From the June/July 2022 Issue  

Midcentury Mindset

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Costas Picadas  |  Designer Andrew Suvalsky  |  Location Montclair, NJ

Color, character and creative expression revitalize a 70-year-old home in Montclair.

White paint and vivid trim add curb appeal to the formerly brown-brick façade. A dated multipaned front window was replaced with a cleaner, modern version. Asymmetrical, vertically stacked windows in the new garage “are a direct reference to a popular style of the 1950s and ’60s,” says designer Andrew Suvalsky, pictured (right) with husband Michael Doan and twins Lucy and Joey.

Seeking more space for their growing family in 2020, designer Andrew Suvalsky and husband Michael Doan looked at various suburbs around New York City to raise their now 3½-year-old twins, Lucy and Joey. The search quickly ended in Essex County, New Jersey.

“Montclair has a special vibe” with its all-American feeling, mature tree-lined streets, walkability factor, beautiful architecture and more, says Suvalsky, principal of Andrew Suvalsky Designs. Moreover, “its reputation of being a progressive and welcoming community” — and its proximity to his Manhattan-based design studio — “all made sense.”

“The introduction of color was another way to pull moments of the interior and splash them around and brighten up the backyard,” Suvalsky says.

The 3,300 square-foot ranch-style home with a total of five bedrooms and three bathrooms “is big enough for us to feel comfortable, but not overwhelmed,” Suvalsky says. A finished basement has additional space for the kids to play, along with a second kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

  • Black-painted double doors lead to a new coat closet. “I like to play with scale and detail … to suggest something different lies beyond,” Suvalsky says.

    The foyer’s ceiling treatment “was a way to take the colors of the wallpaper and the movement of the [porcelain tile] floor and reinterpret it as a feature in Venetian plaster by the very talented Adan Brito,” Suvalsky says. A mirrored wall adds depth, and the statement artwork is an enlargement of an iPhone photo Suvalsky took of a “very special mountaintop city called Matera, in Italy,” where he and Doan visited on their honeymoon.

     

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“I really related to the Midcentury traditional style” and the fact the home was well maintained by the previous owners of 50 years. Still, he and Doan sought to put their personal stamp on the house. “I saw so much potential unrealized,” Suvalsky says. “From my perspective, it deserved — if not required — a significant overhaul.”

A five-month renovation transformed the 1952 home, including the exterior’s formerly brown-brick façade. “I wanted it much sharper and brighter but still classic,” hence the choice to repaint the brick white, Suvalsky says. Vivid blue trim adds depth, and the new yellow front door “is a literal and metaphorical gateway” to the yellow accents you see inside. So are hues of blue. “It was very important that the outside reference the interior and vice versa,” he says.

  • The living room plays up deep French blue tones along with touches of gold and black among a mix of new and vintage finds. Suvalsky redid the fireplace stonework in a more modern and glam black marble with white veining. The piano “is meant to invite you in for a party, a martini (or whatever the poison) and a great cozy time by the fire.”

     

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His vision for the interior? “I love a playful, updated twist on Midcentury Modern design,” Suvalsky says. His affinity for the style was formed in part from his childhood days watching great television sitcoms. “I remember loving the way the interiors looked” in shows like I Love Lucy, Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. “While I wanted to bring in an element of that, I also appreciate an eclectic mix of more modern touches and occasionally some much older ones.” Overall, “I wanted the house to feel warm, fun, inviting and balanced room to room, while not being too minimalist or repeating the same feeling or color scheme.”

He was particularly passionate about the choice of porcelain flooring, which greets visitors in the foyer and extends down the enlarged hallway into a section of the remodeled kitchen. “I love the drama of the veining and the uncommon play of gold, black and white,” he says. The yellow lacquered base cabinets in the kitchen echo the front door, and a newly installed larger window over the sink helps to modernize the layout. The biggest game changer, however, involved removing a wall between the kitchen and dining room, greatly enhancing the visual flow and feeling of expansiveness. “Now, the only thing dividing the two rooms is a long peninsula,” Suvalsky says.

  • Upper cabinets in the remodeled kitchen are walnut. Base cabinets are lacquered in the same yellow finish as the front door. Pops of blue make their presence known. The Andy Warhol-inspired kitchen print — a gift from a dear friend — “is a love letter to New York City,” Suvalsky says.

     

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There are also elements of intrigue. Take the black double doors set within a mirrored wall in the foyer. The doors lead to a new coat closet in space that was carved from an adjacent hallway bathroom. “I like to play with scale and detail to sometimes make less important spaces read as more important or to suggest something different lies beyond what does in reality.”

