Interior designer Hillary Cohen has access to a world of furnishings, materials and decorative products, but when it came to her own Jersey City apartment, all the options were a little overwhelming.
“I love so many different styles that it can be hard to make a decision,” she said. “Decorating my own home was more challenging than expected.”
Part of the challenge was marrying her taste with that of her husband, Eric, in a recently renovated two-bedroom apartment, their first home as a married couple.
Additionally, they both wanted to work in selected pieces of art and furniture that had belonged to their grandparents.
To start, Cohen took cues from the surfaces of their loft apartment, built as a factory in the 1800s. Exposed brick on some walls brought in the warm colors her husband prefers. The brick reds would be complemented by wood tones in their tables and other furniture.
She loves the gray of their polished concrete floor and prefers the other end of the color spectrum. A gray sofa they brought along with them meshes with her taste for blue and other cooler hues. She chose blues and grays in fabrics and much of the room’s artwork. Among the pieces is a still life of vases and flowers that her grandfather embroidered as a hobby.
“The industrial finishes had a very edgy and modern feel, which we loved, but we wanted to warm up the space so it felt softer and more like a home,” she said.
Her grandmother’s 1960s chairs, which Cohen described as a mid-century interpretation of French armchairs, were among the elements that helped bring everything together.
The wooden frames with caned sides offered the warmth her husband enjoys. For herself, she stripped off the olive green velvet upholstery and replaced it with a monochromatic botanical pattern from Brunschwig and Fils. The mid-century period of the chairs supports the period influences in their more modern sofa.
“It has a mid-centry feeling, so I picked that up in some of the other funiture,” she said.
Then she offset those more traditional selections with modern pieces, such as a white sideboard with a lacquered finish.
“I wanted something clean and minimalist,” she said. “We use it to store serving platters and stemwares.”
In the kitchen, similarly glossy white cabinets and appliances stand in contrast to black counters and pendant lights. A rusted 7-inch-thick water pipe that supplies the building resembles a floor-to-ceiling log column in the small kitchen.
“We kind of liked it because it added that industrial touch,” Cohen said.
Their 1950s dining table also belonged to her grandparents, and they refinished it to help it better fit their home.
“It’s pretty traditional, so we decided to add a whitewash finish to modernize it and add some texture,” Cohen said.
Black and white reappears in the couple’s bedroom. A wall-hung white sculpture known as “Jazz Man” depicts a musician playing clarinet. It belonged to Eric Cohen’s grandparents. Set on a dark base, it is ideal for the color scheme.
Eric Cohen is a lawyer, and he’s creative enough to have made a significant style contribution to their home’s decor. One weekend, he built a floor lamp from various pipes and fittings.
“We were looking through design books and he saw one,” Hillary Cohen said. “He said, ‘That doesn’t look that hard, I can try that.'”
He came up with his own design and wired it.
“It is all about mixing and matching to create something unique,” Hillary Cohen said. “I think the end result is that the space has a layered feeling. I think the unusual combination is what makes spaces unique and feel like home instead of like a catolog.”
Eric Cohen has a living room reading area in a chair and ottoman set near a brick wall in the living room, and his wife says the space works for him because she incorporated warm colors and pieces he likes throughout their home.
“He likes wood tones, and we have brown and tan accents throughout, which keeps it feeling a little bit richer,” she said. “Figuring out why you like or dislike something is important to figuring out how to combine your tastes together.”
She has also found that making little changes from time to time gives her a way to incorporate the various design styles she enjoys.
“Changing out the accessories can give the room a totally different feel, and it’s an inexpensive way to do it,” she said. “If you focus on selecting timeless pieces for the larger items, you can easily give a space a whole different feel by changing the accessories.”