This post was originally published on my twin sister’s design blog. I encourage you to check it out, and thanks for reading!
My twin sister, Cybele, and I lost our mom a few months ago (our dad died in 2010), and now it’s time to say good-bye to the beautiful brick Georgian home in Ridgewood, NJ, in which we grew up, a home that our family owned for 47 years. For those of you who have followed my “Designing My House” series, you will see that my love of classical colonial architecture and traditional design is rooted here. I thank my mom, Emmé Eidenschenk (pictured here reading a design book last summer), for instilling in me a love of beauty in my surroundings and the desire to recreate her warm and elegant style for myself and my clients.
This house on Avondale Road was built in 1934 during the peak years of Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration program in which millions of unemployed Americans were put to work building America’s roads, bridges and public buildings. It was in this decade that Ridgewood, NJ, located about 20 miles from New York City, expanded exponentially and became a popular suburb for young families who wanted to move out of the city for a more peaceful life. Our parents purchased the house in 1969 to do exactly that. Our dad, a radiologist, commuted each day to Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and our mom stayed home to raise her twins. Cybele and I were blessed to grow up there. It was a safe, idyllic existence.
The house is a simple, modestly sized Georgian center hall colonial with three bedrooms and two and a half baths. I appreciate its size and efficiency all the more when I see McMansions going up throughout the New York Metropolitan area. Every time I traveled to Ridgewood to see my mom, I would be horrified to see yet another Roosevelt-era home torn down to be replaced by a giant builder-grade home taking up virtually every inch of available lawn. It’s one thing to see a McMansion on a large sprawling property; it’s another to see on one plopped on a tiny lot, looming over all the other houses around it.
When Cybele and were in grammar school, our mom convinced our dad to convert the existing one-car garage into a family room and build a two car garage at the back of the house – a smart investment. After the kitchen, the room in which our mother cooked delicious meals, the den was our gathering place, especially in winter where our dad built roaring fires. In the warmer months, we moved from the family room to the screen porch off the back of the house overlooking the beautiful lawn and garden. It was my dad’s favorite place in the world to relax and decompress after long hours at the hospital. We ate many wonderful meals at this table and for me a screen porch is a must-have in any house I own.
Our mom was always interested in design and in the 1980s she went back to school for her interior design degree at the New School in New York City. Our house was always filled with art books and shelter magazines and the three Eidenschenk women loved to drive around our town looking at the pretty houses. Our mom also loved antique furniture, particularly Americana, and she often brought my sister and me on antique trips throughout the area – to the Armory shows and the Israel Sack gallery in Manhattan and antique hubs throughout New England. At one of those shows, she developed an eye for antique French faience (pottery) called Quimper. Cybele and I now have her collection displayed in our own homes. I didn’t realize how much knowledge about antiques I absorbed over the years until I started my own design business.
Our mom’s style was the opposite of informal, which is how most people live today. She favored decorative wall paper over paint, colorful Oriental rugs, silk upholstery and French-style furniture. It was an old world elegance that she brought to America from her youth in Germany, which included two years of private schooling in Vienna, a city she loved perhaps even more passionately than her beloved Paris. Our mom also loved to entertain, and her dining room was always filled with candlelight, mirrors, crystal and silver – making every social gathering feel festive and special. But one was always on their best behavior in her house! Today this sensibility is considered dated – an era gone by – but visitors to the house always complimented her taste and style, understanding that there was something timeless in her home’s graciousness and formality.
My mom was a huge inspiration in my life, especially in designing and entertaining. I too love sit down dinners and while I want my guests to be comfortable in my home, I don’t want them to be too comfortable. Please don’t put your feet up on my coffee table! As I continue to plan my “new old house,” I will miss her encouragement and invaluable advice. I can still hear her dispense wisdom like “Get an oval dining room table because you can always squeeze in one more person,” or “plant white flowers in the garden because you can see them at night,” or “Alexandra, you can never have too much crystal.” I wish she could see my new house when it’s built. I know she would love it and I know she will always be there with me in spirit.