Art is also celebrated for its personal expression, sense of connection and capacity to elevate the design of a room. “Mostly, I like a playful feeling mixed with a general Midcentury to full Modern vibe,” he says. Other themes are architectural-, musical-, water- or pop culture-related. “I love to find art that immediately resonates with me so others who look at these pieces feel something about the mood of we who live there.”

The couple’s love of music and entertaining — and the feeling they elicit — is especially evident in the living room, where a baby grand piano is meant to “invite you in for a party, a martini (or whatever your poison) and a great cozy time by the fire,” he says. Primarily, “I wanted this living room to draw people in for various uses, not just sit pretty and never be touched.” Two 1970s-era chairs were reupholstered in a “funky but pretty” black-and-white houndstooth check; a wing chair from the 1950s is covered in gold plaid.

  • A little splashy and a tad formal, the dining room is accented by deep-hued floral wallpaper with brushes of gold and strokes of peacock blue, colors that complement the iconic painting of Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset. Suvalsky replaced three side-by-side windows with one larger single pane of glass to heighten the view into the adjacent sunroom and beyond. A wall was also removed between the dining room and adjacent kitchen for better visual and spatial flow.

     

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Each room has its own purpose and focus, yet all are connected with seamless through lines, he says. The dining room, for instance, is a combination of “a little splashy with a nod to the formal,” with brass and peacock velvet chairs that pull up to a glass-top table with modern brushed-brass bases. Here an iconic painting of Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset — from the 1968 film Bullitt — becomes a scene-stealer in modern day.

  • In the sunroom, Suvalsky retained existing features he loved, including the wood paneling, ceiling beams and matching sideboard cabinets (one shown), but he refinished them in a darker, nuttier stain. To evoke a 1950s vibe, he reupholstered a vintage rattan furniture set from Chairish in “fun and preppy” performance fabrics. “The aqua theme keeps going,” he says, with the shag rug and the Phillip Jeffries wallpaper he applied to the ceiling and cabinet backboards.

     

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Aqua spindle-back chairs pull up to a white Tulip table where the kids eat almost every meal. The Colonial lantern-style light fixture is another ’50s find from Chairish.

Drenched in sunlight in the morning and early afternoon, the adjacent sunroom — visible from the dining room’s large-paned window and accessible from the kitchen — “truly lives up to its name,” Suvalsky says. He retained existing features that he loved — such as wood paneling, ceiling beams and matching sideboard cabinets — but gave them new life in a darker, nuttier stain. Vintage rattan furnishings, reupholstered in “fun and preppy” indoor/outdoor fabrics, along with other touches, “evoke a traditional vibe distinct to the 1950s.”

An extra wide horizontally emphasized headboard, midheight draperies over the bed and a silver Sputnik-style light fixture all give a Midcentury shoutout in the primary bedroom. The chair— reupholstered in a horizontal striped fabric — also claims vintage roots.

  • Suvalsky annexed space from a secondary bedroom closet to allow room for an oversized shower in the primary bathroom. A custom vanity, all-over wall mirrors and the dramatic slate blue and black veins in the tile contribute to the splashy style.

     

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  • In the guest room, the L-shaped configuration of the daybeds — designed to function as twin beds for guests and family members — “makes the room feel wider,” Suvalsky says. To help with the scale of the room, Suvalsky used an eclectic layout of numerous favorite art pieces “that draw your eye up from the daybeds,” he says. “Unlike other rooms, I went for a moodier, darker palette.”

     

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Midcentury Modern touches also surface in the twins’ nursery with broad white-and-teal tattersall checked fabrics as well as in the guest room, primary bedroom and renovated bathrooms. Says Suvalsky: “I love the Midcentury take on traditional American design because it always had flair and was never formal or stuffy.”

In the twins’ unisex nursery, “I wanted a Midcentury matchy/matchy cute — not cutesy — room,” Suvalsky says. Colors in the playfully illustrated jungle animal scene wallpaper were carried out in various ways, from the broad white-and-teal tattersall checked window treatment and daybed fabrics to the soft green-and-cream carpeting.

  • Used for bathing kids and for guests, this reconfigured full bathroom is as stylish as it is functional with a custom aqua vanity accented with oversized half-moon handles in black and tiles with soft gray and cream veining. Washable sheer drapery — hung floor-to-ceiling — covers the tub/shower combo when not in use.

     

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