Redesign a house

Refurnishing a House with Its Original Concept

Refurnishing the house

Poor condition house and refurnishing

“The house was in poor condition, but luckily it was in original condition. It hadn’t been chopped up or altered in any major way, which was important to us,” recalls Eric Brill. An oil trader now youthfully retired, he and his wife embarked on several months of major repairs before even moving in. The couple called in contractors to patch gaping holes in the plaster walls; to sand, prime, and paint 200 steel-framed casement windows; and to reroof the interconnected volumes that make up the structure. (At 10,000 square feet, sprawling over three levels and multiple wings, the Mandel House is huge.)

Refurnishing the house

Refurnishing the house

All the repairs have been mindful of original materials and finishes. When in doubt, the Brills consulted stacks of blueprints and period photos to make sure that restorations matched Stone and Deskey’s designs. As a result, the house now looks pretty much as it did in the pages of Fortune. Illumination designed by Kurt Versen remains intact, and the kitchen needed almost no work. Other rooms required sprucing up. In the dining room, glass blocks installed during a previous restoration were replaced by better reproductions. In the swank ground-floor lounge, cheap recliners, the Brills reinstalled an original Deskey banquette, weathered from years in storage, and re-created a plastic-laminate bar with stools covered in lemon-yellow leather. Behind the banquette, a mural by Witold Gordon was entirely repainted from vintage photos.

All Room Interior

There are rooms that the Brills and their three children rarely enter: the squash court adjoining the three-car garage, the servants’ dining room, and the cactus-filled “plant room” near the front entrance. Other spaces have been adapted to more practical uses. The Brills combined three maid’s rooms into a rec room centered on an enormous pool table (designed by Deskey, of course). A chauffeur’s bedroom is now Nannette Brill’s ceramics studio.

The public areas remain mostly as they were in 1934, with Deskey’s elegant furniture anchoring vast spaces with broad views of the outdoors. The fact that the house came with about 60 Deskey originals–some production items and some custom pieces, including a Steinway grand piano, a Bakelite-and-chrome dining table, and built-in wooden cabinets and shelving–keeps the period look authentic. The owners hired William Louche, who has restored furniture for major art museums, to repair Deskey pieces including the piano, dining table, sideboard, and shelving.

elegant furniture anchoring vast spaces

elegant furniture anchoring vast spaces

When Louche arrived on the scene, the finishes on some of the wood furniture were “like powder,” he says. “You’d touch them, and they’d flake off. And they were so opaque you couldn’t see through them.” Several wooden pieces had lost entire swaths of finish; other pieces had even lost veneers. Louche applied rejuvenator to clear up the cloudy finishes, always being careful not to alter patina, and replaced missing sections of veneer with new ones. “As much as possible, everything we did had to be reversible,” he explains, in case original elements someday turned up. He cleaned the chrome legs of the dining table and various chairs with acetone, alcohol, and calcium carbonate, none abrasive to the original metal.

When furniture to match missing originals couldn’t be found, the Brills combed auction catalogs and antiques shops for items of similar vintage, mostly by Deskey. The couple also added collections of Soviet constructivist posters and machine-age artifacts to the ensemble. A Walter Dorwin Teague camera posed at the bottom of the spare, towering staircase is one of the family’s favorites. A perfect analogy to the house, the sleek and aggressively modern camera is aristocratic in its self-conscious sophistication.


With a listing on the National Register of Historic Places officially secured, some people might rest on their laurels or at least relax in their landmarked masterpiece. The Brills, however, are already contemplating the next improvement project in the unending series: the admittedly monumental task of waxing the original cork and terrazzo floors. Louche is planning to return to touch up some furniture finishes that have clouded again, probably from sun exposure. Then there’s the possibility of re-creating Stone and Deskey’s paint scheme, in which different colors articulated the planar composition of interior walls, like a cubist canvas. For the moment, however, the walls of this high-maintenance home are staying white. As Nannette Brill says, “White is just so easy.”


waterloo village houses in winter
waterloo village houses in winter

waterloo village houses in winter

Historical story about Waterloo

The Lenni-Lenape Indians, or Delawares, were the first to settle the area, attracted by the Musconetcong. In the 18th century, farmers and business people seeking to profit from the area’s rich iron deposits, dense forests, and open land moved into the region. In 1763, the firm of Allen and Turner built the Andover Iron Works, locating the forge at the Waterloo site and a furnace several miles away, giving rise to the village. Despite extensive research, it is unclear whether the ironworks was confiscated during the Revolution, although the principal owner is believed to have been a Tory.

Changes happened in Waterloo

In the early 19th century, industrial development including furniture industry was changing the face of America, and Waterloo was transformed by national trends. The construction of the Morris Canal, in 1831, to facilitate the movement of goods between the Delaware River and New York’s harbor, was a major impetus to the towns commercial growth. The canal boosted the population and brought the Smiths – the family most associated with the town’s prosperity – to the village. (For stories on the canal and the Smiths see pages 90 and 94.)

furniture industrial development in Waterloo

Furniture industrial development in Waterloo

Two railroad lines came to Waterloo in 1857, sustaining the town’s economy. The canal and the Morris and Essex railroad were both vital to Waterloo for many years, but eventually – as in the rest of America – the railways’ speed and cost effectiveness made canal traffic obsolete. The canal was decommissioned in 1924. Waterloo, no longer a trade center, became a quiet little town.

