All In The Family Room

When interior designers Elaine Minervini and Lila Munem of Esprit Décor first visited the 88-year-old Chatham home of Peter and Vicki Fife, winners of the New Jersey Monthly Family Room Makeover, the design challenge was obvious.

When interior designers Elaine Minervini and Lila Munem of Esprit Décor first visited the 88-year-old Chatham home of Peter and Vicki Fife, winners of the New Jersey Monthly Family Room Makeover, the design challenge was obvious.

With its furniture layout and floor plan, the room was actually two spaces that, says Vicki, “had never felt connected.” The two-story addition built above the garage by the previous owners was dominated by a large wood-burning stove—the only heat source in the addition.

secret garden: New windows and a sliding French door from Pella Windows and Doors in Paramus enhance the view with access to the outdoors. For window treatments, the Esprit Décor team chose “Garden Images,” a cotton jacquard Waverly pattern in a subtle parchment color, from Metropolitan Window Fashions in North Plainfield. The revolving bookcase is from Thomasville’s Hemingway collection; the swivel reading chair and ottoman are from Thomasville’s Chesapeake line.

blazing style: The old, outdated wood-burning stove was replaced with a Fireplace Extraordinaire FPX from Light My Fire in Paramus. The gas fireplace directly vents to the outside and has an attractive black liner. With its thermostatic remote control, it maintains a set temperature just like a house furnace. “Even though it’s a decorative appliance,” says John Susnosky, owner of Light My Fire, “it is also a functional, 85 percent-efficient gas furnace.”

The first order of business: changing the room’s visual lines and interior components. The design team replaced the stove with a new gas fireplace from Light My Fire in Paramus. A surrounding diagonal wall and mantle, built around the fireplace by Dean Venezia of Dean Painting and Contracting in New Providence, softens the former corner space and visually connects the two areas.

“It was important that we had uniformity so the room didn’t feel chopped up,” says Minervini. “Using one large piece and similar colors [when selecting furniture] creates uniformity.”

fLat-out fun: “This wall looks so much larger,” says homeowner Vicki Fife. The Sharp Aquos 37-inch LCD TV was hung by the Harvey Electronics team. The storage unit under the TV, from Thomasville in East Hanover, houses speakers and has a bar area. Sofa, coffee table, and carafe accessories are also from Thomasville.

Living room (After): David Jacquot; (Before) pete byron.

Details also played a leading role in this makeover. The Fifes, realtors with Prudential Realty in Summit, have an art collection amassed on their travels, as well as pieces that hung in Peter’s childhood home in England. A 1954 oil painting by the British naturalist Sir Peter Scott inspired the designers’ palette of pale greens and yellows with hints of blue. “You always look for that one inspiration piece,” advises Minervini. “Find something that you’re in love with and build around it.”

The colors chosen by the designers make the space seem less cramped. “Cool colors recede,” says Munem. A sectional green sofa from Thomasville replaces the dark blue set that had created a visual dividing line in the center of the room. Now, chairs and sofas all face each other, creating a conversation space as well as an ideal place to watch TV. “It’s a family room,” says Munem. “You want to encourage everyone to be together.” This was especially important to the couple, who have two teenagers living at home, a daughter, Emilie, 18, and son, Zander, 16.

picture perfect: The room’s cool color palette was inspired by the Peter Scott painting (left). Sofa and cocktail table are from Thomasville. New Colors Interiors of Maplewood painted the room using Benjamin Moore’s “Wheatfield” matte scrub on the walls and “Sugar Cookie” on the ceiling and trim. Area rugs are from Worldwide Wholesale Floor Coverings in Edison.

To take advantage of the room’s close proximity to the backyard and patio, the designers created new, taller windows and added a sliding French door, installed by Pella Windows and Doors. They also chose window treatments from Metropolitan Window Fashions featuring a Waverly floral garden print pattern to add a natural, outdoorsy look to the interior of the space.

“We wanted something dramatic and garden-like to bring the outside in, and we wanted to frame the windows. We have such long winters in New Jersey, and we wanted it to feel like spring,” says Munem.

The family couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Peter still has his favorite reading area near the fire, albeit an updated one. “The room is brilliant,” he says. “Elaine and Lila rose to the challenge and created the perfect space for us. We are entertaining in that room more than ever, and our family seems to just hang out together more often…and I love my chair.” Adds Vicki, “I love my room.”

Makeover Team

 Spend an hour with Elaine Minervini (left) and Lila Munem (standing, center), pictured with client Vicki Fife (right), and you’ll see how effortlessly they toss the creative ball back and forth. The two women have known each other since they were interior design students at Berkeley College. When they started their own firm nearly ten years ago, they wanted a name that conveyed what they felt their partnership would offer. Esprit Décor fit perfectly because, as Minervini explained our May 2006 issue, it’s a play on the French term esprit de corps, referring to what can be achieved through team spirit. “It’s our name and our philosophy.”

Minervini and Munem are also good friends, something that fuels their business. “When we started out,” says Minervini, “we determined to always keep our friendship first and foremost. Our friendship keeps us involved in each other’s personal lives, and we celebrate all life has to offer.” — N.B.P.

Esprit Décor Interior Design, Westwood (201-358-1818; 973-563-3677)

TV, TV on the Wall
High-tech TVs are bigger, better—and everywhere.

The popularity—not to mention falling prices—of plasma and LCD flatscreens makes them a must-have in the modern family room, as well as bedrooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms. Where’s the best place to hang your new TV? According to Vinny Buszko, general manager of Harvey Electronics in Bridgewater, “every scenario is going to be a little bit different. Take into consideration lighting in the room. Plasma is glass, so you have more glare; an LCD-based set has a matte finish and there is no reflection.”

Buszko recommends hanging the flat screen at least three feet up from the floor. “You also have to consider if you want your equipment directly underneath the television in a stand or in a nearby closet,” he says. For a clean, uncluttered look, ask your installer to locate the related wiring in a basement or an upstairs closet. An electrical outlet must be installed directly behind the screen (costs range between $200 and $300).

A number of innovations are on the horizon, according to Buszko:

Fitted, motorized picture frames like the one from VisionArt, based in California, cover your flatscreen with your own framed artwork. When you turn off the TV, it slides down over the screen.

Digital storage systems let you store favorite TV shows, view pictures, and stream digital music from built-in hard drives. Microsoft has released such a system, and Niveus Media, based in California and available through Harvey Electronics, has one in the works.

High-definition hopes: By 2009, HDTV will completely replace the analog TV you grew up with. The entire industry, from broadcast to delivery service to hardware, is scrambling to catch up. Many new TVs already include built-in HD tuners that provide crisp, clear picture quality via digital cable. —N.B.P.

Wilber Vargas, owner of New Colors Interior Painting in Maplewood, says to allow three days for painting the family room. Those three days will go more smoothly, Vargas says, if you:

Move all accessories out of the space. “We really appreciate when clients move their important, sentimental objects out of the way.”

Know your color choices IN ADVANCE. Use small sample jars available at most paint stores. Paint a swatch and allow a few days to go by so you can see the wall in different lighting conditions.

Don’t disturb the work area. Leave all plastic coverings and tarps in place until the job is done. Even though the family room is usually a home’s entertainment hub, don’t allow family members to sneak in for an hour of video gaming and disturb the work area. —N.B.P.

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