Arianna De Gasperis found a real estate gem in her 1850s Queen Anne Victorian brownstone in Jersey City’s historic Van Vorst Park. Constructed in 1852, it was one of the first homes to be built on the entire park at the time. The historic 3,300 square foot home was the perfect place for the designer to display her design skills while paying homage to its exquisite original details. When they purchased the home, Arianna made a list of things she wouldn’t touch: the grand staircase, the original trim and moulding (where salvageable), the fireplaces, and the gorgeous entry mirror. She then brought in new features that felt right at home in the space: natural oak herringbone flooring, beautifully textured diamond plaster, and a fresh kitchen layout with a more functional, intuitive flow. Arianna tells us more. 

When designing your home, there were a few elements you knew you had to preserve. Tell us about how you decided what would stay?
When designing the home, I knew we had to preserve all of the features that were authentic from the 1850s. The grand Victorian staircase was to not be touched, all of the stained-glass windows, and the trim and molding. I wanted to keep all of the original details of the home intact. These are elements that are near impossible to replicate nowadays, so it is our duty as owners of a historic home to preserve architectural history to the best of our ability.

What was your goal with the renovation?
The goal with renovating this home was to create a space that feels calm and warm. When we bought the home, I knew I did not want any recessed lights within the home as this would counteract the history that the home carries. Given this, I had to choose a large number of light fixtures that work together to provide the perfect light environment. It is very important to me, to live in a space that feels like it is entirely candle lit at night. Having just the right amount of lights, on dimmers with the right lightbulbs. I am very happy with how the lighting turned out in the end. 

Even with its historic roots, some things had to go for modern living. What were the first things you did want to change?
The aspects of the home that needed to be changed were things that were added on in the 80s, for example all of the bathrooms and the flooring. We completely gutted the bathrooms and adjusted the sizes of them to make them larger.

The original kitchen was very small and narrow, so we knew we needed to increase its size. In order to do so we had to take down a load bearing wall, demo a back of the home staircase and relocate the powder room. This was an integral part of the renovation as the kitchen has now become a lot more practical and spacious.

Prior to the renovation, the only access to the backyard was through the garden apartment, so we built a deck off the kitchen that has outdoor seating and leads down to the backyard. 

What was the biggest challenge in designing and renovating your own space?
The biggest challenge of this renovation was having started the week before the pandemic. We were fortunate enough to have been able to work through it all, but it was extremely challenging to ensure everyone was safe while working on site. We also ran into a few roadblocks as one does when renovating an almost 200 year old home. We found some large metal ‘I’ beams in the kitchen floor, so we had to adjust kitchen cabinetry to conceal these beams.

What do you love most about your home?
All of the quirky details of the home are what I love the most, it feels like the home could tell hundreds of stories, and I love that about it. And I can’t forget about the plaster walls. I partnered with Tara & Percy at Jersey Ice Cream Co. to plaster all the walls in the home, and it adds such an amazing patina to the home. Finally, the location is also incredible. It is right on a beautiful park, surrounded by other historic homes just 15 minutes away from Manhattan.

Originally published October 28, 2022.