Designer Virginia Toledo has a thing for bold color. You can see it in the vibrant hues that fill her Hawthorne home. She also enjoys a challenge—like decorating her 3,000-square-foot home with repurposed and reimagined furnishings.
Working on a tight budget is a distinct departure from the high-end, high-style projects Toledo and her design partner, Jessica Geller, specialize in. But that’s exactly what she intended when taking on her personal project.
Five years ago, Toledo and her husband, Jhovanny Hernandez, along with their daughter, Sienna, now 10, and Wolfgang, the family Weimaraner, moved to New Jersey from Queens. Like many urban couples, they were “working crazy days, commuting on the subway,” Toledo says. “I just felt there was a better way to do it.”
Toledo knew exactly what she wanted. “I was looking for an old home,” she says. “I didn’t want a modern home, and I didn’t want a ranch.” Her top priority: a front porch. “That was first and foremost. I didn’t even ask for a garage, just a porch.”
After scouring Westchester County and Connecticut, Toledo and Hernandez found what they were looking for in this Passaic County borough. The home, a 1920s American Foursquare, has a backyard, and there’s a public park directly across the street. And, of course, a wide and welcoming front porch—a typical feature in a Foursquare. The style, popular in the first half of the 20th century, typically means a boxy home with similarly sized rooms in the corners, archways between the common rooms and centralized halls.
Inside, the home was anything but perfect. Owned by several generations of the same family since the 1940s, it had most recently been a rental and was in disarray. “The house hadn’t been updated or modernized,” says Toledo. “It had the original bathrooms and kitchen.” But Toledo had a vision, although it took time to bring it to life. “I chipped away at it room by room.”
Since they were moving from a tight apartment, the couple was starting practically from scratch, as far as furnishings were concerned. Fully aware of the cost to replicate the style and quality she was accustomed to delivering to her high-end clients, Toledo challenged herself to transform the home without spending a fortune. Lucky thing, Toledo loves the hunt. “Consignment shopping is like therapy for me,” she says. “Let me loose in a vintage shop, and I’m good.” Toledo scoured local vintage shops and resale outlets and spent every spare moment poring over websites like Craigslist and ebay, hoping for finds. Many of the pieces she acquired needed refinishing or reupholstering; others were used as is.
Toledo created a colorful backdrop for all her newly acquired furnishings. Mixing patterns, colors, and plenty of paint and wallpaper, she went to town, inspired, she says, by her Latin roots, but also “a fondness for Southern hospitality.” The new look was achieved through creative decorating, not rebuilding. Even the kitchen, which got a major facelift, was revamped without any carpentry. Original cabinets were preserved, and a few doors were removed to showcase Toledo’s collection of vintage dinnerware, cake platters and serving pieces. Toledo personally sanded and painted the cabinetry. She even laid the new flooring.
Toledo’s favorite pieces include a dining table rescued from an abandoned house; a 1980s sidebar discarded by downsizing empty-nesters; Sienna’s vintage secretary desk, handed down by a couple in Connecticut via eBay; and a super-long, custom made velvet banquette—in vivid purple—that fills one wall of the sunroom. Virtually every piece in the master bedroom, including the dresser, armoire and vintage nightstands, is secondhand.
And that expansive front porch? It’s everything Toledo hoped it would be. “All springtime, it’s where I have my morning coffee,” she says. “Sienna does her homework there, and we read our books. There’s a real connection to our neighbors.”
Five years, and many parties and family gatherings later, the home is just what Toledo set out to make it. “This is a home full of love and color,” she says. “It’s such a cheerful place.”