Corrections or additions?

This article by Jean Hanff Korelitz was prepared for the April 24,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

U.S. 1 Crashes a Party

Two years ago, when Julie and Tom Borden moved into

Tom’s childhood home in Princeton with their three children, they

joked that the best way to fix the place up would be to get the local

Junior League to do it. After all, tending to a huge, 100-year-old

house that had been neither painted, papered, nor significantly


for decades would be a big job for anyone, not least a busy couple

who had never placed decorating high on their list of passions.

Still, Julie knew that something had to be done. So while the family

colonized the upstairs bedrooms, she consulted a decorator about the

dining room, a modest project which, she figured, could be undertaken

without much disruption. But when the decorator started talking about

how the dining room would have to work esthetically with the vast

entrance hallway, Julie became overwhelmed and gave up on the whole

idea. And so the house at 160 Hodge Road stayed precisely as it was:

a glorious pile with fabulous bones and the kind of old-world elements

that modern developers pay homage to but seldom get right, like


staircases, cavernous attics, and even a butler’s pantry.

Unfortunately, it also sported such old-world touches as peeling


chipping paint and an air of lost opportunities.

This was the state of affairs last November, when Tom Borden, an


with the Environmental Law Clinic of Rutgers Law School, read a notice

in the paper that the Junior League of Greater Princeton was looking

for a location for its biannual Designer Showhouse. Suddenly their

joke of two years earlier looked like a pretty good idea.

Designer Showhouse devotees might well wonder what sort of homeowner

would blithely move out and let an army of designers, electricians,

painters, plumbers, and decorators move in to paint their walls,


their light fixtures, toss their furniture, and ultimately throw open

the doors to hordes of strangers, but for the Bordens, the notion

had plenty going for it. Not only would the house receive the


it needed, but Julie and Tom would not have to make the kind of design

decisions they had found so daunting in the past.

And while delays plague most home improvement projects, they knew

that theirs would be finished quickly, thanks to the Junior League’s

ironclad deadline. Best of all was the fact that when they moved back

into their home after the Showhouse closed on May 18, they would


freshly painted walls, beautifully restored floors, and rooms that

had been newly conceived by people who knew what they were doing.

The Bordens would have the option of purchasing any furniture or


treatments they particularly liked, and in the event they abhorred

some designer’s vision for a room, the designer would be obligated

to restore that room to a neutral setting.

Additionally, the family had a sense that the time was right for such

a drastic move. Julie had left her job as director of development

at Planned Parenthood of Mercer County in September (she now works

for the group as a fundraising consultant), and would be available

to help, and tenants who were renting an apartment adjacent to the

Borden house were planning to leave, making the prospect of moving

out of the house far less traumatic. When the Junior League came to

tour the property, their enthusiasm put all hesitation to rest.

"We thought it was a godsend," says the Showhouse co-chair

Judy Springer. "This is the type of home we enjoy doing the most.

We didn’t want to be competing with the Toll Brothers model. The


house is where our niche is. It didn’t need any renovation, but it

needed some sprucing up and we thought we could help." Also, says

Springer, the house brought with it some interesting history.

Spurred by the notion that thousands of people would soon be touring

her rooms, Julie Borden began looking into the house’s past. Thanks

to her research the home has reclaimed its original name, Hilfield

House, and something of a pedigree to go with it.

Built in 1904 on land purchased from the Stockton family, the first

owners of Hilfield were the sisters Emily and Marie Coddington, who

would take in a third sister, Fannie Coddington-Browning, when she

became estranged from her husband, Pen Browning, the only child of

poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Subsequent


include the Princeton professor and novelist Samuel Shellabarger,

author of the historical romances "Prince of Foxes" (1947),

"The King’s Cavalier" (1950), and "Lord Vanity"


and Wendell Stanley, a Princeton professor who won the Nobel Prize

in chemistry in 1946. It’s a noble provenance for a house, but


to the current residents: "We have to make our mark somehow,"

Julie laughs. "We Bordens are such slackers!"

Two months ago, when final assignments matched 28


and decorators to individual rooms or areas, the family packed up,

hauled their furniture to the attics and abandoned ship. They had

a sense of adventure about what they’d find on their return, which

might come in handy: designer showhouses are notorious for an extreme

form of decorating that would be challenging for any family, and


for a family that had not put a premium on design in the first place.

"We’re pretty easygoing," Julie says. "And we knew it’s

rare that a designer can do exactly what they want. As long as they

respected the house: You know, no zebra stripes."

The kids have come on board too, though 11-year-old Emily and


Louisa found it hard to comprehend the coffee shop set up in their

garage. Five-year-old Marshall put up the biggest fight, largely on

account of his substantial Lego collection, which he didn’t want to

move. But the room Marshall occupies in the temporary apartment is

a large closet, a la Harry Potter, and this has proved a considerable


Early reports of the house speak tantalizingly of moss affixed to

the attic walls, sumptuous window treatments, custom fish ponds,


of trompe l’oeil fairies dancing on the ceiling and a kitchen

enhanced with a decoupage rain forest. Visitors may lack a sense of

what Hilfield House looked like before 28 designers went to work on

it, but for a $20 donation they will be able to make up their own

minds about the results.

As far as the family is concerned, however, the verdict is already

in. "We were a little nervous that some of it would be over the

top," Julie Borden says. "But we’re pleased that the designers

have maintained a sense of class with all of the designs. We’ll be

left with really good bones in the house, and everything we’ve seen

works with our lifestyle."

— Jean Hanff Korelitz

Designer Showhouse XII, Junior League of Greater

Princeton ,

Hilfield House, 160 Hodge Road, 609-771-0525. Self-guided tours


to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday, noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday,

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday. No


under 12. Tickets $15 in advance; $20 at the door. Open to Saturday,

May 18.

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