Waterloo train station

Waterloo train station

Several descendants of the Smith family attempted to revitalize the area in the late 1920s by promoting it for lakefront homesites and developing furniture industry with famous wood products such as table, chair, recliner. The Depression quashed that plan. Designer and entrepreneur Percival Leach, along with his business partner, Louis D. Gualandi, began renovating Waterloo’s buildings in the 1940s and opened the village to the public in 1964.

Research continues at Waterloo with changes expected in the coming years to create a site that will better reflect life in a loth-century canal village. Family genealogy, deed research, and oral history collected at Smith family reunions continue to paint a clearer picture of the town’s history.

Waterloo today

Today, Waterloo Village includes the United Methodist Church, The Meeting House. several homes, canal works, the Museum of the Canal Society of New Jersey, an Indian Museum, the Towpath Tavern restaurant, the Stagecoach Inn (see story, page 96), as well as an Indian Village. Waterloo will be open for tours November 26, 27, 28 and the first two Sundays in December. A special candlelight tour and dinner will be held in December. On December 7, the American Boychoir from Princeton, New Jersey, will hold a holiday conceit. Waterloo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from mid-April through mid-November.

Organise Your Laundry; Whip your lacklustre laundry into shape with a brand new look and super storage solutions

play with color for your laundry space

DO YOU LOVE doing laundry? No, us either. But a perfectly organised and beautiful-to-look at place to do it would make the job less tedious. Sure, the laundry may never be the hub of the home like your kitchen, or a sanctuary like your bedroom, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a boring space devoid of style. Read on to find out how, with some decorating know-how and a few savvy storage solutions, you can create a laundry to be proud of.

laudry space in your house

Laudry space in your house


THE DECOR Extend the rules of interior decorating to this underadmired space. Play with colour. Bold hues – like our orange wall (right) – are said to be energising, which is helpful in the laundry!

play with color for your laundry space

play with color for your laundry space

Hang a curtain along open shelving to hide unsightly bottles. You can coordinate your curtain with the ironing board cover as you would with soft furnishings in a bed- or living-room setup.

Put artworks on display, too. Here, a “Brilliant” poster in a white frame looks graphic and reminds you just what a great job you’re doing!

THE STORAGE Make the most of wall space, particularly if your laundry is in a cupboard. This arrangement features a wall-mounted shelving unit with a vertically lifting door to hide all your bits and bobs. On top is the perfect place to stack towels.

Nina Rosace, author of Home Sorted! ($24.95,, says it’s best to have two washing hampers – whites and colours – to make doing laundry easier. “Take clothes to the laundry and sort them into their appropriate hampers daily,” she advises. In this space, two hooks hold lightweight hampers so you can do just that.

A clothes line above the sink is handy if you have the space. If you need a stepladder to reach it, choose something attractive, like this timber number, instead of the usual fold-out metal types.


THE DECOR Make your laundry aesthetically pleasing and it will be somewhere you don’t mind spending a bit of time. Here, timber-panelled walls set the scene for a rustic but contemporary laundry space.

Instead of a colour scheme, this room features a palette of various timbers – the hanging ladder, shelf, hampers and stepladder – to create visual interest.

Potted plants, too, add to the natural look. And they’ll do well in the laundry thanks to the humidity. Choose succulents and indoor-friendly varieties and make sure they get a bit of sun.

natural habitat for the space in your house

natural habitat for the space in your house

THE STORAGE Get creative with your organising. In this laundry, a suspended vintage ladder makes for a cool visual feature and, more importantly, is great for hanging drying clothes.

Below it, a floating shelf is the ideal spot to keep canisters full of brushes and sponges as it’s within reach of the sink, too.

Beside the sink, a portable caddy holds cleaning products so you can easily carry them when cleaning the house. If you have the space, Nina suggests you have two caddies: one to hold the detergents and another to keep all your cleaning tools.

As for clothes, allocate a different hamper to each family member to make sorting out whose is whose a cinch.

Ironing board covers

Due to lack of storage space or the fact that you use it daily, the ironing board is often left out on display for all to see. Transform it from an eyesore into a focal point with a cool cover. There’s a wide range of colours and patterns available, such as these displaying a cherry print, a ruler motif and gingham checks, so you can choose one to suit your style. Plus, covers are inexpensive and slip right onto the ironing board, so you can update the look in an instant – and for next to nothing!

storage space

storage space


THE DECOR Love the luxe look of wallpaper? Yes, it looks great in living rooms and bedrooms, but this wall treatment is also a great way to spruce up a laundry.

