From the December 2020/January 2021 Issue  

Blue Streak

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Christopher Delaney  |  Designer Alma Russo, Allied Member ASID, Affiliate Member IDS  |  Tile Design Donna Martin  | 

Coastal, casual and elegant describe this family-friendly home in the Navesink section of Middletown township

Bistro chairs in the coastal-inspired kitchen pull up to a large, 13-foot island that is “truly the heart of the home,” says designer Alma Russo.

Blue is said to be America’s favorite color. And in Mary and Art Guerrera’s house — nestled near the Atlantic ocean and Navesink River — it never runs out of ways to express itself for the family of five who share a love of sailing among other sports.

Countertops clad in durable quartz exude the sophistication of marble, but without the upkeep, “so clients do not have to worry about etching or staining,” she adds. Wide plank engineered wood floors will also withstand the test of time.

To stay on course, “We always provide at least three adjectives to our projects,” says interior designer Alma Russo, principal of AR Interiors, LLC in Holmdel.  For the Guerrera home, which was taken down to the studs and modified to host family, friends — and the occasional lacrosse team — the design mantra was to keep it “coastal, casual and elegant.” A nod to a coastal aesthetic, “without it feeing themey,” adds Russo, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and affiliate member of the International Design Society.

In the remodeled kitchen, Shaker-style white cabinets and durable quartz countertops look fresh and crisp when paired with a classic counterpart: a deep blue-toned island and wet bar. “The size of the island was the one non-negotiable” for Art Guerrera, notes Russo. “He wanted a place where his family could gather daily, that would also serve as a gathering spot for large-scale entertaining.” At 13 feet, “I call it the world’s biggest island,” she jokes. A large farmhouse sink in the center helps disguise the seams.

Tile designer Donna Martin applied plaid marble tile on an angle to create a unique “argyle” pattern backsplash on the custom wet bar. “We knew we wanted a wall-mounted faucet as a design element and Bedrock Granite fabricators were able to create a radius that added a very custom feel to the space,” designer Alma Russo says.

Russo and tile designer Donna Martin of Tiled Interiors in Red Bank collaborated on all the tile applications throughout the house, including the backsplash above the range: a small marble herringbone pattern that adds a bit of shimmer and shine. And on the maritime blue wet bar, which mimics the base of the island, “Donna took a plaid [marble] tile and made it more unique by creating an “argyle” pattern on an angle, that truly showcases the piece,” explains Russo. Elsewhere, in a powder room, the duo created a waterfall effect by running blue glass tile down the wall and onto the floor. “We knew we wanted a ‘wow’ for this guest space while being reflective of the homeowners’ affinity for all things nautical,” Russo says.

In the breakfast nook, design elements were kept simple, “so your eye would be drawn to the inviting upholstered bench seating,” says Russo. Stain-resistant performance fabric stands up to everyday life and weathered, distressed ivory finishes add softness to the navy palette.

Strokes of blue also appear on the kitchen banquette, which was custom assembled on site with bracket feet, so it appears to float in the room. Upholstered in resilient performance fabric, “our upholsterer worked around windows and outlets and gave the clients a really beautiful, comfortable spot to enjoy family meals,” explains Russo. The homeowners “made a promise to each other,” she recalls “that they would gather there every Sunday for a family dinner, regardless of crazy schedules.”

Holiday gatherings and dinner parties also take place in the casually elegant dining room, the site of the original family room. “We kept the fireplace,” says Russo but redesigned it with a small block print tile—a focal point that helped launch the room’s soft blue and white scheme. A subtle herringbone-patterned wallpaper from Thibaut adds color and texture;  a paper weave that “unlike grass cloth, does not have any seams.” Features like a whitewashed pendant look “very organic and modern” while nautical stripe host chairs, a series of blue coral framed prints and simple but stylish linen drapes channel a relaxed seaside spirit.

The cohesive color story continues in the new family room and in other spaces like the master bedroom where the homeowners’ penchant for plaid plays out in varying scale: on an upholstered king-size bed for instance, and in the family room’s larger-scaled plaid area rug that “feels fun and not too serious,” says Russo.

The newly configured dining room — once the site of the original family room — “is wonderful for holiday gatherings and dinner parties,” says Russo thanks in part to the existing fireplace. A new block print tile surround launched the room’s soothing palette.

Adjacent to the kitchen, the family room boasts a ceiling height of 14 feet at its peak. Says Russo: “We wanted this space to feel light and airy in the summer but warm and cozy in the winter.”  A substantial 5-foot-wide chandelier suits the room’s expansive scale but manages to feel almost weightless with its graceful arms.  A small window-pane sheer fabric on the windows balances the heaviness of the stone fireplace, she adds, while the reclaimed wood on the mantel and structural beam add another layer of warmth and texture.

Plaid, a unifying design motif, reappears in the casually elegant family room decorated in shades of blue and family-friendly fabrics. The structural beam is wrapped in reclaimed wood, the same wood used to craft the mantel. Sheer window-pane panels feel light and airy and balance the heaviness of the stone fireplace, which rises to the peak of the 14-foot ceiling.

Elegantly appointed with tailored swivel chairs, a chic navy sectional and curated accents, the family room still meets the demands of an active family who love to entertain. “The sectional’s cotton velvet fabric is such a forgiving fabric for families,” notes Russo. Even peanut butter sandwich residue can be wiped clean with a wet sponge. Equally hard-wearing is the ottoman, upholstered in a commercial-grade vinyl fabric. And the high-top game table, which gets a lot of action, “will age beautifully” with its distressed finish.

The master bedroom’s king-size bed — upholstered in plaid — balances a masculine silhouette with curvy end tables, lacquered in navy grass cloth and jewelry-like ring pulls. Painting the tray ceiling a sky-like shade of blue contributes to a sense of calm.

Blue marble tile creates a waterfall effect in the powder room where it cascades down from the wall and onto the floor. A wall-mounted faucet enhances that feeling, says Russo.