A Reawakening in Summit, NJ | Aspire

Gloomy Olde English no more. photo: Wing Wong
Gloomy Olde English no more. photo: Wing Wong

by Louis Postel for Aspire Metro, November 2014

Before opening the door to a large Tudor Revival house, you might be forgiven for recoiling a bit. Will you find it freighted with Olde English heaviness and massive detailing? Will groaning boards heaped with mutton be awaiting you, along with King Henry VIII looking as though he’d just as soon carve you up as the mutton?

Fortunately for the owners and visitors of a certain Tudor Revival in Summit, NJ designer Rachel Kapner of Creative Wallcoverings and Interiors has gotten there first to make it far lighter and brighter while at the same time true its architectural origins. There is a freshening breath of artistic consciousness, Kapner’s as well as the owners’, that reawakens the first floor spaces and the second-floor landing shown here.  The former owner was, in fact, an artist. One of the first things they did when they purchased the house was to commission a painting by her, a brilliant oil that occupies pride of place in the dining room.

Kapner’s mother was herself an artist when she started Creative Wallcoverings and Interiors forty years ago. Daughter Rachel pursued studies in art history, before she and her husband took over her mother’s firm six years ago. Based in New Providence, NJ, CW&I now boasts the largest library in the State. Though she’s frequently in Manhattan, Rachel is hardly dependent on its major Design Centers for resources. She’s got them in her office. And we’re not just talking about strictly wallcovering resources. Though “& Interiors” may sound like an afterthought, it’s not. “We do it all — construction, interior architecture, as well as furnishings.” Her client base is primarily in New York and New Jersey, with others scattered about from Utah to Florida.

This was not the first time Kapner had worked on the Tudor home, which was originally designed by 1908 by architect Francis George Hasselman of New York City in 1908. Her big challenge now was that her clients’ active family weren’t taking advantage of the large spaces on the first floor because they were so uninviting, so Olde English heavy. They asked Kapner to make those spaces in their words “relaxed as well as elegant.”  If this sounds like a contradiction in terms — it is, casual is casual and elegant is elegant, but that’s why you hire a really good designer – to make both these things happen at once.

Upon entering, we are greeted by an abstract painting of a man in the arched niche of the foyer. A bench upholstered in lime green, with matching pillows on a ledge along the stairs picks up on the green airiness surrounding the abstract man and makes it pop. The bench’s highly polished X-base turns the whole space into a smile of greeting and welcome even more pronounced. Thoughts of Olde English lugubriousness immediately begin to fade.

Through the door to the left is the living room where another, larger bench which brings home the idea of “relaxed as well as elegant.” A 27’ x 16’ space can feel too vast for a comfy conversation of two or three people. But with the bench transecting it, Kapner created a more human scale in which people can face in either direction — towards the fireplace, or toward the two French chairs by a cowhide rug in front of the double window. In either case, the Kapner’s beautifully coffered ceiling will help them get their bearings. Meanwhile, in the case of larger groups can all get together at will with plenty of places to sit.  “What ties the space together is a subtle layering of tones, which allows everything to blend,” says Kapner. Similarly, in the adjacent dining room, the sheer wool drapery with beaded trim that runs across the width of the windows blends airily with the grass cloth wallcoverings. Here, a little darkness goes a long way – as in the burnished surface of the custom-sized and custom-made, leaf-less dining table. “It anchors the whole room,” says Kapner.

A navy blue rug and upholstered chairs anchor the great room on the other side of axis created by the stairwell. Now the pre-existing neutral browns feel crisp and elegant combined with the navy, which is brought into even greater focus by the reflectiveness of the built-ins Kapner had painted white. Upstairs, Kapner transformed the landing into a cozy reading spot, extending the blues of the great room and contrasting them with rich wood panels.

All the above spells relaxed but elegant, just what the clients wanted. If Henry XIII ever does show in this lightened, brightened Tudor home we’ll expect him to dress accordingly in tux and sneakers.