Home Tour: An Airy Blue-and-White New Jersey Home
There is something very special about an old home: the history, the details, the imperfections. Designer Elizabeth Braha was tasked with restoring just such a home: an 1891 Arts and Crafts–style home just a block from the beach in a seaside town in New Jersey. The owners purchased the home more than 30 years ago, as their summer home, and began a slow and careful restoration 10 years ago with Elizabeth at the helm.
“I especially love the perfect imperfections in an old home that give a home its warmth and moody atmosphere,” Braha says. In this historic home, she points out, “not all the rooms are perfectly square and symmetrical, but the flow of air when the doors are open is just perfect.” Even the air circulation was considered, she proclaims: “The open-feeling elegance yet casual charm is very unique and not a style found in many old or new homes.” The owners were told it was designed by McKim, Meade, and White, who had done other work in the area, but after visiting other homes by the architects, Elizabeth is unsure. “It's beautiful nonetheless,” she says.
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The restoration process was done over many years and began by shedding exterior closed screens that had been installed between the arches, making the porch feel very dark. The paint colors were also muddy, as the people who had lived there before were year-round residents. The moldings were restored with great care, plumbing replaced, and bathrooms gutted and redesigned. Maintaining the integrity of the house was considered at step in the process.
“We wanted the architecture to feel authentic and thus spent the time to restore the details,” Braha says. “We wanted the charm and the house that we loved so much to be its best and keep the spirit of the original architecture.” When they discovered original layers of the exterior while redoing the paint and stucco, they chose to keep the color palette to resemble the original.
Flowing from the kitchen, Braha added a sunroom and family room where the house originally ended as an addition. “It has arched French doors all around the room to continue the language of the rest of the ground level, high beamed ceilings coordinate with the other moldings of the house as well,” she says. “The family now hangs out in that room the most—you can see why!—the views outside the French doors to the landscape are incredible.”
Though the house is quite close to the shore, it is surrounded by greenery, so Braha designed it to feel like the beach with blues, coral, natural oak floors, and wire birds hanging from the ceiling. “I didn’t want the family to forget where they were,” she says.
Because this was a long process, Elizabeth’s taste has evolved as the project went on, and thus, the home features a mix of furniture styles, including a custom floral carpet by Doris Leslie Blau, antique French chairs, and a midcentury Saarinen dining table. “I took inspiration from old European homes with modern furniture,” she says. “At that time it was nearly impossible to find an old home in America that was done in this style. There was no Houzz or Pinterest yet, and I was drawn to the juxtaposition of the old and new.” Years after beginning, she added rustic elements, adding another layer of intrigue—“the most important piece being the corner art in living room by Michael Zelehoski, made using found objects having a three-dimensional quality.”
The dining room is covered in sandy-colored damask paper and contains a serving unit that was flown in from England to coordinate with the wainscoting on the walls. The chairs are modern with a curved detail on the back to give it an old-fashioned feel.
In the master bedroom, storage was added on one wall, and Braha brought in a vintage Deco-style vanity with curved legs, purchased from an antique store in Hudson, and a midcentury club chair. The colors and palette are very muted and soft to add to the relaxed nature of the house. “Nothing feels stuffy or overdone. It’s all a done-but-not-overdone feeling,” she says. “It's beautiful, but you can kick back and relax as well.”
The red, white, and blue room was designed for the clients’ teenage boys and has a very nautical feel.
The pink room has a boudoir feel with the gold-leaf mirror, fuchsia rug, and pink pouf. “I especially love the Deco floor lamp,” Braha says.
For her client’s young daughter, Braha created “the purple room,” with a lavender daybed and a beautiful trunk purchased on the Upper East Side in NYC.
Overall, the space is a reflection of its owner. “The woman of the house is very elegant, so it’s a prim beach house,” Braha says. “The most vital aspect of the process is to get to know a client and have them feel content in their home—unpretentious with a feeling of belonging. Everyone who enters should feel this energy.”
Is there anything you’d change about this New Jersey home, or would you keep it the same? Share your ideas in the comments below.