The Insider: Williamsburg Designers Play With Light and Color in Jersey City


    WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project. Produced and written by design journalist Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Thursday at 11.

    The young British couple who bought a loft-like apartment in Jersey City’s Van Vorst Historic District called for decorating help on a relatively new resource: The New Design Project, a Williamsburg-based collaboration between Fanny Abbes, a designer, and James Davison, who handles the business end of things. Both are recent refugees from the world of finance.

    The 1,600-square-foot unit, in a building that began life as a stable and was later used by the Metropolitan Opera for storing props and costumes, came pre-loaded with character, including exposed brick walls and heavily beamed ceilings.

    But it has only one main exposure and was very dark, said Abbes, a Parsons grad who grew up in France and Africa and has spent her adult life in London, Paris and New York. “The big challenge was to increase light, drastically,” she said.

    One-third of the budget went toward rewiring the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment to allow for additional light fixtures, which Abbes deployed in multiples: a group of four George Nelson bubble lamps in the central living area, a trio of Tom-Dixon designed copper pendants above the dining table.

    The builder-supplied kitchen and baths were left untouched, and many of the furnishings came from budget-friendly sources like IKEA, West Elm and CB2. The clients had asked for décor that was “playful yet grown-up,” which Abbes interpreted with simple graphics, bursts of vivid color, and artworks created especially for the space by the designer.

    These elements “tone down all the woodwork,” said Abbes, “and keep the space from feeling overly rustic.” See and read more below.

    Photos by Alan Gastelum


    “I ask my clients to come up with a Pinterest board of stuff they like, so I can see where they’re coming from from an aesthetic point of view,” Abbes said. She gathered they would appreciate the plywood boxes, sprayed white and stenciled to show their many possible functions.

    The green chairs are from IKEA’s Stockholm Collection. The rug on the left is from CB2, the striped one from IKEA. The wood-burning fireplace was part of the conversion.


    Replica chairs by mid-century designer Jean Prouvé, and two wire mesh ones from Blu Dot surround a vintage dining table from Circa 60 in Weehawken, N.J. Abbes painted the table’s midsection white for relief from the enormous amount of wood in the apartment and to create more graphic interest.

    Pendant lamps by British designer Tom Dixon were found online.



    An abstract painting of pebbles created for this space by Abbes hangs above a walnut credenza from Organic Modernism.


    Another Abbes artwork hangs above an orange love seat from Crate & Barrel and a marble-topped coffee table from Blu Dot. The kilim is vintage.


    Abbas employed what she called a “graphic trick” to make the TV disappear. It’s one part of an all-black vignette that includes a few long, low IKEA Besta cabinets attached to the wall, two small shelves, painted lines, and another piece of Abbes artwork. “I wanted to make the TV part of an environment instead of a focal point,” she said.


    Benjamin Moore‘s Cornflower Blue in the master bedroom sets off the neutrals of the straw bench from CB2 and the linen-covered head and footboards. Abbes wrapped “an ugly bed” with thin memory foam and batting, then with linen, to create a custom bed frame.


    Other readily accessible and affordable pieces round out the master bedroom, including a West Elm walnut dresser and IKEA mirror.

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