Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the April 17, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Junior League Showhouse
Just as there are people who, given a full larder,
still could not put together a notable meal, so too there are those
who, given carte blanche with a potential dream house, could never
rise above the ordinary with interior or exterior design. It’s a
case of "the vision thing" — and, as in other realms,
only some people have it.
Earlier this month, at 160 Hodge Road, Princeton, the Hilfield House
was frequently surrounded by cars, trucks, and people in motion. With
limited time before their deadline, interior designers, landscape
architects, and skilled workers of all sorts were converting the old
colonial revival-style home into this year’s "Designer Showhouse
XII" of the Junior League of Greater Princeton.
Every two years, once the league has identified its projected
interior and landscape designers submit makeover proposals for the
areas they want to tackle. After a league committee has assigned
in late January, designers can begin to search, order, build, move
heaven and earth — whatever it takes to amass the ingredients
for the new room or garden area. The house is closed for about a month
while off-site work is underway, then reopened in March for actual
This year’s Showhouse officially opens on Sunday, April 21, and from
Tuesday to Sunday, through Saturday, May 18, opens for tours and other
events. Built in the early 1900s as part of the Morven estate, and
occupying two acres of land, the Hilfield House has been home to seven
owners, including a Nobel Prize laureate Wendell Stanley and author
As a showhouse, it will offer 31 decorated interior spaces, including
a garage with studio, and eight landscaped areas. Outside the house
on a chilly day in early April, one group of workers was building
a fountain, while another created gentle green hills around
birch trees. Inside, in the center hall, a man on a ladder removed
wall paper; a couple of painters covered the staircase walls; a woman
hand-painted a fanciful red-toned flower around the ceiling fixture
on the room-sized second-floor landing.
In one room off the landing, a library was under construction; farther
north, a cozy attic space was emerging, complete with a faux fireplace
in one corner, near stair railings that had been hand-painted to match
the finish on a nearby armoire. In the kitchen, a wall-frieze of wild
animals — first painstakingly cut out with tiny scissors, and
then decoupaged in place, with occasional long tails draped over tiles
— created a special setting for coffee and toast. Welcome,
and reminder signs, as well as schedules showing daily work hours,
were posted, and Junior League members were on hand for questions
or emergencies. No casual undertaking, this.
With designs intended to draw throngs of visitors for house and garden
tours, lectures, and events of all sorts, "people can come back
again and again," says Stacy Ducharme, publicity co-chair. Not
only can visitors look, listen, and party, they can also buy:
Hodgepodge," a boutique to be established in the garage, will
feature furnishings and gifts for the home and garden. And a list
in each of the house’s design areas will itemize what can be purchased
from them. "Little Fish Cafe," a scion of Princeton’s Big
Fish Bistro, will be open during showhouse hours for hungry visitors.
To net $150,000, all of which will go to community projects and grants
benefiting women and children in Mercer and Bucks counties, the
House has a big responsibility — as well as every likelihood of
meeting the goal that the league’s planning committee has set for
One reason for its probable success is Patrick Pescatore, a.k.a. the
dining room-designer. His wife, Debra, and son, Dustin, are the other
two-thirds of the Loch Arbor, New Jersey-based architectural and
design business. Dark-haired, wiry, and animated, Pescatore, like
many of the other designers involved with this project, is a showhouse
regular. He designed the library at Regent’s Mead two years ago, and
has also done rooms in Montclair showhouses, among others.
Successfully redoing a showhouse is a team effort,
says: the smallest design space can make a difference, and every area
contributes to the whole. This time, for instance, he notes an
color flow from room to room: many of the designers are working with
neutral shades, and the red accents here and there also provide visual
In general, he sees the endeavor as "a win-win:" all proceeds
go back to the community; designers get to showcase their talents
to a group of very interested visitors; and the owner of the showhouse
has the first right of refusal on keeping or buying what has been
wrought. Tom Borden, an attorney with the Environmental Law Clinic
of Rutgers Law School, who owns the Hodge Road house with his wife,
Julia, formerly director of development at Planned Parenthood of
Mercer County, can keep the electricity run into the house for added
fixtures, but they can elect to turn down those same fixtures, along
with the new furniture and accessories.
