Interior designer: Janet Simon, Janet Simon Inc., 310 South St., Morristown, NJ 07962; 973/682-2683, janetsimoninc.com.
Design consultant: Ralph Harvard, Ralph Harvard Inc., 212/535-0707, ralphharvard.com.
Builder: Ted Aanensen, Aanensen’s, 201/998-6892 and 732/776-6927, aanensens.com.
Landscape architect: Deborah Nevins, Deborah Nevins & Assoc., 212/925-1125, dnalandscape.com.
Photographs by John Bessler
Text by Sabine Rothman
Set aside your stereotypes. Janet Simon is not the typical Jersey girl--though she’ll tell it like it is. Her hair’s not big. Her dress is classic. She’s the consummate hostess. And her house, situated in New Jersey’s Morris County, is the epitome of good taste. The area the Simon family has called home for more than 20 years offers unspoiled countryside--rolling hills dotted with lakes and rivers--just 30 miles northwest of New York City. Here, beautiful estates might fool you into thinking you’ve traveled through time and space--perhaps to England in the 1930s. Hidden Pond Farm--the house this interior designer shares with husband J. Peter Simon, their four children (almost grown up now), as many dogs as kids, and a pony--is that kind of place.
The neo-Georgian residence was built between 1927 and 1933 for Thomas M. Debevoise, a prominent attorney and personal counsel to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Debevoise commissioned architects Delano & Aldrich to design what was to be his family’s summer retreat. The home’s gracious proportions and historicism are hallmarks of these distinguished early-20th-century architects.
Janet and Peter bought the house 19 years ago from the estate of Thomas’s son, Eli Whitney Debevoise (named for his great-great-grandfather, inventor of the cotton gin). “The house was wonderfully untouched,” Janet recalls. “The grounds were completely overgrown, like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. We had to hack through thorny branches to get to the front door.”
Peter saw the place first and knew his wife would be smitten. “I took one look, and I was gone,” she admits. “It didn’t frighten me, which it should have. I couldn’t wait to start restoring it.” The house had been vacant for 30 years, but it now passed from one steward to the next. “My first commitment was to keep its integrity intact,” she adds.
And there was plenty to do before the house would suit the needs of the Simon family. “There was a servants’ wing!” Janet exclaims. So she reconfigured the tiny staff bedrooms, added bathrooms, and created a layout that would accommodate their young children. (Peter Jr., who was 5 at the time, is now 24; Emily is 22; and Timmy is 20. Cameron, their youngest at 16, was born after the rest of the brood was firmly ensconced in the home.) Janet also created an expansive master suite that remains one of her favorite places. “My kids and their friends come in and chat with me here,” she says with a laugh. “Probably because I go to bed so early!”
While the house’s floor plan is rational, it also offers a sense of discovery. “That’s created by the transitional spaces,” Janet explains. “There are a couple of rooms directly off the main hallway, but most aren’t.” Adding character is a little round foyer leading to the library. A small square space gives some air between the breakfast room and the front stairs. And an oval back hall contains the back stairs up to the second floor.
To return the house’s interior to its former glory, plasterwork was restored and the existing wood floors hand-finished and waxed. Janet, a designer by trade, got busy with the decoration, which continues to undergo constant refreshment. “It has evolved,” she says in an understatement. “In the beginning, we had lots of swags and chintz.” Since then, she has lightened up.
The living and dining rooms are rendered in a palette of soft blues and creams, grounded with gleaming wood furniture and golden accents. While formal, the two spaces are treated without kid gloves. Janet approaches her whole house with the same élan. The more casual breakfast room and sunporch are peppy and inviting. A bold mix of botanical prints and graphic patterns adds pizzazz to a cheerful green-and-white scheme in the former. The sunporch is still enveloped in the charm of chintz on walls and furniture, with side chairs in red-and-white candy stripes as the perfect foil. That’s one room Janet hasn’t changed, but in the new context, it feels fresher and more lively than ever.
These four rooms--breakfast, living, and dining rooms plus the sunporch, all with French doors that open to the terrace--combine to form the house’s most elegant living spaces.
The wood-paneled library is appropriately clad in warm tones--but even here Janet manages to lighten her rich palette of reds, greens, and brown with little hits of pink and vivid orange.
At the back of the house, a section was extended for a kitchen with an eating area that connects to a terrace--and to a mudroom. (Janet is incredibly organized. In addition to the mudroom, she created “outgoing” closets for dry-cleaning, packages, tote bags, and more. “Who wants to see that stuff?” she asks. “Not me.”)
Three new outbuildings/garages match the color and pattern of the house bricks--even to the grout. As in traditional English country houses, the facade you first see as you come up the sweeping drive has been as carefully designed as the main entrance.
The Simons worked with landscape architect Deborah Nevins to restore terraces and gardens, framing views and devising intimate outdoor spaces. Come spring, the rehabilitated 50-year-old peony walk enthralls with its ephemeral charm, and the six-acre pumpkin patch offers a special delight in autumn.
Janet, herself, is never happier than when she’s entertaining--setting a beautiful table, bringing people together.
“The great thing about a big house is that everyone fits,” she says. “There’s always space for family and friends.” She might have 40 people singing Christmas carols at the piano, 22 for dinner in the dining room, or an intimate summer lunch on the terrace--each event done with meticulous attention to detail, from custom-made linens to the perfect crème anglaise. “Any excuse will do for a party,” she says. But with a home as lovely as Hidden
Pond Farm, she doesn’t need any excuse at all.