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Happy Chic

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Jacob Snavely  |  Designer Jessica Geller  |  Location Essex Fells, NJ

Designer Jessica Geller tweaks tradition with an “explosion of color and pattern and a dose of mayhem”

Jessica Geller, co-owner of design firm Toledo Geller in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, had lots of plans for the 1920s center-hall colonial-style home her family purchased in Essex Fells, New Jersey, in March 2017. Within just a few years, the designer and mother of three made her mark on every room in the four-bedroom, 3½ bath home. “My personal style is one of absolute comfort,” Geller says. “That was the vibe I wanted to create — the kind of place people feel so comfortable that they don’t want to leave.”

Each room has its own personality and its own bold moment, with varied intensity. Spaces that are used more frequently, such as the kitchen and family room, may be a bit more subdued; other pass-through spaces are a bit more bold. The style veers toward eclectic, “but in a refined, not-haphazard way,” Geller explains. “Some might call it “happy chic.”

Wall coverings were used in abundance. “I do love wallpaper, and this house just called for it, as some homes do,” Geller says. “Painted walls would have fallen flat, and I think it’s especially hard to go from a bold and vibrant wallpaper and then transition to a solid painted wall.” However, not all the papers are bold, which is “key to keeping it from feeling too much like a fun-house,” she says.

Set on a beautiful property, “I love a classic house and I’m a sucker for symmetry,” Geller says.

“When we bought the home, the front door and shutters were painted in the blackest shade of green, which was beautiful but a bit too serious for me,” Geller says. She refinished them in a “pale, happy blue.”

Walking past the marigold-hue on the inside of the front door always made Geller smile. “I very much believe in the impact that color can have on our mood, and I didn’t want something serious,” she says. “We are a young family; I am young at heart … I want [us all] to feel joy at home.”

Colorful artwork contributes to the foyer’s sunny outlook. “Life is full of serious moments and stressors, and I think having a little fun in home design has an underlying impact on our lives,” Geller says. Walls are covered in “Rivets” from Phillip Jeffries.

The kitchen, remodeled by previous owners, wasn’t necessarily what Geller would have chosen, but she says it would have been wasteful to rip it out. Instead, she made small big-impact changes that better reflected her style.

A new hand-painted terra-cotta backsplash — from Tabarka Studio via Artistic Tile — has what Geller calls an Old World patina in a modern pattern. New concrete pendants from Currey & Co. also refreshed the space. “It feels off to me to have anything too pristine or flashy in an old home, so these rougher textures and finishes helped downplay the newness of the kitchen.” Pictured with Geller is son Dax and twin daughters Gemma (on scooter) and Lola.

“Old homes are amazing,” Geller says, “but they don’t intuitively accommodate a modern family.” That’s one reason why she turned the dining room, which was too small to accommodate her extended family, into a cozy retreat for reading and relaxing, cocktails and impromptu dance parties. “We call it the party room,” Geller says of the high-traffic space off the kitchen.

In a house where screen time is limited, “we often end up lounging here because it’s cozy and all the furnishings and fabrics are casual,” Geller says. Originally the dining room, it was repurposed into a multiuse space. “Closet Stripe” wallpaper from Farrow & Ball was installed horizontally instead of the more typical vertical application. A lively floral print from Anna Spiro covers the ottoman.

“We had no reason for a formal living room,” so transitioning the original living room into a dining area made perfect sense, Geller says. Plus, “I figured if we were going to entertain, the minimum number of people we’d have for a holiday is 12, so why have a dining room that couldn’t fit everyone?” The oval Karl Springer dining table, which has been in her family for four decades, fit perfectly in this space. “I’m a sentimentalist who doesn’t like wastefulness,” she says.

The selection of a very vibrant wallpaper pattern was intentional “so that it would cut down on the formality and be a room we could use on any given day,” Geller says. Beyond dining, it’s also used for board games and puzzles, homework, and arts and crafts. The wallpaper is by Wayne Pate sold through Studio 4.

The ceiling and cupola in the family room addition — built by a previous owner — rises to 14 feet. Subtle wallpaper in a tone-on-tone stripe provides “just enough depth to have it stand on its own against other rooms in the house,” Geller says. Artist Heather Jozak handpainted the ceiling in a show-stopping faux-bois plank treatment: a weeklong endeavor on a scaffold.

The Kravet sectional is covered in a performance fabric, which is “crucial for any family with young kids” and a dog, Geller says. Artist Anne Marie Coolick painted the playful artwork positioned along the bookcase. The chandelier is from Circa Lighting and the mirror over the fireplace is from Oomph.

“Every designer says this but it’s 100 percent true: Powder rooms are the best place to have a little fun and be whimsical,” Geller says. Not visible is a photograph of “four Elvis’s” hanging over the toilet. “If you can’t have fun in the washroom, where can you, right?” Geller loves leopards and leopard prints, so the Serengeti-inspired wallpaper was “love at first sight.”

Trimwork is painted in “Templeton Gray” by Benjamin Moore to coordinate with the blue-gray tones in the wallpaper. Says Geller: “Imagine painting the trim in white? The entire room would fall flat.” The sconces are by Ro Sham Beaux.

In serious nesting mode when expecting her third child, “I really needed to finish this room for my sanity and wanted it to feel super cozy and Zen — with a tiny bit of a twist,” Geller recalls. Though the antithesis of the bedrooms she typically gravitates to, “It was nice having a space that felt out-of-body for me.”

A textured grass-cloth wallcovering forms a quiet backdrop for a mix of patterns in a green and white scheme: a verdant Schumacher print on drapes and accent pillows, a stripe upholstered bed and an iconic leopard print on the comfy chaise. The ceiling light fixture is from Colleen & Co.

Previous homeowners renovated this clean, classic bathroom, which was brand new when Geller and her family moved in. “I try to be green where I can, so I couldn’t fathom the thought of ripping out a perfectly good bathroom just because it was a little too vanilla for me,” she says. The solution? Tune up the accents.

“I added [Designers Guild] wallpaper and changed the mirrors and sconces to give the bathroom a bit more life and character,” Geller says.

Twin daughters Gemma and Lola’s bedrooms — located on the third floor — reflect their personalities. “One is a bit more wild and carefree, while the other is calculated and reserved,” Geller says. “I really wanted to steer away from the idea that a girl’s bedroom had to be pink, so one has pink accents, while the other bedroom is void of any pink.”

The abstract leopard print is by Lorca, “for my daughter who inherited my love of leopards,” Geller says. The dresser at left is from Geller’s own childhood bedroom. “Arty” by Pierre Frey wallpaper highlights colorful paintbrush strokes in blue yellow, pink and orange.

In her son’s tiny second-floor bedroom, Geller decided to embrace the size and “create a ship-cabin feel, down to the sconces on the wall.” A busy wallpaper pattern would have felt too claustrophobic on the walls, she says, “but the ceiling proved to be a great way to introduce a masculine pattern.”

The built-in bed is cerused oak with a black stain. It has tons of storage with cubbies in the headboard, Geller notes.

The outdoor fireplace and the room beyond it (with the faux-bois ceiling) are part of an addition that was put on by previous homeowners.

“Blue is a primary color in the interior, so it was natural decision to carry it outdoors for a bit of flow,” Geller says.

Editor’s Note: In what Jessica Geller describes as a “pandemic-inspired move,” the family sold their home and temporarily moved to Florida. They have since returned to New Jersey — to the same Essex Fells neighborhood, in fact — where they purchased a sprawling Dutch Colonial, just down the street from their previous home. Geller assures us: “There will be lots of pattern, color and unexpected moments!”