Valerie Moran treats her life like an artist's palette. For her midtown Manhattan apartment, luxurious tones of violet, mango, and raspberry shimmer among the furnishings, art, tableware―even her fashion accessories. But she trades those vibrant colors for the cool greens and blues of the sea every possible weekend.
That's when she and husband Ken Meyers escape to their Bay Head, New Jersey, beach house. With Barnegat Bay a block to the west and the Atlantic a block east, water colors meet in the middle, at the couple's 1910 two-story bungalow. Its every surface, from kitchen spatulas to sofa pillows to plastered walls, reflects nature's paint box.
"There are so many colors to choose from in this world," says Valerie, who's bored stiff by primary tones. "Don't take red when you can have cherry―or turquoise." In fact, turquoise started the whole beach house scheme.
When Ken and Valerie bought the property in 1996, "the interior was weighed down by somber colors and heavy period woodwork," Valerie says. In particular, gilded swirls of gold-over-brown paint made a curlicued, 19th-century, 9-foot-high mirror frame, anchored into the hallway, especially ominous. "I said I had to either rip it out or make it fun," she recalls.
Then she glimpsed a trio of turquoise, flea-market ceramic oil lamps on her mantel. "OK," she thought, "I'll paint the mirror that color and give it a Disneyesque quality." Not one to dawdle, she bought the paint and finished the primer and topcoat by the morning's wee hours. "I liked it so much, the next day I painted the rocking chair the same color. Turquoise pairs blue and green, so I was off and running with my theme."
Walking through the house, Valerie ticks off star hues: "My blues are turquoise, of course, aquamarine, teal, sea fog, and robin's egg. Since I'm more of a 'green person' than 'blue,' there are more of them―kiwi, chartreuse, celadon, jade, verdigris, moss, pistachio, sage." For contrast, bright white gleams from the woodwork and other accents.
Along with wall color, the green-blue population of rugs, upholstery, artwork, lamps, pillows, window-blind tape, pottery, dishes, glassware, and small kitchen appliances effects an overall peacefulness. "It's a totally different energy from our city home," Valerie says. "You walk into that apartment and the colors seize you. The feeling matches our lifestyle there―all go, go, go. Here in Bay Head, we lie around."
But this furniture company executive's definition of lying around differs from that of the average person. After all, transforming this 11-room interior from mousy to magical took buckets of sweat equity from both Valerie and Ken in a fairly short time.
Before the color infusion, a few structural needs cried out, starting when Ken fell through the kitchen floor. "A leak from an upstairs tub," Valerie explains.
An associate general counsel for an international corporation, Ken―like Valerie―feels at home in the world's most glamorous capitals. But he's no stranger to grunt work. With their contractors' help, the couple tackled new concrete footings and triple-layer girders and so forth, then moved on to the fun stuff.
Valerie, CEO of the Americas' subsidiary of France-based, 100-year-old Grange Furniture, bought some of her own prototype designs, such as the front-porch wicker furnishings. "But it was all different colors," she notes, "so I painted it aqua."
Her sea shades in mind, Valerie tapped into the talents of numerous designer and craftsman pals for original retro fabrics, beaded lampshades, shell mirrors, even cups and saucers. She selected 20-some paints, then raided flea markets and antiques stores. (So Ken would enjoy those sprees, she got him to start a collection; his impressive display of antique ice-cream scoops now adorns the Bay Head study.) Having treasure-hunted vintage American pottery since age 13, Valerie moved many of her blue and green pitchers and vases into the beach house.
Her passion for color infects friends and family, who can't help but stay on high green-blue alert. "My 7-year-old nephew, Nathan, finds brightly colored things for what he calls 'Aunt Val's city compartment,' and sea-colored things for 'Aunt Val's beach house,'" she says.
Nathan has a vested interest, since he delights in Ken and Valerie's large family gatherings at the Jersey Shore. "That's why we needed five bedrooms," she says. The home absorbs the unbridled shrieks of sandy-footed kids returning from the beach. The fridge bulges with 'dogs and buns. The woven green snack basket overflows with mini bags of pretzels and chips. For the adults, glass after sea-colored glass of Valerie's special brew (iced coffee laced with vanilla and nutmeg) gets poured. "We're creating family memories here," she says.
Valerie's generosity, eye for color, and design success spring from her upbringing. A minister's daughter, she grew up in a family that encouraged imagination and creativity. "In the church manse, Mom and Dad had to figure out how to do things themselves," she says. "My mom wanted everything to be nice, so she focused on antiques at good prices. And she let me pick my own room color. My earliest memory is of mauve flocked wallpaper, really intended for formal use. But I chose it for my room. I would lie in bed looking at its color, texture, scale."
Reflecting on the evolution of her beach-house interior from its days of brown, Valerie opens a worn, 6-inch-thick portfolio. Fabric swatches, tile samples and patterns, color chips, and hundreds of notes in her stylish handwriting reveal ideas, decisions, errors, revisions. The book archives the marriage of talent, skill, and practicality in Valerie's house makeover.
"You know, in college, there was a professor who always gave me C's in art," she says.
Perhaps he was color blind.