We throw around the term zhush up a lot—it means, of course, to seriously punch up the style of something, whether it’s a sitting area or an outfit. If there’s anyone who has a gift for zhushing, it’s Sue De Chiara. As founder of the lifestyle blog and online shop named The Zhush, she has a sixth sense for how to launch a space into next-level stylishness.
Sue’s phenomenally designed home in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, where she recently settled with her husband, two teenage girls, and nine-year-old son, is a testament to her talent. Anyone who might equate suburban living with a relaxed, traditional style will stand up and take notice of the liberating mix of traditional-meets-prep and tongue-in-cheek glamour of her interiors. As Sue says, “I don’t want our house to feel too serious, ever. That’s not our lifestyle. I mean, there’s a disco ball on the living room mantel!” Sue worked closely with Lauren Muse, of Muse Interiors, to pull together the decor—and then, of course, zhushed things up. Step inside to meet Sue, who’s equal parts style maven and down-to-earth mom.
Pulling It Together
When Sue and her husband were searching for a new home—they’d been living in Westchester County, NY, and before that in New York City—they fell for this brick Georgian colonial. “There was such good flow, such good bones, and we could envision all of our furniture here,” Sue says.
“Some people move in with every last Q-tip already in place, and that’s not my reality,” she continues. But a year after the move, the house is humming with Sue’s style and a happy, lived-in energy. Her former home was gorgeous too, but after years of blog reading, Pinning, and magazine tearing, she was more than ready to exert her full-blown creative expression when it came to setting up this permanent nest.
I don’t want our house to feel too serious, ever. That’s not our lifestyle. I mean, there’s a disco ball on the living room mantel!
Without question, Sue lives in a dreamy environment, but she’s refreshingly free of pretense when it comes to the daily demands of motherhood. Mornings begin with the mad dash to school rather than leisure time spent, say, sipping a cappuccino in a dressing room. “I’m not a morning person, and my daughters aren’t morning people,” admits Sue. “All I try to do is have the coffee machine set up the night before. I can’t even deal with putting my coffee into a travel mug. So we’re zooming to school, and the coffee is just spilling everywhere. And I’m still in my pajamas. Connecticut living is very glamorous!”
Then (assuming nobody has forgotten anything at home!) she transitions to her own day. She might hit the gym—“That’s where I get my fix of garbage TV,” she laughs —and then settles into the office. She confesses that she doesn’t have the greatest work routine, but ideally she’s able to focus on business until 3 p.m. or so and ties up loose ends after 8 p.m.
We’re zooming to school, and the coffee is just spilling everywhere. And I’m still in my pajamas. Connecticut living is very glamorous!
Starting to Zhush
Sue comes from a family of artists—her dad was a graphic designer, as are her brothers—and in spite of her own earlier career in real estate law, “I’ve always had a sense of aesthetics,” she says. When she and her husband bought a fixer-upper condo in Vermont in 2009, she scanned magazines and blogs to unlock the secrets of decorating. For example, “I had seen a photos in House Beautiful of a Cole & Son woods wallpaper and thought, That would be perfect in our Vermont bedroom. I went completely bananas duplicating what I’d seen.” That took determination; as Sue says, “If I fall in love with an image of something online, I go to the ends of the earth to find it.” That same year, she started her blog out of a desire to showcase, and make accessible, the things she’d fallen in love with along the way.
Sue explains that, “I started The Zhush before Pinterest existed, and at first I did it privately.” Now, in spite of the entrance of Pinterest, Sue’s gift for finding bite-sized, real-life ways of capturing that beautiful world of shelter publications still resonates. By finding the one object or artwork that will inject a room with the right color or a new edge, she offers a perfect shortcut to the overwhelming design process.
Embracing the Nooks and Crannies
Although Sue professes a love of white (“It always seems like the cleanest color for kitchens, towels, and linens”), she simply cannot resist a killer patterned wallpaper. And she goes especially wild in smaller spaces, indulging her many “wallpaper crushes” in spots such as the powder room. In Sue’s world, this is one zone where you can be as experimental as you please.
While Sue and her husband, Adam, threw a lot of dinner parties in their previous home, they’ve yet to do so in Connecticut. One reason is that Sue’s holding out for a large dining room mural—woodsy scene in Grisaille by Susan Harter Muralpapers—to arrive. In the meantime, they do lots of family gatherings—Adam’s the youngest of five, so extended family meals involve a buffet table and one of Sue’s massive salads. And they’ve been perfecting their cocktail game. Adam makes a mean manhattan with special maraschino cherries. Sue is known for her great pitchers of sangria.
Otherwise, evenings—and weekends—are all about family time, which includes soccer games. While Adam often wants to go on adventures—kayaking in nearby Rohatyn, say—Sue “craves downtime, where I can just be in my sweatpants and recover from the week. We’re very yin-yang that way.”
A Happy Haven
Sue and Adam’s bedroom feels like a world unto itself, and in a sense, that feeling sums up the home’s style beautifully. The layout is sketched along classical lines—a bench at the foot of the bed, ginger jars around the mantel, a sitting area—yet it all feels refreshingly contemporary, not rule-bound. She throws a leggy brass objet on a stack of books, a wild crystal display in the fireplace, a crumbling piece of an antique facade over the bed.
“Nothing’s too fussy or overly serious,” Sue says. “I wanted the bedroom to have a womblike feeling but still be totally elegant.”
If I fall in love with an image of something online, I go to the ends of the earth to find it.
Entering Kid Zone
Sue knows the joy of growing up in rooms with a definite point of view. Her own childhood home provided her with rich visual memories—it reflected her parents’ love of midcentury design, especially “very ’70s shag rugs and bubble mirrors. It was the same aesthetic as the Brady Bunch’s house.” An Eames rocking chair from her childhood home now sits in the playroom.
So when it came to her children’s bedrooms, Sue took their own sensibilities seriously. Each of her teenage daughters had veto rights and a lot of input in the design progress. “Given the online access now, I think most teenagers are very sophisticated in their style,” she says. For her son, she wanted to preserve the things that he was most attached to in their former home—namely, the stars that he loved on his ceiling. While she couldn’t bring those, she found a Ralph Lauren glow-in-the-dark constellation wallpaper, which captures that magical spirit of childhood.
Given the online access now, I think most teenagers are very sophisticated in their style.
The Next Big Thing
One of Sue’s biggest passions is choosing the art for her home. She was happy to work with a decorator to nail the perfect sofa, but “art is so much more personal. It should really come from you.” And now she’s making her own pieces. The finished third-floor attic, which Sue has co-opted and turned into a painting studio, is perhaps the most footloose-and-fancy-free space in the whole house. Whenever she can steal a pocket of time, Sue heads to that light-filled window bank and paints undisturbed. In the past, she’d experimented with watercolor and drawing, but now she’s finding her groove in a looser style: “I’m compelled to try abstraction, which I’d never done. And I’d never done anything big. Now I’m going for it.” Given her eye-popping style, we’d expect no less.
I’m compelled to try abstraction, which I’d never done. And I’d never done anything big. Now I’m going for it.