stage, the designers got down to work. Some of the moves aimed at aging the new residence were structural. Romanowski designed a barrel ceiling that extends the length of the rear hall, which is directly off the foyer (or center hall), and connects the foyer to the back of the house, where French doors lead to a patio and pool area. The barrel ceiling, lined with bead board to impart an older look, defines this area by creating a natural visual resting place, the designer says.

Romanowski added extensive millwork throughout the home, including oversized moldings; detailed boxed ceiling beams in the living room and family room; recessed-panel wainscoting in the foyer, second floor-hallway, and master bath; elegantly crafted wood fireplaces in the living room and family room; and floor to-ceiling custom bookcases in the library. These elements imparted the classic feeling of an older home  a time when craftsmanship and detailing were integral parts of a house, Wallace says. With the homes 10-foot-high ceilings, the millwork also scaled down the space, balanced room proportions, and warmed the interiors, the designers say.

Yet another move aimed at producing an old-house atmosphere was the lighting scheme. Older homes did not have recessed lighting, which is not a flattering light, Romanowski says. So we used it only in a few cases, for example, to spotlight artwork. Instead, she layered the lighting with antique and custom fixtures, pendants, and sconces.

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enlarge | The beams that distinguish the living room are carried through to the family room. “The room needed some detail,” designer Diane Romanowski says. A creamy neutral palette marks the space, with detail and texture provided by fabrics that include a beige and taupe crewel window treatment, a tone-on-tone cream wool rug, and cream chenille sofa.
A Neutral Backdrop

Romanowski opted for neutrals — soft shades of cream, taupe, celery, and blue — for the color palette. With a neutral color scheme, the home would not be dated. Against this neutral background “you mix fabrics and textures,” she adds, referring to her layering of linens, chenilles, velvets, crewels, and silks in furnishings and window treatments.

Contrast came in dark stained wood floors and select antiques. Oriental rugs in creams, golds, soft blues, navy, and green in the living and dining rooms provide depth and contrast with the wood floors, while grass-cloth wall coverings in the library and the wife’s study and custom wall finishes throughout reflect the house’s luminous natural light.

The designer did introduce a punch of color in the dining room. The architect’s original plan provided for a solid wall between the living and dining rooms, with a fireplace opening to the living room. Romanowski opened the wall on both sides of the fireplace for greater flow between the rooms. On the dining room walls she used a blue strié decorative finish.

The dining room has an imposing antique reproduction table and chairs and sideboard that were the homeowners. They are more formal than some of the other furnishings. Romanowski balanced that formality by slipcovering the chairs in a cotton cream and cerulean blue dot pattern with solid blue banding for a casual note.

That balance is evident throughout the home, where despite its newly acquired old bones, the furnishings are more transitional than traditional, Romanowski says. Here the casually elegant lives within a tasteful, mature backdrop. “It’s elegant, but not formal,” she adds. “Every room has an inviting feel to it.”


SOURCES Overall: interior design, Diane Romanowski Interior Design in Rumson in collaboration with Kathleen Wallace Interiors in Allenhurst; architecture, Studio Pedrazzi Architecture Design in New York City; builder, Jeffrey Tilly LLC in Fair Haven. Foyer: flooring, Artistic Tile in Shrewsbury; settee, Ralph Lauren in New York City. Living Room: rug, Nevada Exchange in Shrewsbury; sofa and club chairs, Mason Art in New York City; occasional chairs, Artistic Frame in New York City; window treatment, Interiors by Royale in New York City. Family Room: rug, Stark Carpet in New York City; sofa and striped chair, Mason Art; armchairs, Ralph Lauren; window treatment, Interiors by Royale. Dining Room: settee, Edward Ferrell in High Point, North Carolina; mirror and rug, Nevada Exchange; wall treatment, The Painted Finish in Tinton Falls; table, chairs, and sideboard, homeowners. Wifes Study: sisal rug, Louis J. Weinstein in Little Silver; Persian rug, homeowners; sofa, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; chair, Ralph Lauren; ottoman, Lorts in Goodyear, Arizona. Library: desk, Bausman & Co. in Ontario, California; rug, Louis J. Weinstein; window treatment, Interiors by Royale. Master Bedroom: headboard and window treatment, Interiors by Royale; chairs, Ralph Lauren; ottoman, The Charles Stewart Co. in Hickory, North Carolina; chandelier, Vaughan Designs in New York City; rug, Louis J. Weinstein; desk, homeowners. Master Bath: cabinetry, Leonardis Kitchens in Morristown; flooring, Artistic Tile; tub, Waterworks in Danbury, Connecticut; sconces, Visual Comfort & Co. in Houston; wallpaper, Nobilis.