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Interior designer Marissa Corvino likens the experience of renovating and decorating her Hoboken, New Jersey, brownstone to giving herself a haircut: Overthinking was inevitable. “Like, who in their right mind would give themselves their own haircut?” says Marissa. “But it’s this rite of passage to do your own home. You have creative freedom at the highest level.” This circa-1901 townhome presented an opportunity to start from scratch. When she and her husband, Frank, first toured the property, each floor was covered with (at least) 2 feet of rubble, and the backyard had been consumed by poison ivy. “It looked like a haunted house,” recalls Marissa. “My husband had this face like, this is not the one. And I was like, this is it.”
Corvino looked past the debris and visualized the space in blueprint form, because from that perspective she saw its full potential. “It was the perfect width,” she says. It was 20 feet wide, to be exact, and Marissa knew they would be able to add a 20-foot-deep extension to the entire back of the house, doubling the existing square footage and gaining two bedrooms, a bathroom, a playroom, and kitchen dining area. That perk turned out to be a bonus when, partway through construction, the couple found out they were expecting their third child.
The thing about a long and narrow brownstone is that you can’t get by without lots of walls that provide structural support. But rather than chop up the layout with a bunch of little barriers, Marissa opted for one main wall that runs perpendicular to the length of the home; that way it left her with an open and airy living room complete with concealed storage for diaper-changing necessities, throw blankets, and more.
Marissa’s original plan for the kitchen was nothing close to what it looks like today—baby blue millwork was her initial idea. But when she found out that Lacanche couldn’t customize her range to coordinate with the cabinet paint (a key part of the monochromatic scheme she was going for), she went back to the drawing board and landed on maroon, knowing that the luxe appliance company could perfectly match its range to a slab of Calacatta Viola. “I think it connects us as a family,” Marissa says of her decision to pivot to the red island-oven combo. “[My husband and I] are both Italian, so it reminds us of cooking and drinking red wine. Preparing food is how we tell people we love being with them.”
Another important part of their daily family life? Their dog. “She loves to sit with us when we’re in the kitchen,” says Marissa. So the designer carved out a niche for a custom bench where Frank can drink his coffee in the morning and, during all other hours of the day, their pup can keep a watchful eye on everyone who passes through. (The built-in seating is also handy when the couple run out of chairs at the dining table—they can just slide everything over a few feet closer to the bench.)
Most of the other custom furniture Marissa designed had to meet a different requirement: It had to fit up the winding staircase. She found this out the hard way after realizing the wall-to-wall headboard she had initially made for the primary bedroom couldn’t make the tight turns. Ultimately, she swapped it for a custom bed frame and two matching nightstands with discreet drawers and integrated outlets. Similarly, the rest of the millwork had to be crafted in pieces so they could be carried up separately and then assembled in place, including the twin-size trundle in the playroom and her 5-year-old son’s platform bed. “He wanted something he could climb,” she says.
The only member of the family who Marissa had to do a formal presentation for was her 7-year-old daughter—she wanted creative control over her space. “She was like, “Can I see my renderings? Did you finish my CAD drawing?” says the designer, laughing. Her youngest, though, was too young to weigh in, so Marissa went with her gut and drenched the nursery in edgy dark purple paint and added a checkerboard rug underfoot, not yet knowing how it would resonate. “Everyone that sees it says this is totally her personality,” says Marissa. “She’s bold but also serene and peaceful.”
The other addition that never fails to wow guests is the couple’s steam shower, which is clad in slabs of Arabascato Corchia marble that can withstand the heat. Because of its close proximity to the vanity, installing a single glass door was out of the question, otherwise they’d have to awkwardly wiggle around it every time they wanted to get into the shower. Instead the designer challenged her metalworker and door installer to create a saloon-style setup with pivot hinges. Now they have the option to open one or both panels in either direction without fear of smacking into the countertop. “It’s one of those things that once you see it and use it, you’re like, I want that,” says Marissa. “It has made my life a lot easier.”
For peace of mind, Marissa had all of the stone, from the 12-inch-tall base trim in the bathroom to the kitchen island, sealed with MORE AntiEtch, a finish that prevents scratches and stains. “I didn’t want to have days where I was wondering who spilled wine on the counter or left their coffee cup out. That’s just not how I want to live,” she says. While she admits the treatment is costly and time-consuming, she compares it to buying insurance for a car, which is a much less frightening experience than, say, cutting one’s own hair.
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