Sam and Jenny Khichi weren’t looking to move. The couple, who lived in Westfield, New Jersey, were happy with their current home. But when a circa-1870 Victorian stunner they’d been eyeing for the past several years went on the market, they knew they had to take a peek inside. “We’ve always loved the architecture,” says Sam. It took one visit to the property before the Khichis made an offer.
Though the couple was smitten with the home’s original bones and architectural details, its finishes and palette were dated and dark. “One of the reasons we fell in love with the house was that it has a great energy,” explains Sam. “There’s a vibrancy to it, like it was an old soul, and we wanted to keep that feeling but update it.” To help them achieve a look that combined their love of color, pattern and texture influenced by Sam’s Indian culture, the Khichis enlisted the help of designer Uma Stewart. “They really wanted to marry the old with the new but put a personal touch on it,” she says. “It was about respecting the character and the Old World charm of the home while instilling a more modern feel to the design.”
With that in mind, Stewart went to work pulling together fresh textures and furniture with traditional elements to complement the existing architectural details. She began in the entryway; the long corridor, which runs from the front door to the back of the home, was in need of a complete face-lift. “It was pretty uninspiring,” she recalls. “In a hallway that dark, neutral walls can make a space feel dingy.” To help brighten it and add interest, she used a linear series of dramatic light fixtures with glass detailing reminiscent of Indian design elements. “I really wanted to set the stage with the lighting and focus on that before addressing the walls,” she says. “The light fixtures are the centerpiece.”
Sky-blue grass cloth imparts texture as well as a dose of much-needed color. Framed artwork from Rajasthan, where Sam’s family is from, lends a personal touch. Stewart, who had recently visited India, explains, “Sam and Jenny didn’t want an overwhelmingly Indian feel, so this was a great opportunity to add a touch of that to the home.”
In the adjacent study, the designer took more liberty by nudging the couple outside their comfort zone. “The homeowners’ style skewed a touch more traditional than modern,” she says. “But I really wanted them to see what could be achieved in a room as warm and welcoming as the study. I knew that for them to get their heads around a color, it would need to feel different enough from what was already there.” To achieve this, Stewart painted the existing paneling and walls a sleek gray with a hint of blue to accent the grass cloth in the adjacent entryway. A new carpet complements the olive-green velvet sofa. “I wanted to bring in the tones and patterns that you often see in Indian architecture and design,” she says of the dramatic shade of the sofa. “I wanted it to be very rich and regal.”
Nearby, the living room “was an odd yellow,” says Stewart, but the designer opted to take a different approach than she had in the study and entryway. “I like to have contrasting spaces that are lighter and darker, colorful and neutral,” she says. “In such a big room, doing a dark color–or any color, really–can be overwhelming. White just felt like the best fit.” Textured fabrics in varying shades and patterns that Stewart sourced from India add depth to the overall look.
The layering continued in the dining room. The Khichis purchased the previous owners’ dining room table and chairs, custom pieces that are traditional in scale and detail. “Sam and Jenny weren’t sure if the furniture fit the home’s modernized style,” says Stewart. “But as soon as I saw it I thought, ‘This has the potential to become a dream dining room.’ We just had to do something that would complement pieces that are traditional but would look sharp and current.” Here, Stewart opted for a wallpaper reminiscent of Indian designs. “I was looking for something that felt traditional but was streamlined,” she says. “This pattern felt as though it was keeping with the Victorian feel of the home but also modernizing it.” A mirror from Rajasthan featuring carved-wood Indian details is complemented by a traditional chandelier.
Overall, Stewart was able to pull together the Khichis’ love for old with their desire for new without sacrificing comfort and practicality. “Nothing in this home could be so precious that people can’t enjoy parts of it,” says Jenny. “What Uma did is create a home that’s meant to be lived in and really represents who we are as a family.”