After five years in California, Kristin and Ron Menapace were eager to return to the Garden State to be closer to family. It was 2011 and, with Paige, now 13, plus newborn twins Claire and Henry, now 10, the couple wanted to be back home in New Jersey where they both grew up. (Their fourth child, Julianne, now 7, was born here.) They weren’t going to settle on just any house, however. “We were searching for a unique home,” says Ron. “In Southern California, we had a Mid-Century. We’ve always been drawn to that design aesthetic.” Luckily, the couple discovered this 5-bedroom, open-floor-plan home in Princeton. Designed by renowned architect Bill Short—who famously worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Guggenheim Museum—the 4,500-square-foot home is set on a ridge with an extensive front yard. The couple pounced. “We didn’t want to see it get away,” says Ron.
Fortunately, the place was in great shape when the family moved in. “It had good bones,” says Kristin. Other than taking up some carpets to reveal the original hardwood floors, there was little to be done. So rather than renovate, the couple focused on decorating. “We wanted to put our own touches on it,” adds Ron. The Menapaces had been collecting for years. “We both enjoy finding unique and different home décor items,” says Kristin. “We especially like repurposing reclaimed wood.”
Notable repurposed pieces include, for instance, the family’s massive black-walnut, natural-edge dining table with an iron-trestle base. The coffee table is fashioned from a repurposed Model-T wheel topped with glass. “It actually spins,” says Ron. Hanging on the living room wall is an antique bus roll—literally the marquis of an old New York City bus, which displays the various stops. “It appears to be from the 1930s or 1940s,” Ron explains. Many other pieces were moved from California, including the expansive leather sectional sofa and the wall of bookcases. “They fit perfectly,” he says.
The couple’s aha moment came to them while deep into furnishing their home. “We both enjoy finding unique items and finding unique craftsmen,” says Ron. So, they took a giant leap of faith and turned it into a business, opening a retail store called Homestead Princeton. “We had the opportunity to satisfy our entrepreneurial itch,” he continues. “There was no Plan B.” Homestead opened in Palmer Square in downtown Princeton in October 2012, offering unique home furnishings, accessories and gift items, many of them made from reclaimed materials. With a mix of historical, industrial, modern and whimsical, the store quickly became a go-to destination. Many items are custom-built to customers’ specifications; a popular category is made-to-order tables and doors crafted from reclaimed barnwood. “Sustainability is very important to us,” explains Kristin.
Store inventory is always changing and expanding, so, after eight successful years, the couple moved the store to a bigger space in 2020, planting roots in the historic building that formerly housed the Princeton Packet newspaper. Homestead now boasts 4,000 square feet of retail space (with another 3,000 planned), and, Ron is quick to point out, the largest free parking lot in all of Princeton. Dedicated to “the hunt,” as they call it, the couple travels the country in their Airstream to find new craftsmen, often with the whole family in tow. “The kids love it,” says Ron.
When it comes to the holidays, the Menapace family has several sacred traditions. First and foremost, says Kristin, is staying at home. “We give our kids a Christmas experience in their own home,” she says. “We have it in our house, just the six of us, and meet up with the rest of the family the following week.” The close-knit family decorates together, putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving and draping the windows with fresh evergreen garland. Favorite decorations include a collection of holiday gourds in the shapes of Santa and snowmen, and, like many families, a Christmas elf that regularly pops up in surprise locations.
Another tradition: the family builds a gingerbread house together—“it never turns out perfect,” says Kristin. And, each family member writes a card a day, for the full month, expressing what they’re thankful for. Christmas dinner, cooked by Ron, is typically salmon since the family is pescatarian. And after dinner? If there’s any snow, the family heads outside. “We live on a ridge so it’s great for sledding,” says Ron. Adds Kristin, “and snow angels.”
Homestead Princeton, 300 Witherspoon Street in the Princeton Packet Building; 609-688-0777.Click here to leave a comment