Peek Inside an NJ Designer’s Belmar Bungalow

Jaclyn Isaac's weekend home is an eclectic mix of high/low and modern/vintage.

Designer Jaclyn Isaac in a corner of her front sunroom, which is painted floor to ceiling in a mossy green. Photo by Mike Van Tassall

It all started with a side hustle, admits Jaclyn Isaac. Deep into a career in pharma branding and advertising, Isaac yearned to do something a bit more creative. So she began dabbling in decorating, starting with the condo she shared with husband Anthony in Jersey City. She outfitted it, head to toe, in her favorite modern-meets-vintage style, and in the process, it dawned on her that she had missed her calling. “I suddenly realized this was something that I loved to do,” she says now.

Next up, she started a blog, called it Dog Lady Designs, and began interviewing local interior designers to get content. One thing led to the next, and she was offered a summer internship at a local design firm. “That was my first job experience,” she admits. “But I realized this was something I could do.” She stepped out on faith creating her firm, Downtown Decorators, and started doing small projects in and around Jersey City. “It was just a little side hustle,” she says. “I didn’t want to call myself a designer, but I wanted to see where it led.” Fast-forward three years, and it was a full-time gig. 

The living room of Jaclyn Isaac’s beach bungalow is a blend of old and new, high and low. Many pieces, including the leopard-print club chairs, are vintage. Art is collected from salvage shops, estate sales and travel. Photo by Mike Van Tassall

Isaac started slowly, taking on small projects. “I had to prove that, one, I knew what I was doing, and two, I could support myself,” she says. “There was trepidation that I wasn’t formally trained,” she adds. But she brought in an assistant and got to work. “We needed a handful of really great projects under our belt to prove that we were a serious business,” Isaac explains. Gradually, her projects increased in number and in scope. So did her connections. “Over time, we developed an extended network of creative people that we can rely on heavily,” Isaac says. “We now have a trusted network to help us pull off major, major projects.” 

In the midst of expansion and adding full-time team members, Jaclyn and Anthony, along with their dogs, moved to a 174-year-old farmhouse in Shrewsbury. Simultaneously, she decided to rebrand her business. “A client told me he hated the company name, that it was doing me a disservice,” she says. Isaac renamed her firm Doni Douglas Designs in honor of her beloved dogs, each representing a contrasting personality trait, an ode to her own eclectic style. “Douglas was our American bulldog. A classic breed,” Isaac says. “Doni is silly fun. He’s the funky part of the brand.”

Isaac reconfigured the bungalow’s existing kitchen and upgraded countertops to quartz. Vintage finds include the counter stools, breakfast table and chair. Window treatments are custom. Photo by Mike Van Tassall

Now, Isaac’s business is booming; she’s noted for her creative mix of traditional elegance combined with modern, vintage, funky and fun accents. She loves high/low price points and regularly mixes traditional and contemporary elements. “I’m involved in everything,” Isaac says. “I oversee all creative. I have a team that helps with the execution. They like the nitty-gritty.”

It was Anthony who found the bungalow in Belmar, a two-family home just a few blocks from the beach. “He FaceTimed me in the middle of winter,” Isaac says, admitting she didn’t love the way it looked. “But he was adamant that it was a great location on a great street,” Isaac says. When she finally had time to see the home in person, she immediately saw its potential. “It has the bones of something special,” she says. So the couple purchased it, rented out the top floor, and set about making the first floor—two bedrooms and one bath—a gathering place for friends and family.

This side of the sunroom is a favorite hangout spot for friends and family. The sofa is vintage, recovered in a mix of fabrics. Photo by Mike Van Tassall

Setting a “very limited” budget, Isaac got to work. “I didn’t have a client, so I could do what I wanted. It was fun and challenging, an opportunity to use materials that most clients wouldn’t let me use,” she says, like bamboo, rattan and touches of Italian Art Deco. Isaac took a dramatic leap with color, embracing saturated hues like coral and sage green. “The default of a lot of beach homes is white,” she says. “I’m glad we did the opposite.” The furnishings are a mix of high and low. “It’s vintage and second-hand furniture. Plus I splurged on a few pieces my husband doesn’t know about,” she says.

The bar was once a display counter at a retail shop; the standing lamp and bar stools are vintage. Photo by Mike Van Tassall

Now, it’s a favorite gathering spot, regularly crammed with friends and family. “We’ve had 12 people overnight in this tiny bungalow, everyone sleeping on top of each other, with one single bathroom,” says Isaac. “It’s a true weekend getaway.” 

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