We are excited to announce a new column in collaboration with Jaclyn Isaac. The column will host exclusive articles detailing the interior design and inspiration behind some of our favorite places in Jersey City. Jaclyn is an interior decorator and design blogger in Jersey City. Her personal blog can be found here.
My interview with Stephanie Villarreal-Farid started off in the same spirit of southern hospitality that exudes from SOUTH HOUSE, “Hey Jaclyn. We’re running a few minutes behind. The door’s open so just let yourself in and we will see you soon!” So I did as I was told, and opened the doors to the mesmerizing interior of the newest addition to Restaurant Row in downtown Jersey City: The SOUTH HOUSE Bar and Restaurant.
I found myself studying the details, at first for this article (JerseyDigs’ debut interior design section!) and then largely out of immense curiosity.
The miniature mason jar salt-and-pepper shakers. Vintage milk jug table bases. Headboards on the walls. Candles lining almost every surface. Photos of blues and rock legends. Herringbone brick.
Much to my delight, Stephanie arrived with her sister in tow, excited to talk and brain dump design magic on me:
JJD: Alright let’s start with your background, where did you start? Do you have an interior design background?
SVF: I studied Fashion Design and Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design, and I worked as a fashion designer for most of my professional career. I have spent the last couple of years traveling the world, as well as living overseas, experiencing so much beautiful design. My interest in interior design seemed like a natural evolution – it was a result of just evolving as an artist and a person pursuing what I felt came next for me
JJD: And how did you end up designing SOUTH HOUSE?
SVF: My brother is the co-owner of Turtle Club in Hoboken, and he knew he was opening up a second place. He just asked me to design it and it was a no brainer for me.
JJD: So designing a restaurant was completely new to you?
SVF: Yes! I did have apprehension, but what was easy was this southern home design inspiration. This is kind of us, how we grew up and how we lived. We’re all from Texas.
JJD: What did you start with here?
SVF: Dirt, the sky, and these brick walls. And, that’s it.
JJD: Crazy! So tell me all about the inspiration behind the space.
SVF: The great thing about the South, especially Texas, that we experienced growing up: there’s a certain level of refined taste. It brings you back to a time when things were more simple. There’s a humility about décor that I wanted to capture. For example, the contrast between herringbone brick with paneled wood. Combining those two elements gives you the design weight and then the airiness afterthought of, Hey, I’m going to a place that’s not pretentious, that’s comfortable. I don’t have to look a certain way. Right across the water you have plenty of that. I wanted everyone to say, I’m at a bar [pointing to the bar], but I possibly could be a person who thought the bar was irrelevant and I could dine right here [pointing to our table].
JJD: So your brother was the client…how was that? I talked to your sister, she made is very clear that he wanted this to be “bar forward”. I noticed a lot of musical influence as well.
SVF: Oh, that’s all my brother. He’s a music lover. Knowing his personal style and taste, it was just so easy to combine everything. I knew what we missed about home and the South: open spaces, things having an earthy reference. I wanted to bring that here.
JJD: You definitely did that; my husband and I came here and were like Where are we? We have officially left Jersey City!
SVF: I wanted it to really feel like Austin. People aren’t pretentious at all. Like a Bob Dylan photo next to a really cool, old chandelier. For the flowers, we didn’t want to be too sophisticated; it’s wild flower vibe, simple.
JJD: So where did you get all of this stuff?
SVF: A lot of it was made. Everything was shipped in from Texas. I shopped a lot of estate sales. I wanted everything to be real and to feel real. The gas lanterns are custom designed from Charleston.
JJD: Do you see other cool spaces coming to Jersey City?
SVF: I have and I think it’s great what you’re doing. There’s a niche here with things to capture. I love the re-doing of an entire brownstone building. I gravitate towards the things that are waiting to be done, the fixer uppers if you will. The diamonds in the rough.
JJD: So, this was your 1st restaurant project. Were you interested in doing other restaurants?
SVF: Absolutely, it was a blast! Were doing the rooftop now. It’s a great challenge. You want to satisfy a large group of people so that drives your process. Hospitality is ingrained in me. No matter who you are you are accommodated in the South. Even the chairs are more comfortable. I hated the thought of having something that wasn’t soft or comfortable. And I don’t like to look at ugly things. You’d be surprised how much that affects you. If you don’t like where you are, how that affects your psyche.
JJD: Because you want people to stay…
SVF: Imagine if you’re at home. If you’re a good host you make sure people are comfortable.
JJD: Do you find it’s challenging to translate the softness and homey feel of the indoors to the outside?
SVF: Not really. When you imagine creating for a residential space indoor or outdoor, you still need seating, you still need to be able to dine.
JJD: What are your favorite things about the space, and what would you have done differently, if anything?
SVF: I love this herringbone brick and how it extends into the floor plan. I wanted an extension of the outside. I carried that over at the service bar. A lot of people don’t know but I hand painted this front bar. There are a lot of frescos in the South, that’s a big deal. This wood piece in the center is actually a head board. I had a smaller design budget for this space but I couldn’t compromise. You shouldn’t ever compromise your design and your style because of budget because there are creative ways to achieve it. The colored glass above the bars are actually old department store doors. The only thing I would probably do differently…hmm..
JJD: You did such an amazing job in here you can’t think of anything!
SVF: No it’s just if I don’t like something I’m going to get rid of it immediately.
JJD: Tell me about that “Southern porch”.
SVF: The plates you wouldn’t normally see outside but I did that because it brings in that restaurant feel. You see a lot of that in the South. Usually in the spring I’ll have hanging plants. The fountain – I think it’s important to have the earth elements. At night we have a ton of candles – that’s the fire. For the life element, we always have flowers on the table. The seating is actually a church pew.
JJD: Your thoughts on the design in Jersey City?
SVF: I love the murals. Shawn Edwards “PAWN” did the mural on the back of our building.
JJD: Oh, and I’m sure you’ve noticed all of the other murals as well!
SVF: I think the art is a great feature. It gives validity to a community. If it’s cheap enough for artists to come in and live, they transform a city. Then tastemakers come in and appreciate those certain things and start elevating that community. Everything gets better. And for my brother and SOUTH HOUSE, if other restaurants do well around us then the community is better, and where we are does better, and everybody wins.
JJD: Well, you are all a part of that!
SVF: I know it’s so cool! We’re very excited.
JJD: So what’s next?
SVF: The rooftop!
JJD: So, I’ll be back?
SVF: Oh yes, you need to come back for the rooftop. It’s going to be spectacular.
Visit SOUTH HOUSE on Newark Avenue, 7 days a week. The rooftop opens July 2016!
[gmap height=”250px”]149 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302[/gmap]
South House – 149 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302