Local Spotlight: Erika and Roberto’s Ornately Historic Van Vorst Townhouse

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Throughout the year, tenants who have fallen in love with their Dixon homes tell the story of how they serendipitously came to find the house they now call home. Meet Erika and Roberto: After a long search, this bicoastal couple was smitten with their Jersey City dream home from day one; much like their love story. [Sponsored by Dixon Leasing]

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Despite being based on opposite coasts, longtime shoe industry veterans, Erika and Roberto, had crossed paths a few times over the course of their careers. Erika was born in California and spent her life in the western half of the country, and Roberto is a Jersey City native who’s resided in New Jersey for all but a few years. After each had gone through a divorce, they met once more when Erika accepted a national buying role at Nordstrom in Seattle. After a cross-country courtship filled with Skype dates and frequent visits, the couple got engaged in 2012 and Erika quickly planned her eastern migration.

at home with jersey city townhouse livingFor this bicoastal couple, the differences are more than geographical. It takes but a moment with Roberto and Erika to appreciate how her gregarious style and breezy California girl attitude is the perfect complement to Roberto’s dry wit. But when it came to housing, however, the two were in agreement; their initial long-term rental — an apartment at Henley Place on the Weehawken waterfront — wasn’t a great fit for the long haul. With Roberto’s two sons from his first marriage — 12-year-old Ryan and 8-year-old Jack — living with the couple part-time, the space was cramped. And its waterfront location, while scenic, meant it was a bit cut off from the rest of town, making getting around by car mandatory.

The couple yearned for community and space in a walkable neighborhood that was still convenient to Roberto’s Hell’s Kitchen office. An admitted real estate junkie — “She puts herself to bed looking at realtor.com,” says Roberto — Erika set to work to find the perfect family home. “I came across Dixon early and kept my eye on their properties as they would come up,” she says.

Throughout her searches, it became clear that Jersey City was a likely destination for the family. “I grew up here in Jersey City. I went to school at St. Peter’s Prep. My dad had a warehouse factory on Coles Street, right down the block. My mom had a dress store right on Newark Avenue,” recalls Roberto. “I always find my way back to Jersey City. It’s like a boomerang, it always brings me back.”

brownstones in jersey cityWhile the couple was considering other, smaller Dixon properties, Senior Leasing Manager, Jameel Mohammed took a chance on showing Erika and Roberto the Mercer Street townhouse. At 3,700 square feet with five bedrooms and five bathrooms, it was decidedly larger than the three-bedroom home they had in mind. “I love the upsell. I love sellers who can upsell,” Roberto says with a smile, Jameel said, ‘It’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s so much bigger.’ And I walked in, and it was old and new. It was like a dream.”

Real estate aficionado Erika has a particular love for brownstones, especially those that have retained architectural details like ceiling medallions, molding and fireplaces. Mercer Street more than fit the bill with breathtaking, ornate details throughout.

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On the parlor floor, the grand living and dining rooms are enclosed by elaborate acanthus leaf moldings and egg-and-dart trim. Floor-to-ceiling window frames are baroque affairs flanking an original mirror and capturing quaint neighborhood views. The massive fireplace provides a warm focal point in the living room, while a gleaming gold chandelier descends from elaborate medallions overhead. Massive original pocket doors allow the couple to create defined, intimate spaces or an open flow through the entire level.

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For Roberto, the home’s massive white kitchen was love at first sight. Living spaces are uncharacteristically large at the Mercer Street townhouse thanks to a 1920s addition to the original 1880s structure, which expands the first three floors 13 feet to the rear. The roominess is most apparent in the bright and airy kitchen that boasts a long row of cabinets, full-size professional grade appliances, a second large fireplace and a huge center island with breakfast bar seating. “There’s four of us, and I could just envision us all hanging out at the kitchen island,” he says. “And, you’ll think I’m crazy, but I’ve always wanted a TV in the kitchen. I’m a TV addict, and they had the wiring all ready to put a TV in the kitchen!”

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With large families and lots of friends living both near and far, Mercer Street is regularly filled with visitors and festive gatherings. The hallway on the parlor floor serves as a gallery for mementos of their visits with dozens of small paintings created by both residents and guests. Artwork by Ryan and Jack is surrounded by a patriotic flag by Erika’s brother, a shoe by Roberto, the letter Z for the family’s last name and a portrait of Penne, the family’s Italian Greyhound.

