Balancing Act

Elizabeth Ruffalo of Pheasant Lane Designs Brings Out the Best in a Somerset Hills Home

Elizabeth Ruffalo, owner of Pheasant Lane Designs in Morristown, loves a good challenge. 

Take, for example, the couple who recently came to her when they were relocating from a small Jersey City apartment to a spacious—but dated—house in Mendham. Their tastes were as divergent as their professions: a yoga instructor who gravitated toward Boho European chic and a pharmaceutical professional with a midcentury modern aesthetic. Ruffalo’s task was to reflect the new homeowners’ personalities and create a balance between their two preferred designs. 

“They both wanted a sophisticated style, and the wife definitely wanted a style that was light, airy and not cluttered,” she says. Ruffalo started by advising them on pieces to keep from the previous owner’s estate and helped to pull in the husband’s family heirlooms as well. 

Ruffalo, who personally leans toward a more traditional aesthetic and Scandinavian rustic style, often looks to nature for inspiration. For her, quality is key. “Whenever I can, I source products that are handmade and use real wood and leather. Even when it is not apparent, you can feel the quality in materials when you enter a space.” The office features furniture made of walnut that speaks to the husband’s love of midcentury modern design but has the fresh, clean look that the wife prefers. 

The couple’s master bath demanded a full renovation. The result is a highly tactile, soothing experience with terrazzo cement tile floors, real pāua shell sconces and weathered zellige tile. 

Throughout the home, Ruffalo refinished the wood floors and selected the paint colors. She employed a palette of neutrals—from the walls to the furniture—with accents of color, as can be seen in the kitchen backsplash. 

“The triumph of this project may have been our solution to the tight, dark hallway connecting the master suite and a meditation room,” she says. “We installed French panel sliding doors with privacy glass and mirrors to reflect light and create a moment in and of itself in this previously uninspiring space.”

Letting natural light in is an excellent opportunity to change a room’s feeling, she says. She likes adding mirrors to amplify the light and to open up a room. “Mirrors can be effective—if they are strategically placed,” she says. “When hanging a mirror, look at the space it will be facing, because that is what it will reflect. Do you want to see a blank wall or highlight something interesting on the other side?”

When she considers a project, Ruffalo always thinks about how to incorporate nature. “I love the outdoors, and when you’re inside your home, you’re removed from all that so it's nice to use natural elements that add texture and visual interest to the space,” she says. 

Ruffalo realized she had a knack for creative problem solving while working as an engineer. She explored her passion for human-centric design by pursuing a degree in Interior Design from Parsons’ New School for Design. After working in the industry as a designer, in 2016 she launched Pheasant Lane Designs, which she named for the street where her parents built a home when she was a young teen. Her company serves the Somerset Hills, Morris County and the Jersey Shore, but she has a special affinity for the Somerset Hills area and is building a home in Gladstone.

She has other considerations for homeowners to think about in their own residences, like using an atypical door as she did in the Mendham home master bedroom. She also points to accent carpeting as a way to add personality to a room. “In this home, the dining room and office are adjacent, so we wanted them to complement each other, but also be visually different,” she says. “In the office, we made more of a statement with a bold carpeting pattern, while the dining room is more subtle. They play off each other but don’t compete.”

Balance is important when displaying decorative arts and picture frames. “People often angle frames on their shelves, but the look is cleaner and more precise if they are straight and head-on. You can overlap them a bit—say, overlap a smaller frame a bit in front of a bigger frame,” she says. “Stacking some books next to the frames will add weight to the display so it’s so not just pieces floating around.”

What Ruffalo loves most about her work is the people she meets. “I like going into people's homes, hearing about their lives and getting a sense of their tastes,” she says. “Everybody responds to different things. I like making that come to life.”

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