From the June/July 2023 Issue  

Old House, New Story

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Raquel Langworthy  |  Designer Jennifer Muirhead  |  Styling Deirdre King

A reverence for the countryside, history and family all nurture and inspire the refresh of this Morris County, New Jersey, farmhouse

A juxtaposition of old and new, the dining room pairs a traditional custom pedestal table and Oushak rug with modern lighting and a contemporary buffet. The vintage artwork — discovered in New Hope, Pennsylvania — “was a great find,” designer Jennifer Muirhead says. Walls were refreshed in a “universally flattering” barely there shade of pink.


Designer Jennifer Muirhead and husband Christian’s search for a home back East — after living in Los Angeles for 18 years — ended with a charming 1885 Victorian farmhouse on three acres in Harding Township’s horse country.

The designer grew up in nearby Hunterdon County. “I always wanted to come back to this beautiful part of New Jersey,” Muirhead says. She and her husband knew it would be a good place to raise their young daughter near her many cousins and other extended family. Friday, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, also made the 3,000-mile journey home.

The area’s “got the best of both worlds,” Muirhead says. “It feels like the country” but is only a 30-minute drive to a major airport. Their home, known as the Suydam House, according to the Harding Township Historical Society, was home to a dairy farmer named Henry Suydam in the late 1800s. It’s quite possibly connected to Somerset-based Suydam Farms, run today by the 13th generation of the Suydam family.

Note the vintage doorknocker and authentic glass-paned arched window at the front door, painted in high-gloss “Dutch Door Green.” Neutral and textured grass-cloth wallcovering from Phillip Jeffries replaced a former busy wallpaper pattern in the foyer and up the stairwell landing. The original pine plank floors, with endearing knots and nail holes, were uncovered and restored.


“We knew the moment we stepped inside that it was a special house,” says Muirhead, principal of Jennifer Muirhead Interiors. “The glasswork around the front door alone was stunning.” They found the home well cared for and in decent shape. Still, they were ready to make some changes.

“It was really important to us that we retain its history and charm,” Muirhead says. Moreover, “we loved the idea of being part of the ‘story’ of a home.” One of the first things the couple did before moving in was to remove the “new” floors from the 1920s in various rooms and restore the original pine planks underneath. “We loved seeing the old iron nail heads in the original floors,” she says.

The process came with some surprises — namely in the dining room, where they uncovered evidence of a fire. Consequently, a flooring specialist restored what they could and filled in the rest with reclaimed pieces from an old train station along the Lackawanna Railroad line.

Designed for entertaining, the living room is divided into three zones: love seats for gatherings of four or more in front of the fireplace, a reading corner with a Saarinen table and a pair of swivel chairs, and a game table that doubles as an extra serving surface during parties.


As much as Muirhead is drawn to old houses and their distinct charms, she didn’t want her home to feel like a museum or locked in time. Rather, “it needed to be comfortable and practical for our family,” she says. The result is a mix of old and new that speaks to Muirhead’s love of traditional English country décor and her fondness of color and pattern. She also included a few Midcentury Modern pieces, a style she grew to appreciate while living in California. Every room contains a memory, Muirhead says, including inherited family pieces, antiques, and collections of vintage and contemporary artwork.

In consideration of the home’s traditional layout of independent rooms, the design unfolded room by room, with the degree of natural light informing many decisions. In the north-facing den, which receives little bright sunlight and is enveloped with rich, dark millwork, “we decided to lean into this and make it moody and cozy — the perfect spot for watching movies in front of the fire,” she says. An olive-green grass-cloth wallcovering from Schumacher “felt just right,” as did an English roll-arm sectional deep enough to “really curl up in.”

LEFT: Two antique étagères (one visible) were inherited from Christian Muirhead’s grandmother. Drawers on the bottom still house some of her tchotchkes, Jennifer Muirhead says. The Danish teak Midcentury Modern game table is from Chairish. RIGHT: The contemporary Hunterdon County landscape is by local plein-air artist Jared Clackner. The carved wooden chair once belonged to Christian Muirhead’s grandfather. “It reminds us of him, Jennifer Muirhead says.

In a light-filled guest room, Muirhead chose “the palest pink on the walls” and repeated it in the dining room. Soft pink is a “universally flattering color” that also looks great by candlelight, she says. The dining room, like other areas, represents Muirhead’s balanced approach to combining elements of tradition with modern touches. A Queen Anne-style pedestal table — custom made at a factory in England — is perfectly at home with a modern chandelier, a contemporary buffet and period artwork.