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The home’s ample outdoor space is prized by family and friends as well. A spacious upstairs deck is conveniently situated off the kitchen, and the large yard is also accessible from the family room on the floor below. Both access points feature NanaWall folding glass doors to fully invite bountiful light and air indoors and provide the perfect backdrop for entertaining.

The yard is a beloved place for Penne to romp and for the boys, avid baseball players, to practice catching pop flies. For Erika, the outdoor space was also the antidote for the one thing she missed most from Weehawken — the breathtaking Manhattan views. “As soon as we got to use the backyard, I thought, ‘Who cares about a view?’ It’s so much better to have outdoor living space. I don’t know if I could go back to not having it,” she says.

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Down on the garden level, the family room is a favorite hangout. With open access to the backyard and a fully stocked wet bar with sink, refrigerator, wine fridge and dishwasher — not to mention a full complement of candy jars and an espresso machine — there’s really no need to leave the cozy hangout.

The rest of the ground floor houses abundant storage, a full bathroom and bedroom, and a roomy home gym. About the gym, Erika remarks, “This was how I got him to get this house. We kept going back and forth about how we didn’t need this much space, and I kept saying, ‘There’s a gym! You’d have a gym!'”

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Above the parlor floor, sits the enviable master suite lined with the home’s characteristic trim and archways. An oversized custom closet leads the way to a windowed master bath outfitted with a deep soaking tub and separate walk-in shower. The adjacent guest suite on this floor is worthy of master bedroom designation itself with a massive en-suite bathroom and two large closets. Not surprisingly, closets in both rooms are filled with rows and rows of shoes — from strappy heels to the latest must-have sneakers.

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The boys reside in matching bedroom suites on the home’s top floor. Each room includes an en-suite bathroom, and ever the doting stepmom, Erika has converted a laundry closet on this floor into a snack station, complete with mini-fridge, to house the boys’ cereal and munchies. The plush accommodations seem to suit the kids. “Our youngest says he wants to go to NYU so he can live here and commute!” exclaims Erika.

Time spent with the boys is precious and focused on family and sports. “Because they’re not here during the week, they really just want to be home with daddy. So really everything is centered around this house,” explains Erika. When they’re not shuttling to and from baseball and basketball games, the family enjoys visits to neighborhood spots like Kitchen Step for hamburgers, Teppan for hibachi and Milk, Sugar, Love for ice cream.

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“We hang out here, play in the backyard, watch TV, and do art projects. The whole idea of walking outside the house and being able to go to a restaurant or go to the comic book store on Coles Street, they’re really enamored with that,” explains Erika.

“Because they live in the suburbs, everything’s in houses. Everything’s a playdate. Here, you just walk, so they’re fascinated,” adds Roberto. “I think the best thing is having them see two different worlds, to see city life versus living in the suburbs. Getting to know lots of different kinds of people and cultures is really good for them,” says Erika.

Set in the middle of a tree-lined block in the Van Vorst Park Historic District, the Mercer townhouse is among a row of attractive, nearly identical row houses. The matching brick facades, decorated with bold cornices, high stoops and eyebrow lintels, provide a picturesque uniformity to streetscape.

The neighborhood vibe the couple sought is in full effect on Mercer Street with neighbors keeping watch over the house when Erika and Roberto are away, recommending dog walkers and helping each other shovel snow. “It’s been nice to have people that you can connect with. They care about the community, and they’re aware of what’s happening. It’s a good street,” explains Erika.

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“When we walk around the area at night,” she continues. “I look in some of the brownstones, and so many of them have no moldings on top, awful lighting and bad decisions. It’s nice to see Dixon appreciating these homes and bringing them back to life in the way that they should be,” she says fondly. “I mean, I honestly wouldn’t change anything here. I love everything they’ve done.”

Roberto quickly interjects, “She’s not just saying that. I hear it at least three times a week.”

“I love it!” she replies. “I don’t ever want to move. I don’t know how they’re going to get us out of here.”

Looking to rent a brownstone of your own? Check out 268 Barrow Street, 302 Varick Street, or see all Dixon townhouse listings

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