Modern Mix

Proving that a period house doesn’t need period decorating, interior designer Martina Servos incorporates her love of contemporary style into an old home.

Interior designer Martina Servos doesn’t worry about rules. That means an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary. She’s not afraid of bold flashes of color, and, with a wink and a nod, adds a whimsical touch to every room.

Her own home provides the best evidence that Servos practices what she preaches. Arriving from her native Germany eight years ago with her then 13-year-old daughter, Lara, Servos settled in Glen Ridge with a single ship’s container of prized possessions. She was drawn to Glen Ridge by the sturdy housing stock, the strong neighborhood feel and the town’s proximity to New York City and neighboring Montclair—urban centers where she gets her culture fix.

But the house in which she settled was nothing like the small, boxy, contemporary homes she’d become accustomed to in Germany. The home’s period style (circa 1920) was “so not me,” she says. She set out to make it her own. Armed with a degree in interior architecture (which, in Germany, includes engineering and space-management studies) and her container of German furnishings, she seamlessly—and without moving a single wall—incorporated fearless color and her love of modern furnishings into the space.

“It’s ridiculous to think that you have to go period inside a period house,” Servos says. “We don’t need to pretend we have the same aesthetics as the year the house was built. I’m not wearing the same lipstick as I wore in 1967. We change, we evolve.”

Despite the house’s old-world charm and vintage character—exemplified by wood-plank floors and decorative moldings—Servos furnished her digs with contemporary panache. In the living room, for instance, two armchairs face the brick fireplace. One of the chairs is made of metal wire. The look is softened with colorful throw pillows and a deep burgundy area rug. The mash-up works partly because it’s so unconventional. “There shouldn’t be rules in decorating,” says Servos. “It doesn’t have to be period or modern.”

The room flows seamlessly into the other first-floor spaces because of the clean, open lines and the repeat of strong, jewel-tone colors. There’s a complete absence of clutter—“clutter makes rooms look smaller,” she says—and windows are largely unadorned, admitting natural light as much as possible.

In the dining room, hanging above the simple wooden table, is a fanciful chandelier that Servos fashioned from a couple of branches glued together and adorned with feathers, bows and ribbons taken off gift packages. That flash of whimsy is pure Servos: “Americans are so serious in their decorating,” she says. “I like humor. I like that little wink of an eye.”

The second floor has two bedrooms. (One is Lara’s, who, while away at college in Boston, keeps her door shut—her aesthetic differs markedly from her mom’s.) The home’s single bathroom is here, as is Servos’s tidy, book- and light-filled office. Servos’s favorite room is her bedroom, a cozy, third-floor attic-like space. There, the bed sits directly on the poured-cement floor, and the bathtub sits unabashedly in a corner. (“I actually use it,” says Servos. “Just about every Sunday afternoon.”) There’s a collection of throw pillows on the floor for relaxing, an exercise space and moody uplighting that adds to the Zen-like feel. “It’s a great room to go to get away from it all,” Servos says. “It’s my personal retreat.”

 Overall, the house functions just as Servos planned. “I got it right,” she says. “It’s totally about me.” And that, she says, is her only hard-and-fast rule of decorating: “Surround yourself with what you really love.”

Side Bar:

Martina Servos’s Design

Martina Servos prides herself on having what she calls a holistic approach to decorating: “I look at the entire project, all the things that need to work together: the space, the flow, the light, the proportions, the colors.”

“I definitely have a different sense of space,” Servos says. Referring to Germany, where she was trained as an interior designer, she says, “We are more space-challenged over there. We have to be smart.” The first step, she says, is creating clear traffic lines so one room flows into another. Key to that is reducing clutter. “I often have people tell me my house is much bigger inside than it looks outside,” Servos says. 

Don’t fear unexpected bursts of color. Servos especially likes rich jewel tones of burgundy, eggplant, jade and gold. She uses flashes of those hues in every room, and the repetition makes the spaces cohere from one to the next.

Let natural light shine as much as possible. Servos is not big on heavy drapery and covered windows. “Natural light brightens a room,” she says, “and that brightens your day.”

Servos loves whimsical touches and not taking style too seriously, all part of making every room personal. “I tell all my clients, ‘Remember, it’s all about you. It’s about what makes you happy.’”

Martina Servos, Interior Design
Lemon Grass Designs

Photos by Jeffrey Totaro.

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