The Art of Compromise

October 22, 2013

Text by Stacy Kunstel    Photography by Eric Roth    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

We’ve all seen living rooms that show few signs of actually being lived in. These beautiful spaces feature furnishings that remain pristine over the years as other parts of the house get gently worn by use. If you’re visiting someone’s home for the first time, you might be shown the living room, but then you’ll usually be led right to the kitchen, where we all seem to end up no matter what the occasion.

The Rosens—particularly Steven—were determined not to have one of those little-used living rooms. He wanted a space he and his wife, Lauren, and their three young children would use for more than special occasions. And, says Lauren, “We needed something besides another place to sit.” She wasn’t immediately ready, however, to rally around her husband’s remedy: he wanted a pool table in the living room. While she appreciated the originality of  this idea, she says, “I thought, ‘I don’t want some ugly pool table there.’” So began the search for a design solution.

The couple, who had recently moved from Connecticut to Weston, Massachusetts, turned back to their home state for advice. A girlfriend of Lauren’s suggested that Westport, Connecticut–based designer Jan Hiltz might be able to help them solve their living-room dilemma. “People don’t want to spend a lot of money on a room they’re never going to use,” says Hiltz. “Here we had a husband who wanted to make the living room a pool room and a wife who wanted to make it a beautiful living room. Of course we could make it work.”

With the fireplace acting as a dividing line, Hiltz devoted one side of the room to a pool table she custom designed and covered in a soft beige fabric. The room’s other side was transformed into a sophisticated space where Lauren and her girlfriends can relax while Steven and his friends enjoy their pool and a football game plays out on the flat screen TV.

The designer papered the walls in a textured grasscloth, then took vertically striped silk drapes and had them sewn and hung horizontally. “They’re dressy,” she notes, “but they’re wide-striped and done on the horizontal to take the formal look out.”

As for the sofa, Hiltz chose a piece with contemporary lines, but covered it in luxurious velvet. Now, she says, “each end of the room makes them happy.”

Seeing the result, the Rosens decided the rest of the house deserved the same treatment. “I had a couple of cool pieces, but the house was very unfinished,” says Lauren.

The house lacked any real architectural significance, so Hiltz, emboldened by Lauren, set out to build in some decorative flair. Starting with the entryway, a low-ceilinged box of a space, Hiltz papered the walls above the wainscoting in Philip Jeffries black patent leather. “Lauren likes style with an edge,” explains Hiltz.

“I’ve always loved the lacquered look,” says Lauren. “The entry is such a small, awkward space, so I thought, let’s do something different.”

The Rosens had installed an oval Julian Chichester dining table and white faux-crocodile chairs in the dining room, which sits just off the foyer. Lauren had also recently bought a Venetian mirror. “I thought Jan might make me get rid of it all,” she says, “but she just kept saying, ‘We’ll make it work.’” Hiltz covered the walls in grasscloth with a silver accent thread that picks up the glints of silver in the mercury-glass lamps on the sideboard and in the Venetian mirror. She commissioned a number of pieces of art for the house, including Party Boys, by Connecticut artist Kerri Rosenthal, which hangs over the sideboard.

“We’ll make it work” is a constant refrain for Hiltz, who doesn’t believe in spending the money to redo things just for the sake of change. The heavy basket-weave tile on the dining room fireplace and the kitchen and master bath all went untouched. Other spaces, such as the master bedroom, breakfast area, and, of course, the living room that started the whole project, went from ho-hum to something memorable.

The kitchen opens to a long breakfast room whose only window is at the far end. Hiltz repositioned the light fixture, centering it in the space, and covered the long wall in graphic black-and-white wallpaper. A nubby rug grounds the room. Hiltz continued the wallpaper around a corner to cover the wall just opposite the door to the garage, then added a mirrored dresser to create an elegant spot to drop the mail and keys.

“The wallpaper makes the space more inviting,” explains Hiltz. “It plays nicely off the beautiful gray glass-tile backsplash in the kitchen. The result is edgy and traditional and modern at the same time.”

In the family room, Hiltz added to the Rosens’ furniture, which included the large, leather sectional, to create a more cohesive look. A metallic paper by York now covers the walls, and a cowhide rug sits under the coffee table and sofa. Hiltz added a chrome chair with citron-yellow faux-leather cushions as well as yellow toss pillows and accessories for a pop of color.

“Neither Lauren nor Steven had really liked the leather sofa,” says Hiltz. “It was one of those expensive mistakes, but with the magic of design we made the massive piece a focal point in the room. The addition of wallpaper, bright pillows, great art, and a sexy chair turned it into a room everybody loves.”

“The cool pieces I found didn’t look like anything until Jan put stuff around them,” says Lauren of the home’s transformation. “She showed me what painting and artwork can really do.”

What began as a one-room dilemma ended up becoming an adventurous lesson in how to create something new without starting from scratch. With a little ingenuity, as Hiltz shows, “making it work” can yield a beautiful result. •


Interior design: Jan Hiltz, Jan Hiltz Interiors

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