All the Right Notes: A Designer Dream in Montclair

What happens when you pair an Emmy Award-winning set designer with an outside-the-box decorator? You get a home as lively and colorful as the music they play.

They met playing music, but Julianne and Jim Fenhagen also share a love of design. They each have managed to keep a foot in both worlds. When not on stage performing with their band, Big Mamou, they are busy creating lively and colorful spaces. He’s an award-winning set designer with 19 Emmys to his credit; she’s an interior designer who, after decorating her own home, started Salem-Fenhagen Design (917-306-2534), a flourishing design business.

Music is their first love. The singer (Julianne) and the bass player (Jim) met more than 20 years ago while playing gigs in New York City. Their music—they still perform regularly—is a lively country-meets-zydeco blend. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Julianne. They treat their Montclair home, a center-hall colonial they share with son Aaron, 19, the same way. “It’s very playful,” she says.

Virtually anyone with a television has seen Jim’s creations. He has designed sets for The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart Show and ESPN’s SportsCenter. One of his most recent projects: the state-of-the-art set for China’s CCTV, seen daily by some 500 million viewers.

Jim’s office is in Manhattan. The couple relocated from the city to Montclair 12 years ago. They didn’t have much to move with—some family pieces (the dining room set from her family in Michigan; the formal portraits from his family in South Carolina) and one pricey George Smith sofa, the first piece of furniture they bought. While Jim commuted daily to the city, Julianne decorated the house.

“I’ve never had a huge budget to work with,” says Julianne, a self-taught designer. “Everything here is cobbled together, collected over the years.” She loves auctions, estate sales and garage sales, and isn’t shy about occasional garbage picking. “If it’s pretty, I like it,” she says. Julianne mingles her finds with store-bought pieces. “I like old meets new,” she says. “I’ll mix Home Goods or Pottery Barn, or even IKEA, next to antiques. It’s a real mishmash.”

Julianne’s outside-the-box sensibility is everywhere. “I’ll mix velvet, cotton and fur,” she says. And she’s not afraid to take risks. Case in point: That George Smith sofa, tired looking after 20 years, has a new lease on life, shown off now in the living room covered in an iridescent, apple-green silk dupioni fabric—as bright as a Jolly Rancher candy. It’s the sort of fabric you’d expect on a bridesmaid’s dress, circa 1980. “Somehow it just works,” she says.

Given her budget limitations, Julianne has no problem repurposing pieces. She updated the dining-room chairs from her parents’ house with trim white slipcovers and a flouncy skirt. The club chairs in the family room? Draped with a loose cotton coverlet from West Elm.

Decorating the house is largely Julianne’s domain, but Jim always weighs in. “I bounce things off him,” she says. “Fortunately, we have the same taste.”

While the family room is the most used space in the house, says Julianne, the outside patio, with its shady, wisteria-covered pergola, comes a close second. “It’s where we hang out after the band rehearses,” she says. “We’ll all come up from the basement and have a beer.” It’s colorful and comfortable—and like everything they do, Julianne adds, “it’s a splash of delight.”

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