California living undoubtedly has its attractions, but there’s just something about New Jersey that keeps pulling you back. That’s the case for a family of five who’d made the move to the West Coast but kept returning back East for short periods. Rather than stay in unfamiliar, transitory surroundings during their periodic returns, the family purchased a 2,300-square-foot, three-story corner unit townhouse in Monroe Township conveniently located near relatives.
“My grandmother, who recently turned 100, lives in Freehold,” says homeowner Jennifer McMahon. “My mother, sister and aunts also live nearby, and I wanted to be able to call them to come over for a cup of coffee without their having to travel too far.”
“Our main residence is in San Diego,” McMahon explains. “It’s a fairly large home with a ‘Tuscan meets Santa Barbara’ feel. We wanted our New Jersey home to be smaller, with a more updated, light and bright feel—something with a touch of modern and glam here and there but definitely cozy. Our main goal was for it to feel like home as soon as we walked in the door.”
Finding the perfect someone to realize her vision, particularly given her bicoastal life, was the homeowner’s first hurdle. She asked friends for recommendations, then did some research of her own on Houzz. When she chanced upon Yelena Gerts, owner and principal designer of the Holmdel-based House of Style & Design, McMahon knew she’d struck design gold.
“I was worried about finding someone to decorate my home while I was living 3,000 miles away,” McMahon says. “But the minute I saw Yelena’s work I knew she was going to be a perfect match. Yelena was absolutely amazing to work with. I felt I was right there with her throughout the process. She is organized, thorough, a great communicator and a brilliant designer. She made it easy for me to make choices, which by the end of any project can be a bit daunting.”
The relationship worked from Gerts’ point of view too. “They truly gave us carte blanche to envision their ‘dream home,’” she says. “They let us give them a very different aesthetic than they have in their primary residence. We wanted them to feel at home, but at the same time give them that ‘on vacation’ feeling while still providing the luxury and comforts they expect. That is what we do best—create true homes away from home.”
With this aim uppermost in mind, Gerts and her creative team carefully chose everything—from the furniture and color scheme right down to the dinner plates, bath towels and window rods. “We took care of the smallest details so they didn’t have to,” says Gerts. “All they had to do was bring their clothes.”
The guiding objective was to design a warm and welcoming environment in each room of the house. Accordingly, Gerts and her team worked their magic to transform all of the spaces—from the basement to each of the three kids’ bedrooms—into individualized living areas that created intimate pockets while still remaining part of a consistent whole.
Nowhere was this more of a challenge than when tackling the main floor’s open-concept space, which consisted of a very large and long, train-like configuration. But it was nothing that Gerts and her design team couldn’t handle.
“We’re very proud to have come up with the perfect layout that offers a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing plan that is both functional and comfortable for the family,” the designer says.
To accommodate the family’s need for a multifunctional living situation, Gerts and her team divided the space into distinct yet unified zones that projected both casual coziness and expansive elegance. They fashioned a family room, a formal dining room and a formal living room, all of which harmoniously cohabited in a cleverly curated design game plan.
The broadloom area rugs were custom-designed to mirror the zones reflected on the sectioned ceiling. This helped define and subtly differentiate the spaces to carve out separate identities for each of the three living areas. In the family area the vibe is light, airy and relaxed. Gerts and her team accomplished this with a soothing palette of blues, grays and whites perked up with pops of color. Touches of green—sofa pillows in solid green and faux plants—add freshness without fuss. “Since the family doesn’t live there regularly, the faux greenery adds the color and the element of nature without the care and maintenance,” Gerts notes. Perfectly paired, the marble-topped brass coffee table and small side table nestled between two blue velvet armchairs bring an elegant counterbalance to the informal vignette.
A large distressed driftwood table marks the spot for the dining area, which also features ample seating in taupe-colored linen chairs with nail heads; overhead, a chic glass-beaded chandelier further centers and delineates the eating enclave.
In the formal living room area, the furniture and decorative touches—including the custom reproduction painting over the white acrylic credenza with brass pulls—were selected with an eye to maintaining cohesiveness through simple, clean lines and soothing hues. The two crisscross blue velvet ottoman benches offer not just additional seating but a dash of glamorous style.
As part of the unification strategy, Gerts and her team used varying shades of blue, gray, white and green in all three rooms; key textural elements in the form of lush velvet fabrics, grasscloth wallcoverings and crisp linen drapes were also featured prominently throughout. Further tying the three zones together, brass accents—on the bases of the coffee and side tables, the chandelier over the dining table and the window rods—provide contemporary elements while the custom drapes, made of white and gray linen in an arabesque pattern, harmonize with the muted broadloom area rugs.
“The open floor plan now allows the family members to be together or to find quiet spaces all to themselves,” says Gerts.
“I was sure it was going to be pretty difficult working with someone from across the country, but Yelena made it a breeze,” McMahon reports. “The best part was leaving things up to her when I felt a bit burnt out with making decisions. Actually, there are a lot of things in the home that I just left up to her. I trusted her and her expertise, and I wound up loving everything.”
“Seeing the clients so happy and appreciative was the best reward,” Gerts says of all the creative effort she and her team poured into the eight-month project, which took place under COVID restrictions. “We got amazing feedback; they were so impressed with how easy the whole process was; they thought the turnkey concept was the best they ever experienced. From linens on the beds, towels in the bathroom to plates in the kitchen, it was all there when they arrived.”
“Yelena’s design matched our family perfectly,” McMahon says. “Family is so important to us, especially since we live so far. So when we come ‘home,’ I wanted it to feel like just that from the get-go. I wanted my kids to run through the doors and have a sense of home here in New Jersey, for my family to cozy up on the couch and stay awhile. Make memories. Yelena achieved that, with many details I love.”
Text by Nayda Rondon
Design by Yelena Gerts
Photography by Marco Ricca