From the April/May 2016 Issue  

Exuberant & Eclectic

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Phillip Ennis  |  Designer Barbara Ostrom, CID, Professional Member ASID, IIDA  |  Location Saddle River, NJ
  • The large window niche brings dazzling light into the multicolored, multitextured room furnished largely with pieces from Roche Bobois.

  • The elegant fireplace provides a sedate backdrop to colorful artwork and wallpaper as well as whimsical flower arrangements on the mantel. The painting is by John Schueler. The designer calls the black wing chair fitted with dyed turkey feathers on the back a tour de force.

  • The glass-topped desk, which can be extended to the size of a dining table, is a neutral centerpiece amid the variety of colors, textures and patterns in this corner of the room. The French fauteuil behind the desk is a traditional counterpoint to the swan bergère opposite.

  • Traditionally paneled walls set the stage for non-traditional furnishings and sculptures. Modern red chairs surround the table next to the bar. The bar is topped by a 17th-century carved medallion from Italy.

  • A three-tiered lamp tops a three-tiered table—different shapes, similar proportions.

  • In a corner of the room, a Ben Hur-style chair sits beneath an abstract painting by Theodoros Stamos.

  • A colorful portrait of George Washington by Bradley Theodore hangs in another corner of the room.

A formerly formal room gets a bold makeover.


“I call it Paris Avant Garde meets Saddle River Traditional,” Barbara Ostrom says of the room she created for the 2015 Designer Showhouse of New Jersey in Saddle River. Though she collaborated with the builder 25 years ago to design this traditional home, she departed from tradition this time around and created a family room in the home’s former living room. Ostrom wanted to take her design in a more casual direction and turn the once-formal room into a livelier space.

According to Ostrom, the owner of Mahwah-based Barbara Ostrom Associates, “The homeowners never thought of this room as a family room.” She points out that the husband assumed she was going to design one of her signature formal spaces. “I decided not to do that because it doesn’t reflect today’s lifestyle. People don’t live that way anymore.”

Still, the room does have formal underpinnings. With its soaring 25-foot ceilings, elaborate millwork and spectacular window niche, the space has a grandeur that needed to be considered and respected. Ostrom understood that she would have to put her ideas “into the context of a very traditional space.”

Decorative Delights
Pairing a conventional foundation with eclectic décor requires finesse. Ostrom turned to Pierre Berardo, general manager of Roche Bobois, a Paris-based home furnishings company with showrooms around the world, including a brand-new one in Paramus, to assist in selecting pieces for the room.

“I wanted something fun and amusing,” Ostrom says. Berardo accommodated that request with a selection of pieces inspired by pop culture, nature and everything in between. Case in point: the room features two opaque, bulbous floor lamps called “Arbre” lights. They’re stylized versions of “trees in your room, with big flowers on top,” Berardo says.

The wheeled chair in a corner next to the window bears a close resemblance to its inspiration. “The Ben Hur chair was inspired by gladiator films and designed by Jean Paul Gaultier,” Berardo says of the chariot-shaped seat.

The juxtaposition of traditional and outré in this space gives the room an exciting vibrancy. In the grand window alcove sits a sleek, glass-topped desk, which is really “a dining table inspired by an astrolabe,” Berardo says. Situated behind this “mechanical” piece—which features visible gears—is a proper French fauteuil chair, finished in goldleaf and upholstered with velvet fabric. On the other side of the desk, Ostrom turned tradition on its side with a swan bergère chair. The chair’s genteel Louis XV silhouette gets a playful interpretation with the addition of “feathers” on the back.

Conventional and avant-garde styles merge in a one-of-a-kind wing chair by the fireplace. “I had to have it,” Ostrom says of the traditional black chair fitted with dyed turkey feathers on the back. “It’s a tour de force.”

“We tried to pick up serious and mix it with whimsy,” Ostrom notes. That philosophy extends to the floral arrangements. “On either side of the fireplace are topiaries with ladies’ hats made of flowers and feathers.” The resulting arrangements bring a peacock-like elegance to the mantel.

Appealing Additions
As the swan chair demonstrates, “formal fabric mixed with textured fabric” helps to create a sense of spontaneity, Ostrom says. She used materials ranging from “smooth animal skins to silk to textured, nubby fabrics to velvets. I used everything because I didn’t want it to be a cold room. I wanted it to be amusing and fun, something the whole family could enjoy.”

The whole family will be enticed also by the profusion of tints throughout the space. The audacious use of color, displayed to dramatic effect in the natural light from the wall-sized window, plays a major role in creating an exuberant atmosphere. “This time around I wanted to do it as a fun family room with beautiful bright colors—a place that everyone would want to come into,” Ostrom says.

The bold colors are key to the design, holding their own against the room’s large scale, whereas a paler palette might get lost in the imposing architecture. “We used French designer colors,” she says. The bright reds, vivid blues and intense yellows bring a playfulness that’s accentuated by the room’s traditional bones.

Ostrom is thrilled with the response to her design. “It was so different from what people expected me to do. Everybody was surprised, but that was the idea.” The homeowner’s reaction says it all. “It really knocked his socks off!”

Marirose Krall, a regular contributor to Design NJ, is a Red Bank-based writer.

Proceeds from the 2015 Designer Showhouse of New Jersey in Saddle River benefited the Center for Behavioral Health and Medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center.