Sea Shades

On the Jersey Shore, a busy New York home furnishings designer and CEO captures ocean colors in her vacation getaway.

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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.

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