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A Fresh Take

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Brian Wetzel  |  Designer Sarah Storms

The living room in a vintage home features updated classics

“Your room should speak to who you are, what you love and things that are important to you,” designer Sarah Storms says. “This room is the hub of their house. It’s flooded with colors and patterns, but we didn’t want it to be overwhelming. It still has a light, bright feeling. I really love layering textures and patterns for something to feel really rich and curated.”

It seemed like a contradiction. The owners of this century-old South Orange home wanted to redesign their living room, and their preferred aesthetic was more 2020s than Roaring ’20s. “They were looking for a fresh, new traditional vibe, something contemporary in nature,” says Sarah Storms of Maplewood-based design firm Styled by Storms. How could they mesh their current tastes with the historical pedigree of the residence?

Storms knew the solution would involve incorporating up-to-date versions of traditional pieces. “The Chesterfield sofa is the most classic thing you can get in old English styling,” she says, “but I did it in blue fabric.” The vivid hue draws the eye; it’s also practical. “It’s a beautiful, slightly textured performance fabric,” Storms explains. “The clients wanted this to feel very much like an adult space, but they have kids. The upholstery is both cocktail- and kid-friendly.”

The live-teak-root coffee table is another striking element. “It has a presence. It’s organic and sculptural — a bit like driftwood. It’s a unique piece that embodies the clients’ love of the beach on Martha’s Vineyard. It visually transports the homeowners to the place they love.” The table lamps behind the sofa also have a coastal connotation. “They’re quite large, with three-dimensional nubs. They feel almost like artifacts from the sea. They’re very interesting pieces — the wife’s absolute favorites. ‘We have to have them!’ she said.”

The coffee table reminds the homeowners of summers spent on Martha’s Vineyard. “My clients instantly fell in love with it,” Storms says. Blue and white swivel chairs allow for conversation or for enjoying a fireside cup of tea. The designer calls the candelabras above the fireplace “not your average wall sconces. They’re interesting. They can look like antlers or branches depending on how you style them. I felt their sculptural quality was perfect in the space.”

The owners also wanted to include the medallion rug that they had used in the room pre-renovation. “They love its interesting color palette. It’s very warm,” Storms says The hand-knotted piece sets a classic foundation for the space — a foundation that Storms needed to complement, though the color combination represented a bit of a departure for her. “I don’t use a lot of those warm ambers in my work, so it was fun to stretch that conceptually and find a really special way to make something that was totally unique for them.”

The challenge, Storms says, “was finding the right balance of fabrics, prints and patterns to work with the rug.” The sofa, armchairs and ottomans all coordinate with the rug, but it’s the drapery that pulls the look together into a cohesive whole. “It’s what I call my ‘hero’ fabric,” the designer says. “It’s a pattern called ‘Wild Thing’ from Lewis & Wood. It’s one of their original patterns, and it’s the epitome of what I think design should be — it features beautiful colors and an interesting pattern. It feels organic. If you look closely, you can see a monkey hiding in the branches. It’s whimsical but done in such a sophisticated way that it doesn’t feel juvenile, just irreverent and fun.”

Built-in cabinetry, which is original to the home, adds historical appeal. Storms faced the charms and challenges of this vintage home with aplomb. “When we were hanging the draperies, we realized nothing was square, level or plumb. You have to be OK with understanding that true perfectionism can’t be reached. It’s about understanding what the room wants to give you.”

That exuberant attitude is important in this space, where the owners enjoy entertaining friends and family. “They wanted a place they could have a Super Bowl party but also an adult cocktail party.” This room can accommodate both. “People get hung up on not knowing what to do in historical homes and wonder how to make them feel fresh and modern while still honoring the architecture. It’s about understanding what the room wants to give you. That’s the beauty of design, not being afraid to turn the house you live in into a home that represents you.”