Friends with Benefits
A New Jersey Victorian finds brilliant new life in the hands of BHDM Design
Hmm, no. Hmm, no.’” Mary Jane Prybylski is sliding a series of invisible swatches across an imaginary desk, recounting the polite-yet-firm responses of her designer (and now good friend) Dan Mazzarini during a decision-making moment. “Eventually we’d end up with all the ones he wanted.”
“It was more like a ouija-board situation,” corrects Mazzarini, a partner at Manhattan design firm BHDM. “I’d carefully guide your hand to the right one.” Although this particular scenario involved the selection of a series of Hermès scarf prints that now line the living room of Prybylski’s Victorian in Westfield, New Jersey, they could easily be discussing just about any element of the design process. The two are at once affectionate and audacious—wits matched and tastes clearly complementary, as evidenced by the exceptional interiors that surround them.
Three years earlier, upon returning from a summer spent at her family’s airy Vermont vacation house, Prybylski had an epiphany about her deeply traditional home. The period decor that had once felt like the only appropriate choice for the 128-year-old property suddenly seemed stuffy and static. “I had it so Victorian-ed out,” she admits. “I said, ‘That’s it! I need light. I need bright.’ But I had no idea how to do it.” Mazzarini and BHDM partner Brian Humphrey could see at once that the staid interiors didn’t match the vivacious homeowner or, for that matter, her husband and four energetic kids. A modern family of six was not meant to live in mustard-colored parlors ornamented with, as Mazzarini notes, “a lot of tiny sofas.”
“At every meeting there would be this juxtaposition between what she was wearing and what her house looked like,” he explains. Today Prybylski is in head-to-toe black, less a pair of architectural glasses in stark white and a shock of orange on her Fendi heels. The poppy formula is a much closer match to her interiors in their current incarnation—boisterous, but not a rainbow or an unchecked riot of color; nothing close to anarchy. “I really dig the visual vibration of colors that are just one step off—a teal against a navy, a red against a coral,” says Mazzarini. It’s a recipe borrowed in part from one of Prybylski’s favorite New York City landmarks, the Gramercy Park Hotel.
Before they could begin layering in the rich tones of the photo shoot–ready property, the first order of business was to create a fresh canvas with the client’s light-and-bright directive. The walls, where they’re not papered, are coated in Benjamin Moore’s Wickham Gray, and much of the molding received a wash of white. “The second you mentioned painting the floors, it was like, ‘You had me at hello,’” Prybylski proclaims with a sweeping gesture worthy of a rom-com. A sea of light gray now anchors the first floor, and a chevron design in the foyer adds graphic punch in place of a rug. Not everyone was instantly keen on the unconventional idea, but then the whole makeover was a family affair, rife with household votes and meetings. “Mack, the little guy, would come in and say, ‘I like that. I hate that,’” she adds. “Now of course they all love it.”
“Tough crowd, right?” says Mazzarini, clearly charmed by the project’s many players. “It takes a lot of trust to hear someone say he’s going to change it from night to day. But this is one of those big-risk, big-reward kind of homes.” Some of the biggest risks and rewards involved lining the back den in navy lacquered wallpaper and the dining room in a graphic chinoiserie print. But game-changing choices define each room. Lavender curtains in the formal living room, parrot-green armchairs in the sunroom, and coral-backed bookcases in the dining room are merely part of the home’s elaborate color story. The massive rose-quartz-and-gold chandelier now hanging over the dining table was the makeover’s first purchase and its biggest-ticket item. The pair’s reenactment of the room-defining decision, complete with frenzied phone calls and iPhone photos, is reminiscent of best friends sending dressing-room selfies.
Not every design choice was cause for nail biting. Mazzarini and Humphrey also incorporated clever hacks and accents that required little commitment. The big pink stripe down the living room’s white sofa, for example, is done with a throw blanket, and its lanterns were a last-minute DIY. “Their shape was perfect, but they were in a black finish,” explains Mazzarini. “When we got them here they just felt too serious. So we took them to the backyard and spray-painted the frames gold and the candelabras a coral pink. Et voila.” In the dining room, a metallic chest from Z Gallerie was upgraded with an application of silver leaf. The botanical sketches in the same space are by Mazzarini: “a little Ellsworth Kelly, a little Hugo Guinness.”
Of course, some details can’t be fudged. The malachite-pattern Dior dishes on display in the dining room were the Prybylskis’ wedding china, and the table and chairs were original to the home. “It feels like the right mix of history and novelty and color,” says Mazzarini, and his client is clearly in agreement. “My favorite thing is that we use it and live in it,” says Prybylski. “It’s what our home should be.”