Nature — and the property itself — also served as inspiration for the design scheme, with shades of blue and green paired with calming neutral tones appearing as common threads throughout. “I definitely did not want to compete with what’s outside the windows,” Muirhead says, such as the “massive hydrangeas” that are like featured artwork in the front-facing living room every spring and summer. Subsequently, “every room has some floral element in either wallpaper or textile choice.”

LEFT: Moody and cozy with olive green grass-cloth wallcovering and an English roll-arm sofa. The equestrian print, found at Larger Cross in Oldwick, hints at the bridle paths that flank the property and surrounding area. Existing millwork is a hallmark of fine craftsmanship. RIGHT: The den is the perfect place to curl up by one of the home’s four wood-burning fireplaces.


As one might expect in an older home, not every improvement channeled a bed of roses (or hydrangeas). When it came time to install light fixtures where they didn’t exist, for instance, cutting into thick plaster walls and diagonally placed beams became an adventure for electricians, Muirhead says. “They had never seen construction like this before.”

Transforming attic space — former maid’s quarters — into his-and-her home offices came with its own set of challenges. “Nothing could be wider than 27 inches” going up the narrow staircase, Muirhead says. In her office, she repainted the walls, ceiling and trimwork all in “China White” by Benjamin Moore & Co. “I needed it to be a bright, white space that wouldn’t affect my clients’ projects in any way.”

In contrast, the existing deep-toned paneling remained intact in husband Christian’s office. “He wanted a dark, cozy space where he could spend most of his workday,” Muirhead recalls. She filled the nooks and crannies with comfortable seating and fun touches such as vintage artwork and memorabilia from their life in Los Angeles. “When we bought the house in 2018, we had no idea how valuable these spaces would become to us.”

Today, Harding Township is still home for the Muirheads, who relocated just one mile down the road to a house with enough gathering space around the kitchen for extended family members who have since moved back to the area. Of their former home, Muirhead says, “I think I miss the porch the most! We had many wonderful dinner parties out there, and we loved sitting there in a summer rainstorm.”

To put their own stamp on the guest bathroom with its time-honored penny-tile flooring and marble-top vanity, the designer clad the walls in a classic Morris & Co. print that was designed in the mid-1800s. “It’s a nod to the home’s age, but the color is fresh,” the designer says. Window treatments — lined with classic Schumacher tape trim — make the perfect finishing touch.

The “happy” window treatment fabric from Manuel Canovas was Muirhead’s “jumping off point” for the design of a light-filled guest bedroom with Matouk bedding.

Antique Swedish pine twin beds (one shown) enchant a guest bedroom with their own sense of history. Walls are painted in “Light Blue” by English paint company Farrow & Ball, one of Muirhead’s favorite paint brands. “The pigmentation is so good and has a lot of dimension,” she says.


A previous owner converted a former fifth bedroom into a walk-in closet with access to the primary bedroom. “I pulled a medium sagey green from the bedroom drapery and applied it in almost a monochromatic manner” to complement the design scheme, Muirhead says. Closets were repainted in “Fieldstone” by Benjamin Moore & Co. “I love how the delicate Visual Comfort & Co. light mimics the branches in the GP&J Baker wallpaper,” she adds. The table skirt ties everything together.


In the primary bedroom, “I wanted there to be a hint of green throughout to complement the tree lines just outside the windows,” Muirhead says. “A beautiful Lee Jofa [floral] print for the drapery worked really well.”


LEFT: Muirhead’s husband wanted “a dark, cozy space where he could spend most of his workday,” which meant keeping the existing paneling intact. Among the vintage artwork and fun memorabilia is Kennedy campaign ephemera that Muirhead found at a garage sale in Los Angeles and had framed. The vintage Saarinan chair was reupholstered in a cream performance bouclé. RIGHT: Nooks and crannies were filled with comfortable low-profile seating, a snug window seat and textured Roman shades.


The couple transformed attic space — believed to be former maid’s quarters, because it’s connected to a hidden stairwell leading into the kitchen — into his and her offices. The entire room is painted in “China White” by Benjamin Moore & Co., a bright white canvas for working on clients’ projects. Friday, their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is feeling the love.


The screened-in porch was used well into the fall season. “We had many wonderful dinner parties out there, and we loved sitting there in a summer rainstorm,” Muirhead says.