Strutting its Splendor

Priory Court at 124 Edgerstoune Road, Princeton, brings collegiate gothic-style architecture to the Junior League of Greater Princeton Designer Showhouse.

It’s spring, and one way to take in the flowering trees strutting their splendor is to walk, bike or drive through Princeton’s magnificent neighborhoods. This sport involves gazing at stately homes and imagining what it’s like to live in one.

At Priory Court, 124 Edgerstoune, you can actually go inside until May 20, when its doors open for the Junior League of Greater Princeton’s Designer Show House & Gardens. With its leaded glass windows and arches, cloister and arboretum setting, Priory Court resembles collegiate gothic architecture, and indeed Princeton University owned the property briefly in 1970.

The dream of living in this house can become reality if you won the lottery or can

One of the house's unique features is its cloister.

otherwise fork over the $2.5 million sale price. Then you just need to figure out what to do with 13 rooms!

The biennial show house not only offers the opportunity to go inside and see how the one percent lives, but with more than three dozen designers dreaming up fanciful schemes for the rooms and the landscape, you may even get an idea or two for your own humble abode. Best of all, money raised by the show house helps to fund science and math activities at Stepping Stones Learning Institute in Trenton and the YWCA of Princeton.

Architect Alfred Hopkins, who specialized in country estates and gentleman farms – including one for Louis Comfort Tiffany — designed Priory Court as his dream home in the early 1930s. Legend has it an old beech tree drew him to the site.

In a 1933 edition of House & Garden magazine Hopkins refers to it as his castle, but the description goes beyond metaphor – this place really is any ivy-covered castle, architecturally. Of cinderblock construction, the exterior is finished with a limestone wash that makes it look like stone, with moldings made from cast stone. Peaked roofs are of moss-covered slate, suggesting hobbits. The dormers have finials on top, and the stone archways have heavy wooden doors that look like Igor from Young Frankenstein walked through.

There’s a cloister and a sunken terrace with a fountain and a monk statue. Leaded glass windows lead your view inside, where the ceilings are coffered. You want the designers to praise the architecture, not bury it — and they have.

The kitchen was designed by architect Maximilian Hayden.

Architect Maximillian Hayden of Hopewell, who is remodeling Priory Court’s kitchen, fills in some details about Hopkins. “He never married,” says Mr. Hayden. “And among his lesser known buildings are prisons in Pennsylvania.”

After Hopkins died, the house was donated to Princeton University, and then sold to the Bongiovanni family who lived in it for nearly four decades.

The kitchen was originally built for servants, so is not impressive in size by today’s standards. Mr. Hayden covered a perforated acoustic tile ceiling that would have been state-of-the-art in its day. When I visited, Charlie Donohue, the contractor, was preparing to make it a coffered ceiling. Mr. Hayden planned to reveal the original wood floor and paint a diamond pattern in blue, gold and white – the same colors as the tiles surrounding the stove.

“I’m trying to evoke what it would have looked like if someone had done it up in the ‘20s,” said Mr. Hayden. There is a big white enamel farmhouse sink with a fabric skirt and freestanding La Cornue classic French stove.

Copper pots will hang from beams in the ceiling, and a butcher’s block originally from Toto’s Market in Princeton will top an island. “And we’ll definitely have some chocqua going on,” says Mr. Hayden, referring to the au courant color that combines chocolate and aqua.

Just off the kitchen, the “kitchen nook” has been transformed by Shelby Tewell Interiors of Hopewell into the office of the lady of the house. “It’s where she will plan menus and grocery lists, and has a mini potting shed and gift-wrap station,” says Ms. Tewell. There is a dog bed, as well as a portrait of a “woodle” – a Wheaton Terrier mixed with poodle — as well as a landscape by Al Barker. Ms. Tewell discovered Mr. Barker at an exhibit at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s gallery.

As a designer, “I think you can do so much with what you already have,” says Ms. Tewell, who has hand-painted a trellis along the wall. “Repurpose, reposition, and do finishing touches, but use what you have because it tells your story. It’s your stuff, and it tells about you.”

The family room, designed by Queripel Interiors, has poetry carved into the stonewall. Hopkins used biblical excerpts, poems and the words of sages throughout the house, as well as carvings of the faces of what might be angels, cherubs or heralds. There is a grand stone fireplace, and dark, heavy wood furnishings suggest the gentry of Hopkins’ era.

Hopkins loved music, say the event organizers, and would invite guests to perform in the music room. One of those guests was Albert Einstein, whose melancholic violin strings filled the barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Before one even gets to appreciate Deborah Leamann Interiors treatment of the room, there’s all that carving to take in – signs of the zodiac, myths, animals, a farm, and a mother pushing a baby carriage with a winged creature inside.

Leamann’s palette includes shades of off white with such juicy names as bisque, putty and onionskin, and the floor is covered with sisal. A grand piano takes center stage, with three separate seating areas. “A room talks to you and tells you what it wants and needs,” says Ms. Leamann, who has been designing rooms for JLGP show houses since 1993. “It will feel collected, not decorated, with an echo of ‘Out of Africa.’”

Up on the third floor, Emma Korzeniowski of West Windsor is putting the finishing touches on the study retreat. Ms. Korzeniowski says the room is intended as a lounge, a place to unwind, to dream, to think, to escape family life or work. “There’s bright sunny light in the morning, but I wanted to soften it,” she says, and used pure linen Roman shades over the leaded glass windows. “The light here is phenomenal. Something in the spectra of the glass gives a yellow nuance.”

The Netherlands native came to the U.S. in 2001 and segued from a career as an international marketing director to designer because it was something she always was good at. “If you have an eye, you can learn on the job,” she says.

Having lived in a 16th-century carriage house, Ms. Korzeniowski says she is used to working with stonewalls.

The small room is filled with artwork from around the world, including capize mother-of-pearl art from the Philippines, and eclectic design finds from what Ms. Korzeniowski refers to as her “cherry gardens” – secret places. There is a Knoll Platner table, contemporized Louis XV chairs, a wicker chaise with fluffy gray pillows, an ultra slim lamp, ladder-like bookshelves from Restoration Hardware and a white orchid on a silver table. “I wanted to show that all styles are mixable, that you can combine modern and classic with clean lines,” she says of the neutral-toned room. “It’s not necessarily my style, just a moment in my portfolio.”

Junior League of Greater Princeton Designer Show House & Garden at 124 Edgerstoune Road, Princeton, is open April 22 through May 20. Tickets cost $20/ advance, $25 at the door and
$20 for seniors.  www.jlgp.org

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