Interior Designers at Home
They Live in Their Living Rooms
By Anne Levin | Photography by Jeffrey E. Tryon and Charles R. Plohn
It is sometimes said that professional chefs don’t cook at home, and fashion designers just wear a lot of black. But it would be hard to find an interior designer who doesn’t give much thought to the surroundings of his or her own home. We asked four local designers to reveal their favorite spots at home, and to tell us why. The results? They love their living rooms. After a busy day creating customers’ decor, these designers just want to come home to a space that is comfortable, personal, and, of course, visually pleasing.
Pennington designer A.J. Margulis and her family live in a 1950s ranch house, the layout of which has been drastically changed over the years to create an open plan.
Art is her passion, and a painting from Morpeth Contemporary is a focal point of the living room. That makes it a favorite space.
“It’s a small house, so we don’t have enough room for tons of stuff,” says Margulis, whose firm specializes in residential design. “I’m conservative and classic. It’s done to last and be the final decision. The most important thing to me is that anything I do lasts a long time, and that people love it and are super comfortable.”
While Margulis enjoys her home’s bar area, where she and her husband frequently entertain, and also spends time in the sunroom, it is the living room that has been a cozy retreat during the winter months. “It has a fireplace, which we had stopped using for a while, but lately we’ve gone back to it and hang out there a lot,” she says. “It makes me feel at home.”
Freda Howard’s apartment next to the Princeton Cemetery on Wiggins Street has been home to her and her teenaged daughter for the past three years. Howard, who has created interiors locally and in New York and runs Freda Howard Interiors out of an office on Witherspoon Street, moved to downtown Princeton from a house in Princeton Junction, and she couldn’t be happier. She spends a lot of time in the living room.
“I love it because of the color,” she says. “And I’m a color specialist. I stumbled upon this piece of art that is now in the living room, and I fell in love. It’s abstract, and I tend to use a lot of that in clients’ homes because you can build on colors in the room or vice versa.”
Spring green is Howard’s favorite color, and she includes it in almost every interior she designs. In her own living room, the sofa is cream and the rug is blue. There are colorful lanterns. Even the window shade has color that relates to the room’s decor. “It’s what I love, but it’s just a cozy space,” Howard says.
Originally from Liberia, Howard moved to Sweden to attend the University of Stockholm, where she studied business economics and then worked as a financial analyst. After moving to the U.S. and starting a gift business in Hightstown, and later working with a local home furnishings firm, she realized that design was the direction she wanted to follow. “It has always been part of what I do, and now I do it full time,” she says. “I feel like I’m home now.”
Another Pennington designer is Karin Eckerson, whose home in town dates from the late 1940s. Pictured here with one of her three dogs, mini schnauzer Jackson, Eckerson is relaxing in her living room — the biggest room in the house and the main gathering space for her family.
Design is a second career for Eckerson, who was a family therapist before entering the field. She worked for other designers for 14 years before starting her own firm two years ago. “I never looked back,” she says. “I thought it was a hobby, but it’s a career.”
“I’ve surrounded myself with things that are important to me,” she says. “I love the original artwork, including a painting of the town in Virginia where we used to live. The little rocking chair was my father’s from his childhood. My husband is a history teacher and avid reader, and all his books are here. The fireplace makes me think of my son, and the window seat is where my daughter loves to sit and read. I think what makes it comfortable is that there is a little bit of each of us here.”
Bruce Norman Long
The house that Bruce Norman Long and his husband bought five years ago in Wynnewood, Pa., was a caretaker’s cottage on what was once a large estate built in 1905. The couple purchased the house from a woman who grew up there as a child, and it has been an ongoing project.
“It’s modest, it’s charming, and we like it,” says Long, who is known for the interiors he creates out of his offices in Princeton and Bryn Mawr, Pa. “We have two acres in a kind of densely populated area, and we feel like we found a jewel.”
Long loves the living room because it has windows on three sides. “Rooms with multiple exposures always have a great feeling of natural light,” he says. “And the room is a mix of things that I love. Calling it eclectic would be the tip of the iceberg.” All of the art in the house is by Pennsylvania artists, many of whom are from Bucks County.
The kitchen has been extensively remodeled, combining two and a half front rooms into a T-shape. The glass-fronted cabinets are the only remnants of the original house. Renovations on the home continue. On one side, windows are being blown out and replaced with French doors. “It’s an evolution,” says Long. “I always tell clients that my house doesn’t look like any of their homes. It doesn’t get any more personal for a designer than to do your own house.”