And it’s exciting, Pescatore says, comparing showhouse efforts to
show business: "By Friday [April 12], the upholstered walls will
be up and the rug will be down. The drapes come in on Monday; the
furniture comes in on Tuesday; we accessorize on Wednesday; Tiffany’s
comes on Thursday to do the table with us; Friday [April 19] it’s
fine-tuning, fresh flowers; Saturday, April 20, it’s the Patron’s
Party, then it’s show time! It lasts for a month, then you tear it
all down, and the house is, like, gorgeous."
From an early age, Pescatore says, he was interested in art, color,
proportion, shapes, textures. His wife, Debra, was in design even
before he was. With their business conveniently located at the New
Jersey shore, accessible to New York, Montclair, and Mercer County,
she can readily indulge in her own specialty: Jersey shore houses.
(No, she hasn’t done a beach house for Bruce Springsteen — dashing
our hopes of hearing about lifestyles of the rich, famous, and
Their son, Dustin, is the most recent addition to the firm, bringing
to the mix his MFA from Rutgers University, where he studied painting
and photography, and his current studies in architecture. Still making
images on commission and for himself, Dustin concentrates on the
phases of home design, such as 3-D proposals and floor plans. He also
documents projects like this one with "before and after"
There’s designing and there’s decorating — and there is a
Pescatore explains. Designing is a more inclusive, more conceptual
undertaking. It’s likely to involve drawings and have to do with
Decorating is more about accessorizing, or one aspect of a design,
such as slip covers or window treatments.
Room color was Pescatore’s first design decision for the Hilfield
House dining room.
"Brown’s wonderful this year," he notes, but then,
with an early ivory and sable combination, he moved on to "cocoa
and champagne." This begins with the fabric wall covering, and
continues through the Chinese carpet with medallions, all in
tones. The red mahogany furniture was custom-made.
With a butler’s pantry (another of the 31 design spaces)
next door to the dining room, sizable furniture pieces like china
closets weren’t needed, Pescatore says — clearly pleased that
more of the handsome satin-striped walls will be visible. A black
tiered Chinoiserie server occupies one wall near the windows that
he calls "stunning," and deserving of the minimalist treatment
he has accorded them, starting with French voile sheers.
It’s axiomatic with showhouses that not everyone likes everything
they see, Pescatore knows. Even so, he loves being on hand to talk
to visitors, and can usually spot the one likely to grumble, "What
ever happened to white ceilings?" (Please note: Hilfield House’s
dining room ceiling is white, and that’s unusual for Pescatore).
"Another opening, another show" also means for Pescatore
page in the firm’s professional portfolio. Designers often hire
to document their part of a showhouse. Pescatore says his client base
comes in large part from this activity, and the visibility that comes
with it. Not only does a designer’s stock appreciate — but that
also happens with the showhouses. One home featured some years ago
sold during its show period for considerably more than had been
Oh, all right, then. A poster for a wannabe college basketball team
may not be the last word in decoration for that big blank
wall. And, sure, maybe all place settings don’t come from catalogs;
nor does "imported furniture" mean you got it at Ikea.
Yet for those of us who now aspire to little more than low-maintenance
floor coverings and working bulbs for all the lights in the house
— as well as for do-it-yourselfers and those with taste and money
but neither time nor talent for interior design — Hilfield House,
the Junior League’s Princeton showhouse, is the right destination
— Pat Summers
of Greater Princeton , Hilfield House, 160 Hodge Road, 609-771-0525.
Patron’s Party and Silent Auction. All proceeds go to community
in Mercer, Bucks, and surrounding areas. $125. Saturday, April
20, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 21. $20 donation at the door; no children under 12.
Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday, noon to 8 p.m.;
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday.
the Designers" sessions, Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Corrections or additions?
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