Setting the scene in this laundry is the Porter’s Paints “Dragonfly” wallpaper. It lends large-scale drama to the small space, so everything else is kept minimal, but equally as sleek. The “HOME” Scrabble-piece artwork, the bold globe pendant light and the ironing board all feature a smart monochrome scheme to work with the wallpaper.

THE STORAGE If your laundry area is the size of a postage stamp, a good solution is to go for custom cabinetry and fittings. Brands like Hettich ( can help you design a Tardis-like laundry behind a pair of cupboard doors. You can include everything from a linen cupboard to the washer/ dryer and a pull-out ironing board. But if a custom job isn’t on the cards, there are plenty of easy ways to get more from your space.

It goes without saying that you can’t keep too many products in a small laundry. A single shelf within handy reach of the sink and washing machine is all you need to hold your washing powders and detergents. These, too, are kept nice and simple, decanted into a collection of like-shaped bottles and jars. To help identify what’s what, they’re labelled with blackboard tags that you can write on.

If you like the presidential style, read this article.

The Cushing House

The museum

Cushing House Museum

A visit to the Cushing House Museum is like a visit to a weathy uncle with a collection of amazing curiosities from .his travels around the world. This 21-room Federal-style mansion, headquarters of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, not only contains a large collection of maritime and other historical objects, but also evokes the sophisticated 19th-century lifestyle of a prominent Massachusetts family.

The museum

The museum

The house at 98 High Street in Newburyport is sometimes called the Hunt-Cushing House, a reference to the original builder, William Hunt, a sea captain. Hunt began construction in 1808, at a time when mansions of wealthy maritime traders were springing up all along High Street. Set on a ridge, these houses were positioned to overlook the river yet were safely removed from the hurly-burly coarseness of the wharves and ships.

Hunt died in 1811, but his widow, Sarah, continued to live there. A need for additional income caused her to sell the north-facing half of the house in 1818 to John Newmarch Cushing, a shipowner and captain. Descended from Matthew Cushing, a Puritan who came to America in 1638, John was part of a family with a long history of involvement in the religious and governmental affairs of Massachusetts. He moved to Newburyport, one of America’s largest ports at the time, in 1802 for the many opportunities it offered. Very successful, he became master and part owner of his first ship, the 303-ton Hester, before the age of 30.

Newbury port

Newbury port

Sold the remaining half of the house

Sarah Hunt sold the remaining half of her house to Cushing in 1822. It was the Cushing family home for the next 133 years. Among John’s children were three sons: Caleb, William and John, Jr. All three would become experienced world travelers. William and John, Jr. carried on in their father’s business, both becoming wealthy shipbuilders. Their half-brother, Caleb, turned to politics, forging a distinguished career that made him one of Newburyport’s leading citizens. A graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, Caleb was elected representative of the Massachusetts General Court at age 26. He traveled to France where he visited numerous gardens, the elaborate formal designs of which he later applied to the family home. After serving four terms as Congressman, he was appointed a special envoy to China in 1842. Described by a contemporary as, “a man of prodigious intellectual and physical energy; with no taste for recreation, no willingness for rest,” Cushing bought every book he could find on China and began his study of the Chinese language. This he added to his command of Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, and Danish.

A few years later, using his own money, Caleb raised a regiment to fight in the Mexican-American War. He returned home to become Newburyport’s first mayor in 1851. President Pierce appointed him Attorney General in 1853 and he later served as an advisor to President Lincoln and as Ambassador to Spain. Although rarely at home, Caleb maintained his residence at 98 High Street until 1849, when his father died. Caleb then bought another property on High Street, while William and John, Jr. divided the family house in half and continued to live there. In 1869, with Caleb spending more time in Washington, William moved into Caleb’s house, leaving the old family residence exclusively to John Jr.

Old house improvements

John Jr. had an ongoing interest in gardening and horticulture, which he passed on to his children, most notably, his daughter Margaret, born in 1855. When she moved back into her family home after the death of her father in 1904, the French-style garden started by her grandfather and uncle became one of her principal interests. Margaret never married and lived at 98 High Street, much of the time with her bachelor brother, until her death at age 100.

French style garden

French style garden

In contrast to some old houses where financial constraints precluded improvements, the Cushing house remained unchanged because Margaret saw its preservation as a way to honor the memory of her ancestors. In 1955, her heirs gave the house to the Historical Society of Old Newbury. The decision to offer the house to the historical society was an apt one considering its collections. In 1772, an association formed in Newburyport called the Marine Society sought to improve the public’s knowledge of the sea and navigation, as well as to provide relief for impoverished families of mariners. The group eventually amassed a large collection of nautical-related items. The Marine Society was defunct by 1909 and its collection was merged with that of the local historical society, begun in 1877. The merged collection now includes 19th-century toys, Hawaiian Island quilts, Oriental artifacts, portraits, needlework, silver, and clocks along with Cushing family objects.

The Cushing House Museum is open to the public from May I to October 31, Tuesday through Saturday, by appointment at other times. Admission is charged.