How a Home Makeover Inspired a New Design Blog
Muse Interiors gave this newly expanded Pound Ridge home a warm, modern, youthful look. But the homeowner came away with an idea for a design blog.
photographs by John Bessler
All Sue De Chiara wanted, at least at first, was a living room
she could live with. It was 1999, and after years of apartment living in Manhattan, she and her husband, Adam, had just moved to their first house in the suburbs, a newly constructed neo-Colonial in a Pound Ridge development. “The builder had told us that people don’t use living rooms anymore,” she recalls, “it’s all about the kitchen and family room. So they are enormous, but the living room comfortably sat only about five people.” That became a problem during holidays, when Adam’s large family came over. “We’d have thirteen people in the dining room, but no one knew where else to sit in the house.”
A decade later, the De Chiaras decided to set the room to rights. As part of a larger remodel, they removed a sunroom and bumped out the house to create a giant L-shaped room perfect for grand-scale entertaining. Unsure of how to decorate the space in a way that “didn’t look like a furniture showroom,” De Chiara (these days also known as design blogger The Zhush) turned to Lauren Muse and her Cos Cob-based design firm, Muse Interiors.
“I saw Lauren’s portfolio and thought, ‘This is the direction I want to go in.’ It’s fresh, it’s young, and it was everything I was looking for: an eclectic blend of different styles without being pretentious and fussy. I felt like I could live in her rooms.”
Muse built the room’s pale palette around Benjamin Moore’s Cape Hatteras Sand, a paint color De Chiara particularly favors. The upholstered pieces are done in soft gray and white linens, with light blue as the accent color, even on the ceiling. “I thought she was very brave,” says Muse of De Chiara, who has three small children (though De Chiara predicts that the first spill will come from “a guest with a glass of red wine. We have the whole thing fiber sealed within an inch of its life”). The elaborate custom-made millwork was fashioned by a crew of Finnish carpenters.
The biggest challenge was how to divide the space into two seating areas without creating a visual barrier. Muse’s solution: a long, tufted bench placed in the center, wide enough so that guests can sit back to back. “It works with both seating groups, yet doesn’t feel cumbersome in the room,” Muse explains.
“Now the room seats at least twelve comfortably,” says De Chiara. “It’s terrific.”
But the Finnish carpenters weren’t finished. The couple loved the living room so much that they asked Muse to do the other new rooms, including offices for each of them, a pool house, mud room and an expanded master bathroom. Adam’s office is a vibrant, masculine homage to Mad Men, their favorite TV show, and Sue’s is a tranquil, feminine spot—all lavender and chartreuse—claimed from an old laundry room. Muse pulled all the spaces together by detailing the upholstered pieces with nail head trim (“I can’t get enough nail heads”), edging the rugs with leather and mixing in affordable accessories from West Elm, CB2 and Restoration Hardware throughout: “You can mix high and low and still achieve a beautiful, elegant, transformative space.”
Along the way, De Chiara—who had formerly felt “overwhelmed” by her large home—became a collaborator. “I feel you can’t design great spaces without a great client, and Sue was really fantastic,” explains Muse. “She pushed my creativity and inspired me to greater heights. She would constantly be finding something cool which I would integrate into the design.”
“Lauren got me really fired up,” adds De Chiara. “She would e-mail me these great links that would lead me to investigate things further.” In her online research, she discovered the world of design blogs. “I started reading them and I got completely hooked. On a whim I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if I wrote one?”
Thus thezhush.com was born. And De Chiara got much more than a home makeover, she got a new career to go with it.