From the October/November 2010 Issue:

Revival in Asbury Park

  • Writer: Denise DiFulco
  • Photographer: Patricia Burke
  • Designer: Troy Bianchi and Billy Thompson
  • Writer: Denise DiFulco | Photographer: Patricia Burke | Designers: Troy Bianchi and Billy Thompson |

Designers give an 1893 Victorian/Craftsman a new lease on life

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enlarge | The inspiration for the exterior color scheme came from a Victorian mining cottage the owners spotted while vacationing in Telluride, Colorado.
Purchasing a fixer-upper requires equal parts faith, vision, and resources. How else could you justify buying a century-old house with a rotted porch and sinking fireplace in a marginal neighborhood? It also helps if you enjoy a good challenge, as do interior designers Troy Bianchi and Billy Thompson. Their restoration of an 1893 Victorian/Craftsman home in northwest Asbury Park was nothing short of ambitious.

The couple, owners of Bianchi-Thompson Interiors, discovered the house in late 2006 and immediately saw the potential despite its dilapidated state. “It had great bones and was solid structurally,” Thompson says. Originally built as a Victorian in Asbury Park’s initial heyday as a destination resort, the home underwent a Craftsman renovation in 1912. Distinctive features added during that remodel, including rare chestnut wall paneling and trim, remained intact and were salvageable.

Still, all three floors needed to be restored. Bianchi and Thompson’s primary objective was to modernize where necessary, but to keep the house looking as though it was entirely original and had been well-maintained over the years. With a crack team of contractors and craftsmen they called “the Dream Team,” Bianchi and Thompson prepared the house for move-in within just six months. Only a year after that, they opened their masterwork to the public for the Asbury Park Homeowner’s Association Vintage House Tour.

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enlarge | Though the home was in disrepair, Bianchi and Thompson were able to salvage chestnut walls added in a circa 1912 renovation. The rich colors and textures in the living room accentuate the warm sophistication of the dark wood. The duo’s Bichon Frisés, Sasha (right) and Ralph (left, who has since passed), take comfort in the elegant surroundings.
Uncovering History
To keep as true to the house as possible, Bianchi and Thompson—both Jersey shore natives—attended postcard shows and mined the local library for historic information. Through their research they learned their home was the first one built on its street, and they discovered the details of its Craftsman makeover. Many similar turn-of-the-century structures in Asbury Park have been renovated and restored in recent years as the community has witnessed a gentrification and revival. “The thing that sets this apart is that we’ve authenticated this house right down to every detail,” Bianchi says.

They decided to reconfigure the seven-bedroom, two-bathroom home to five bedrooms and 21/2 bathrooms, retaining what they could of the existing architecture and reproducing the rest. Bianchi jokes that their carpenter, Brian Coleman, practically lived with them for two months while replicating trim. The rich, handsome chestnut paneling throughout the first floor (installed before the worst of the chestnut blight in the early twentieth century) is a highlight in the restored home.

Bianchi and Thompson also saved most of the vintage Lincrusta embossed wallpaper in the dining room (some was dry rotted), which they covered with gold paint and topped with a wood stain to highlight the detail. As for the unintentionally sunken fireplace in the living room, it was returned to its former glory. Lifted with hydraulics and reset into the floor, it lives out its second life as a gas hearth because the flue was cracked in two places and was prohibitively expensive to repair.

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enlarge | The gas/electric range in the kitchen is a reproduction of a coal wood stove that would have been used in a Victorian home in the 1890s. The owners gained wall space for the quarter-sawn oak cabinetry by closing up two of four doorways that led into the room.
Restore, Replicate, Replace
In addition to honoring their home’s provenance, Bianchi and Thompson created an inviting atmosphere with a mix of antiques, reproduction furnishings, and contemporary accoutrements. They used Bradbury&Bradbury’s hand-printed, historic wall coverings and friezes. One particularly exquisite example graces Bianchi’s bedroom walls: Colored hunter green with burgundy stripes and metallic gold accents, it features an authentic Craftsman oak leaf design. Bianchi and Thompson rewired many of the home’s original gas-and-electric fixtures—mostly found on the upper floors—but they also used modern, Craftsman-style mica light fixtures and stained-glass lamps.

Perhaps their greatest achievement was the reconstruction of the exterior, which is now a showpiece of the neighborhood. Thompson remembers the existing porch was so decayed, “it was like Swiss cheese.” After tearing it down, they regraded the property immediately surrounding the home and installed a 21/2-foot brownstone wall to buttress the foundation. The new wraparound porch features mahogany rails and deck with cypress spindles. Its tapered pillars mimic the Craftsman pilasters found inside on the first floor. The inspiration for the green, gold, brown, and muted burgundy exterior color scheme came from a Victorian mining cottage Bianchi and Thompson spotted while vacationing in Telluride, Colorado. The iron hairpin fencing and sparse, but woodsy landscaping—designed by Bianchi—complete the period look.

The duo admit the project was overwhelming at times, but they’re thrilled that it turned out to be a home run. “When you’re in it, I guess it’s hard to realize what you’ve accomplished,” Bianchi says. “When I look back, I guess we drive each other—to the brink.”


Exterior: soffit/corbel and porch replacement, Brian Kenney Builders (The Great American Porch Co.) in Allenhurst; landscape and architectural design, Billy Thompson and Troy Bianchi; fountains, collection of Troy Bianchi; awnings, McBride Awning Co. in Point Pleasant Beach; iron hairpin fence, Taylor Fence in Howell. Porch: ceiling fan and lamp, Lowe’s; rug, Plow & Hearth catalog; globe pendants,; metal garden table and chairs, personal collection of Troy Bianchi. Living Room: sofas and ottoman, Kravet in Bethpage, New York; Tiffany reproduction lamps, J.C. Penney; fireplace, The Wood Stove & Fireplace Center in Oakhurst; stained-glass screen, Frontgate catalog; sconces,; Bulova grandfather clock, Avon Clock Shop in Avon-by-the-Sea. Dining Room: light fixtures,; horse, dining table, Mission-style chairs, personal collection of Troy Bianchi. Kitchen: Kraftmaid cabinetry through Kitchen Expo in Toms River; hardware, Van Dyke’s Restorers in Mitchell, South Dakota; range, Heartland Appliances in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Bedroom: sleigh bed and side table, The Timekeeper Antiques (now out of business); Tiffany reproduction lamp, Antique Center of Red Bank in Red Bank; window treatment, Bianchi-Thompson Interiors with silk fabric by Kravet; wallpaper, Bradbury & Bradbury. Second-Floor Bathroom: wallpaper, Bradbury & Bradbury; ceiling tiles, Home Depot; Jacuzzi, Ferguson Appliance, Kitchen, Bath & Light Center in Avon-by-the-Sea; shower door, Atlantic Glass in Belmar; woodwork, Brian Coleman Carpentry in Point Pleasant. Third-floor bath: Kohler sink, Ferguson Appliance, Kitchen, Bath & Light Center; window seat cushions, Elite Custom Upholstery in Belmar; sea stars, found on Naples, Florida, beaches; ottoman, Frontgate; Victorian towel bar with mirror, Antique Center of Red Bank.