This Livingston home combines rustic charm with modern flow—and delights two spouses with different tastes.
Text by Nayda Rondon
Design by Karen B. Wolf
Photography by Christian Garibaldi
A transformation was required in Livingston—and a deft blending too. A young professional couple’s new home, a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch farmhousestyle construction, had to be designed to reflect their modern sensibilities. And actually, those sensibilities differed.
The husband, the more design-conscious risk taker of the pair, wanted bold colors and graffiti- and Pop-type art. The wife, who favors muted palettes, layered textures and architectural elements, was more focused on ensuring warmth and comfort. Designer Karen B. Wolf ’s mission was to marry the two aesthetics seamlessly. Working in conjunction with Rosen Kelly Conway Architecture & Design in Summit and John Santos of Fortis Developers in Elizabeth, Wolf and her team had to make the home for both spouses—and for their children, ages 8, 6 and 4.
The new house, built to look older, featured all the charm of the classic farmhouse style with its fireplaces, wood moldings and reclaimed wide plank floors. “Its bones are beautiful,” says Wolf, who designed all of the spacious home’s rooms. “We just needed to create a sense of modern flow by opening up the space and injecting bold pops of color, patterns and art throughout.” The home abounds with custom touches, unique pieces and interesting juxtapositions of styles unified by thematic use of a refined color palette, design elements, textures and materials. “We’d worked with Karen on our beach home and our old home, so she knew what we’d like,” the wife explains. “Instead of giving us lots of choices, she narrows things down to two or three options that capture both of our different styles to create a cohesive consistency.”
Seamless symmetry flows throughout the welcoming home. Greeting visitors, the airy central foyer is flanked by a dramatic dining room on one side and an equally impressive library on the other.
“Since they’re the first things people encounter, we wanted both to make ‘wow’ statements,” says Wolf. “We wanted them to ‘talk’ to each other, so both rooms are a complementary mix of classic design elements given sleek, modern aesthetics.”
“We love to entertain, and this room lets us do it in style,” the husband says of the dining area. “It’s a fun and elegant space. We particularly love the ceiling and the live edge wood table.”
Wolf designed the millwork ceiling— painted a semi-gloss black for maximum effect— to showcase the glittery brass and glass Sputnik chandeliers. The ambience-setting smoky glow enhances the luster of the Jonathan Adler chairs, which were reupholstered in a textured metallic vinyl that is as visually arresting as it is easy to clean and maintain. The two semi-custom end chairs upholstered in black leather with brass nail heads add to the air of polished posh. The custom live edge wood table, supported by a brass base, is topped with agate candlesticks from John-Richard. On the floor, a custom hide rug in a geometric pattern offers practical elegance.
“I love using real hide,” Wolf says. “It’s natural and durable, hides dirt and gives warmth.”
A striking mixed-media portrait of Kate Moss by the artist Mr. Brainwash enlivens the white fireplace. And the walls—bedecked in metallic grasscloth by Phillip Jeffries—do “talk,” speaking volumes about the room’s opulence.
That same air of contemporary elegance permeates the stylish library, a study in dramatic contrasts. Underscoring the room’s traditional millwork and architectural features, the backs of the pre-existing bookshelves were given high-gloss coats of black paint while the sides and shelves were left white. This blackand- white color story was punctuated with custom details, such as the furniture’s patterned upholstery, the hide area rug and the white sateen drapes with black velvet drops. To keep these components from overpowering the room, all other millwork was washed in neutral white. Unifying elements carried from room to room were evident in the metal coffee table, the pair of Sputnik table lamps, the sleek Regina Andrew light fixture, the Gabby mirror, the Ambella sofa and the carefully curated decorative shelf items, all personally styled by Wolf.
“We brought in every single piece in this room,” Wolf emphasizes. “The only exception was the bulldog in cast bronze metal. That was theirs. At first glance it seems out of place, but it works. It adds an unexpected, fun element.”
In the great room, Wolf ensured visual interest with pops of color. She handpicked every object on the large gold metallic coffee table with an eye for overall flow, symmetry and color choices drawn from the large abstract painting by French artist JM Robert (a find of Wolf ’s, which the owners loved). The fireplace—framed in rich Calcutta white marble with black streaks—was painted an almost-black navy blue, which was complemented by the navy-and-white patterned drapes on either side. The authentic rustic wood floors were given new life with a custom mix of warm brown shades. Joining form with function, deep blue velvet sofas invite a visitor to sink into luxurious comfort.
This sense of relaxed sophistication extends to the kitchen, which features the same Calcutta marble used for the great room’s fireplace and other unifying brass and leather elements, such as those used for the metal hood and island stools. Custom touches include the wood cabinetry and appliance-covering surfaces painted in soft gray. The large wood island, in an oil-based black stained with a matte finish, imparts a warm, natural feel while the shiplap ceiling and the X-shaped designs on each side of the island reinforce the home’s farmhouse roots.
Nearby, an intimate family room beckons. It’s cozy and comfy, but far from conventional, thanks to plush leather lounging chairs, a custom-textured ottoman and a brick fireplace totally revamped with metal sheet plates and adorned with a classic masterpiece given a graffiti-type twist.
Room by room, piece by piece, this livable showplace became a home where its inhabitants—young children included—can enjoy and celebrate the art of life. Instead of a “do not touch” museum quality, the vibe is of inviting spaces imprinted with the family’s immersive perspective of beauty, warmth and comfort.
“We love working with Karen,” says the husband. “She captures a consistent flow in a house with different tastes and unique elements to create a home that’s livable and has our distinctive stamp.”