Squabbling over the color swatches could land you in divorce court if you don’t learn the art of compromise. PM combed the county to find couples who are still together after the renovation. Here are their stories.
Howard and Donna
For 11 years Howard and Donna Olah-Reiken have been living in a Hoboken brownstone. “When we bought it, it was ready to move in,” says Howard. “The person who had it before kept it neat and clean.”
“And off-white,” Donna adds. “Everything was off-white. Over time we wanted to change it more. About eight years ago we redid the kitchen, and recently we wanted to make the second-floor den into a family room and entertainment center.”
They wanted the focal point of the room to be a huge wall cabinet that would house the television and serve as a storage area for the toys belonging to the couple’s two boys. Donna hated seeing leggos all over the place.
Enter interior designer Suzanne Cummings from Quick Change Interiors. Her job would be to advise them on the design and construction of the cabinet that would change their lives.
“The general idea,” Howard says, “was to continue the traditional feel of the 1890s house. A certain requirement would be that the wall unit hold a great big TV with speakers for a full surround system. Donna and Suzanne were leaning more toward its aesthetic and functionality as a storage unit.”
“Howard saw it as a great place for a TV,” says Donna, “and I saw a beautiful piece getting built. We needed to make sure that it would still look like an 1890s brownstone with the TV. It needed to flow and not look like a modern home.”
Cummings took this into account in designing the unit, which she sent to an Amish cabinetry company for the custom woodwork.
“I was bothered throughout our marriage that my husband, who’s a musician, had musical gear that took over the dens. We built a closet for his guitars—he has a couple of guitars, and a banjo. We were not looking to display it but have a place to put the stuff.”
Howard, for his part, says, “I wasn’t looking to hide it in the cabinet and bring it out every time friends came over.”
To clarify, it’s easier for Howard to get his music gear out of the closet than out of the new cabinet. The kids took their board games out of the closet and put them in the cabinet.
They agreed that they wanted to paint the den and the finished unit. Uh-oh. What color? “Howard envisioned a warm forest green den,” Donna says. “Picture someone with an old fashioned pipe and smoking jacket. The downstairs parlor is a deep red—imagine that in green upstairs.” Suzanne wanted it a bright and cheery yellow. So did Donna. Donna won.
The color of the couch also threatened to be a problem. Donna wanted a bright red couch that made a statement, and Howard wanted a brown corduroy look. “I was beginning to get pissed,” Donna says. “He got the 52-inch TV. Wait a minute, and he was digging in his heels with the color of the couch? I felt he wanted it all to be what he wanted and wasn’t listening.”
Howard won that one, but Donna is happy because festive pillows add accents and brighten the look.
The color of the wall unit—which Howard eventually picked—is “moss,” a color that Donna thought was “too 1970s avocado Tupperware.” But when they saw the finished cabinet, all three ended up liking it.
Donna says the whole experience illustrates “what marriage is really like.” She actually knows someone who got divorced during a renovation.
“I still think the 52-inch TV is too big,” she says, “but I’m glad the leggos are off the floor.”
Sarah and Jae
Sarah Chung and Jae Lee live in a two-bedroom waterfront condominium at 1 Hudson Park in Edgewater. Both agreed that they needed a decorator, and Sarah found interior designer Vanessa DeLeon.
“After we moved to New Jersey from Stamford, Conn. we were looking for an interior designer who could deliver the things we like,” Sarah says. “One day we were passing through a Grand Central bookstore, and I was flipping through interior decorating magazines. One issue had the top 20 new, rising designers. Vanessa was one of them, and I really liked the picture from her portfolio.”
“Our vision was very simple but not boring,” Jae says. “We wanted it to be modern and contemporary but not eclectic, natural not artificial, simple but elegant. I compared it to an Armani suit. He only uses dark gray and black.”
Jae says that Sarah wanted “some percentage of Asian influence.” They were both born in Korea.
“But I didn’t want to do what a lot of people do,” Jay says, “bring the head of a Buddha in and have bamboo all over the place. I didn’t want it to look like an Asian restaurant. I wanted it to be authentic. People think that the Buddha is typical Asian influence but it’s not.
“We needed someone with professional experience and perspective to integrate my view and Sarah’s view.”
Sarah says Jae didn’t want Buddhas everywhere “like Old McDonald. Here a Buddha, there a Buddha, everywhere a Buddha Buddha.”
They decided to compromise by adding “little touches,” Sarah says, “little details like pictures on a chair back that came from old Asian furniture and a little divider separating the dining area.”
Jae says, “It was Vanessa’s idea to put small rocks under the glass of the dining room table top. I thought it was too much. All I needed was a simple table with chairs, but when Vanessa brought in the rocks and glass Sarah loved it. Then Vanessa showed me how the table harmonized with other items and the entire design. At the end of the day I loved it, and all our guests loved it.”
The color of the walls was another challenge.
“Vanessa wanted each room a different color,” Jae says, “but I didn’t want them different colors. I wanted the entire house a warm and simple ivory.”
Vanessa managed to persuade Jae with a “red color, which would bring passion to the living room,” brown in the master bedroom, and in the guest room what Sarah describes as khaki. “It all goes well with our dark floor and dark brown furniture,” Sarah says.
Their friends and family love it. “Asian families like whitish creamy color on walls,” Sarah says. “They ask us, do you feel this is too much, but the more they visit the more they like the color.”
Says Jae, “Vanessa listens and tries to communicate with us.”
Adds Sarah, “Vanessa and her team love what they’re doing. They bring passion and love to their work, which made me happy.”—Kate Rounds