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Designer and Spaces founder Hollie Velten has a knack for underutilized rooms. She proved as much to her Chatham, New Jersey–based client when she renovated her basement in the depths of the pandemic, turning the 1,000-square-foot area into a place where her family can watch TV, read, grab a snack, and do homework. Fast-forward a year or so, and that same homeowner wanted to do something similar to the space directly above the basement. She wanted to give her entryway purpose. 

Courtesy of Hollie Velten.

“A lot of these northern New Jersey homes are center-hall Colonials with a foyer where most people just put a console table and mirror,” says Velten. “It’s wasted square footage.” The brief was to turn what was just passive space into something usable for the family and guests. Velten worked with Partello Renovations and Ale Wood and Design to integrate custom millwork where a bulky closet once stood, all while drawing inspiration from her client’s California upbringing and the history of Chatham. 

Don’t Let a Closet Cramp Your Style

The foyer, before.

After an architect greenlit the removal of the coat closet adjacent to the fireplace, Velten’s team took it out, which instantly made the room feel less claustrophobic. “The house was begging to have it removed,” she says.

A drawing of the foyer plan, courtesy of Hollie Velten.

Plus the tiny mudroom by the front door is now outfitted with two small cubbies, a shelf, and Shaker pegs for stashing outerwear. Taking the closet’s place? A built-in bench. 

Wall Paint (in stairwell), Skimming Stone by Farrow & Ball.

Velten’s inspiration was a mashup of sources. She wanted the seating to be made out of a warm, organic wood that would remind her client of her 1970s California upbringing. Then the designer dug up old photos of the nearby Chatham train station and found pictures of corbels with ring motifs. A lightbulb went off: She turned to the furniture designs of Viennese secessionists, specifically Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, whose bentwood chairs from the 1940s featured circular cutouts. All of this culminated in a nook that has perforated details, shelves for books, and a curved arm. 

Stash Your Phone Away

Lamp, Finch.

While the homeowner imagined her kids reading in the corner by the fireplace, she knew, realistically, it would be a screen-time spot. “We can’t deny that we have cell phones and iPads,” says Velten. For practical reasons, she integrated a cubby within the wall where they can store devices and charge them (there’s an outlet in there). The compartment is hidden by a hole-filled panel attached with magnets. 

Make Decorating a Family Affair

Bench Fabric, Lisa Fine; Flush Mount Light, Two Enlighten.

To mark the room’s new function, Velten refreshed the fireplace with Delft-inspired tile from Etsy that shows scenes of children playing. “These homes can feel very, very serious,” she says of choosing a motif that felt equal parts playful and traditional. She finished it off with a hearth made of a limestone remnant. 

Wall Paint, Jitney by Farrow & Ball.

Velten was initially hoping to plop in Tiffany glass windows where the recessed niche is located in the stairwell. But no dice. Instead she swathed it in an Antoinette Poisson wallpaper and added narrow shelves for displaying little vases (or even Legos). “It’s something the kids can have a role in curating, too,” she explains. 

Go Back in Time

Wall Paint, Wevet by Farrow & Ball.
Sconce, Nickey Kehoe.

While thinking about how train travelers used to carry precious hatboxes and suitcases adorned with shiny zipper closures, Velten infused the powder room with the same glamorous energy. “I wanted it to be kind of industrial and a little precious,” she says. The designer translated her vision with a copper sink from Watermark Fixtures and red-brown zellige wall tile topped with honed Viola marble bullnose trim. 

Stay Open

Window Treatments, R Garner Custom Designs LLC.

Opposite from the fireplace, Velten dressed up the existing bay-window bench with vintage floral fabric and custom shades. She intentionally didn’t stick another sofa in the middle of the room, leaving it open so the client can host parties (or so that the kids can do cartwheels).

When they want to use the benches for conversational seating, the family can easily pull up an ottoman or side table. “The homeowner has been really expressive about how much she uses it now and how it was completely inactive before,” says the designer. Case in point: Shortly after the reno wrapped, the family threw a holiday party as an accordion player performed for guests on the staircase. 

Paint, Tack Room Door by Farrow & Ball.