From the April/May 2022 Issue  

The Bright Side

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Christine Gatti  |  Designer Alexa Ralff  |  Location Hoboken, NJ

A Hoboken townhouse gets a fresh new look

The Hoboken brownstone had been beautifully renovated by previous owners. The interiors needed a bit of freshening up.

Shannon and Jason Swiatek had spent more than a year searching for a new home. Their family, which includes four children and a dog, had outgrown their apartment. “They had been in Hoboken, New Jersey, for almost 20 years and were looking to upsize,” says Alexa Ralff of Maplewood, New Jersey-based AHR Designs. This turn-of-the-20th-century townhouse had the space they needed, including five bedrooms and a backyard. Still, the Swiateks hesitated. “The bones of it were fabulous and it had been renovated beautifully,” Ralff explains, “but it was very masculine and a little dark.” The designer convinced her clients they could brighten the residence without re-gutting it and create a space that was “family friendly, upscale, urban, clean and modern.”

The first order of business was dealing with the metallic brown wall on the main floor. Ralff explains, “Would I ever have selected it? No, but it must have been labor intensive and it is so beautiful.” The designer suggested keeping the wall as it was and using furnishings to lighten the space. To that end, she incorporated a palette of whites, blues and grays in the main living area. The white and gray hues — seen in the carpet, sofa and background of the dining chair fabric — bring an airiness to the space. The rich blues of the daybed and the artwork play off the steely tones of the deep brown wall to create an interesting, energetic alchemy of color and light.

In the dining area, rich colors in the artwork complement the deep metallic brown of the wall.

A contemporary console in the living room builds on that energy, adding vigor that contrasts with the sleek surface of the wall behind it. “One of the things my client didn’t like was how flat and linear that wall was,” Ralff says. “So we played with sculptural elements to add some dimension.” The metal console is a major presence, but it doesn’t overwhelm the room thanks to a geometric design featuring lots of open space.

The living room features contemporary furnishings and sumptuous fabrics. “I infused color and pattern and texture into all the areas where there was a soft surface,” designer Alexa Ralff says.

Dramatic light fixtures in the living and dining spaces are also statement pieces. “Lighting was a place to have fun,” the designer says. In the dining area, a chandelier composed of metal rods capped with glass globes stretches almost the length of the table. In the sitting area, a golden sphere mimics the sun, featuring glass rays that extend light through the room. The unique fixtures are focal points that add decorative heft to the rooms without taking up valuable floor space. “Even though this home is on the larger side as far as brownstones go, it’s taller than it is wide. So we really had to maximize the space.”

Previous owners installed the large doors in the kitchen. “They did a really nice job of opening up the back,” Ralff says. At the island, Ralff added stools with transparent seat backs to visually open up the space.


The family room is furnished in a breezy palette of white and blue.

That was particularly challenging when it came to furnishing the bedrooms. “The client wanted everyone to have a dresser, a bed and a desk. That was not easy,” Ralff says. “We had to make sure the furniture was correctly scaled.” In a daughter’s room, a fun pink canopy frame is left unadorned. It packs a punch all on its own, without fabric to obstruct sight lines. Next to the bed, Ralff tucked a streamlined desk and an acrylic chair. The transparent polypropylene piece works well in a small space, Ralff says. “It disappears in the room.”

The wall behind the bed is covered in Schumacher’s “Feather Bloom” wall covering. “The client loves pattern and texture,” Ralff says. “That grass-cloth wallpaper has dimension and texture that softens and warms the space.”

An armchair and ottoman in deep blue occupy a corner of the primary bedroom.

A three-tiered metallic lamp base reflects the rest of the bedroom in triplicate.


A daughter’s room is designed for longevity. “The client has been down this road before. She wanted a room her daughter could grow with.”

A daughter’s room is designed for longevity. “The client has been down this road before. She wanted a room her daughter could grow with.”

The challenge extended beyond fitting furniture into rooms; it also involved transporting furniture to the rooms via a circa-1901 stairwell. “I had to quadruple-check that everything would make it up the steps. They’re narrow and deep and involve a sharp turn.”

Happily, furniture-moving logistics were handled without incident and the project went smoothly due, in large part, to the rapport between the Swiateks and Ralff. “This is our third project together and we’ve formed a collaborative relationship of trust.”