A Tale of Two Sisters (in-Law)

Jennifer Connell and Jane Connell showcase their style—individually, in their homes, and together, in their new joint venture, Fun House Furnishings and Design in Mendham. (Photos by Laura Moss)

With a total of seven kids between them, Jennifer Connell and Jane Connell already had their hands full. The sisters-in-law hardly needed to find yet another project to do. But Jennifer, who had been working as a designer for other interior design shops, had an epiphany. “I said to my husband, ‘I want to quit my job, open my own business and ask Jane to be my partner,’” she says. “After the initial shock wore off, he realized that it totally made sense.”

Last October, they opened Fun House Furnishings and Design, a retail store and interior design service on Main Street in downtown Mendham. Why the name? “We wanted it to be fun,” says Jennifer. “We think the design of your space should make you smile every day. We don’t take ourselves so seriously.”

The shop’s location is ideal, she says—on the ground level directly behind the Mendham Spa. “We’re constantly changing what’s on the floor,” says Jennifer. “Our goal is that when women come to the spa every five weeks or so to get their hair colored, they’ll see something new.”

It’s been fun so far, both women agree, but a lot of work. It helps, says Jane, that the two have similar tastes and inclinations. “We both love to shop,” she says. “We have so much fun going to markets and looking at absolutely everything. We don’t buy anything we wouldn’t want for ourselves.”

The two have more than taste in common. They are married to brothers, Shane and Duane Connell, who work for their family business—Berkeley Heights-based Connell Company, a privately held diversified corporation founded by their great-grandfather.

Despite all the parallels, Jennifer and Jane live in very different homes reflecting very different styles. Jennifer and Shane, along with their three children and three dogs, live in a formal Colonial-style home in Far Hills. Jane and Duane, along with their four children and two dogs, live in an eclectic French country home in Harding Township they designed with the help of a local architect.

Jennifer and Shane bought their home in 2005, when it was 90 days from completion. “We picked all the finish materials,” says Jennifer. “My mom came out from Texas and we spent days planning everything.” That includes architectural details, the granite and marble finishes and the large-scale traditional country kitchen.

“We love the open floor plan,” says Jennifer. “It’s a big house with a comfortable layout.” The 9-foot ceilings throughout were a major selling point. For such a big house, Jennifer explains, the lower ceiling height makes the rooms feel warmer and cozier.

Decorating the house is a work in progress, frequently tweaked. “Overall, my decorating style is not so serious,” Jennifer says. “I like a little whimsy in every room.” Case in point: the custom chandelier in the otherwise formal dining room, and the gorilla canvas in the kitchen, painted by Shane, who is often found painting in his makeshift studio in the sitting room outside the master bedroom surrounded by the entire family—kids and dogs included.

Jane and Duane purchased their home in 1999—a nondescript ranch on wonderful property—thinking they would renovate. “We liked the location more than the house,” says Jane. They hired Short Hills architect Danny Dubinett and initiated a major collaborative project, each bringing ideas to the table. Jane and Duane thought they wanted a formal country-style home, but Dubinett recognized they weren’t really formal people. “He definitely cut down the formal stuff, and he was right,” says Jane. They ended up knocking down the existing house and starting from scratch, a process that took about a year.

Although not yet complete—there’s an entire wing of the house left completely unfinished—what is done is eclectic and playful, with surprises at every turn. Unexpected shots of color leap out everywhere, from the sky-blue walls in the dining room to the sun-kissed orange in the sunporch. And, like Jennifer’s house, Jane’s abode is a work in progress. “I’m constantly fidgeting, changing and fixing. I get bored,” she says. Fortunately no one in the family seems to mind. “Duane is happy with his TV and his gym.”

Meanwhile, at Fun House Furnishings and Design, sales have exceeded all expectations. Much of what’s on the floor sells—sofas, tables, rugs and lamps, but also smaller items suitable for gifting, such as throw pillows, candles and picture frames—meaning the women are constantly rearranging and swapping items. To their surprise, it’s not just women who frequent the store, but husbands too. “Even the men come in and say, ‘I need a stocking stuffer for my wife’ or ‘What do you have for Valentine’s Day?’” says Jennifer. “Having gifts has been a big pull for us.”

Their interior design service has been busy beyond all expectations as well. Jennifer is trained as an interior designer, while Jane brings a keen eye, and more importantly, a type A personality. “She’s very creative and very organized,” says Jennifer. So while Jane is sketching floor plans and placing orders, Jennifer is selecting fabrics and furnishings. “We work amazingly well together,” says Jane. “We couldn’t have found a better partnership.”


For this story, we should have credited Sandra John Interiors of Basking Ridge (908-204-0545; sandrajohn.com), which provided design services for portions of Jane Connell’s home.

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