Peek Inside NJM Style Editor’s Colorful Farmhouse

Her love of color matched only by her love of the hunt, New Jersey Monthly’s style editor reimagines a historic home with an unexpected vibe.

Surrounded by reclaimed outdoor decor, Susan and Bob Bush chill out on their whimsical front porch.
Surrounded by reclaimed outdoor decor, Susan and Bob Bush chill out on their whimsical front porch. Like the couple’s furnishings, rescue pups Jack and Jill have also been welcomed into their happy home.
Photo by Laura Moss

Susan Brierly Bush adores bursts of vivid color. She also enjoys the hunt for a good deal. Most of all, she loves rescuing tired, old pieces and giving them new life in her happy home. A self-trained decorator (and New Jersey Monthly’s style editor), Bush masterfully transforms the secondhand furnishings and decorative accessories she collects from flea markets, estate sales, auctions and resale shops into one-of-a-kind treasures. Her skills were put to the test recently when she faced her ultimate challenge: furnishing the historic Mendham Township home she and her husband, Bob, bought two summers ago.

The Bushes married three years ago, combining their families from past marriages and settling temporarily into Susan’s chic Mendham cottage. “We spent a full year looking for our forever home,” she says. When a real estate agent told them about this antique farmhouse, built in 1815, the couple wasn’t sure it would be enough space for them, their six children (ages 14- 28, who are always coming and going), and rescue dogs Jack and Jill.

But the agent convinced them to take a look. “The house is quite deceiving from the street,” Susan says. “We initially didn’t realize the scope of the property. It actually goes back more than two acres.” Previous owners had tacked on additional space, most notably a family room and master bedroom added 30 years ago. Also on the property: an enormous, green barn and smaller garden shed, both circa 1815. Sandwiched between these structures are a pool and spacious patio. After two visits, the Bushes pounced and won a brief bidding war. “It’s the perfect family compound,” Susan says.

Then the work began. Eager to create a home that reflected their new life together, the Bushes donated more than 30 boxes of belongings from their previous homes to charities. “We let go of all the mismatched stuff and kept only the things that spoke to us,” Susan says. She had no trouble convincing Bob to join her on her weekend jaunts—sometimes close by, other times far-flung—to hunt for interesting pieces. “We wanted our new home to be fun and funky,” she says. “We love mid-century modern and immediately visualized this house being filled with color.”

Mid-century modern in an antique farmhouse? “Absolutely,” Susan says. “We were intent on juxtaposing the interior and not decorating it in a predictable period style. Still, we always maintained the integrity of the architecture.”

Adds Bob, “I went along with the idea immediately. I wanted a lot of personality in our home.”

Starting on the ground floor and working their way up, the couple set out to furnish the home. “Our kids tease us, but this is what we do for fun,” says Susan.

Case in point: The front porch has mismatched wicker and rattan pieces picked up at estate sales and flea markets, some of them vintage, others repainted. “Hand this woman a paint brush and watch out,” Bob jokes.

Inside, each room has its own character. “The first floor has organic elements like grass-cloth wall covering and an earthy pottery collection,” says Susan. Most major furniture pieces were repurposed. The living room sofa was free. (“Someone begged us to take it,” says Susan. “All we did was reupholster it.”) The coffee table came from an estate sale. The Lucite bar cart was snagged at Home Goods, purchased for next to nothing since it has a virtually undetectable flaw. The wing chair in the adjacent sitting room was scored on a Facebook garage-sale site. All it needed was new fabric. Its companion chair is from an estate sale. The yellow ginger-jar lamp base was found at a junk shop for $5.

Not everything in the home was a deal. The Bushes discovered their dining-room table—an original by renowned modern designer Milo Baughman—in a Lambertville shop. “That was a pricey purchase,” Susan says. Looking past the four-figure price tag, the couple surrounded it with bargain finds. The dining chairs, by noted designer Pace, were bought on discount and recovered in purple velvet. The yellow Parsons table, purchased for $20 at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store in Randolph, serves as a buffet. Rave reviews are garnered by the custom-made sputnik chandelier from Lucent Lighting on etsy.com. The black hutch—formerly cherry red—is a vintage steal that Susan repainted. “We have our splurges,” she says. “We like high/low decorating.”

The master bedroom is a departure from the downstairs aesthetic. “I wanted it to look like a pastel French macaron,” says Susan. The bed frame was a floor sample that Susan refinished herself with a European glaze. The bedside tables were $20 each. “I put about 5,000 coats of white lacquer on them,” she jokes. The area rug was $50 at an unclaimed rug sale. In the adjacent, sun-drenched sitting room, two loveseats—both from the Re-Store—were reclaimed and reupholstered. “I get most of my fabrics from Calico Corners, many of them remnants,” she says.

While Susan continues to tinker inside, Bob sees to the home’s outdoor spaces. “Susan is the secretary of the interior,” he quips. “I’m the secretary of the exterior.” The backyard was already beautifully landscaped when they moved in, but Bob takes pride in maintaining it. The patio furniture, left behind by previous owners, is spruced up with colorful Jonathan Adler pillows and accessories. “We gravitate to this area all summer,” Bob says. The couple frequently entertain guests outdoors, and the kids like to hang out there during summer months.

Even now, most weekends find Bob riding shotgun in Susan’s Jeep, loaded with old items on their way to a new life. “I chased that little white ball around the golf course long enough,” he jokes. “Flea marketing wasn’t my thing until I met Susan, but I go along with it now.”

RESOURCES:  Upholsterer: Gus’s Upholstery, Paterson, 973-720-8501. Window Treatments: Custom Sewing by Debbie Fico, Annandale, 908-300-2893. House Painting:  Camargo’s Painting, Essex County, 973-819-5064. Wallpaper:  Rich Baron, 201-919-5037. Paint/Wallpaper: Ricciardi Brothers, Morristown, 973-538-3222. Home Sound System: Matthew Falzarano, 201-207-6013.

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