Jersey Ice Cream Co’s Stunning Redesign of Shipley Corner in Freehold, NY
Debby Billinge was never a city person. Having spent the better part of the last decade living in Brooklyn, she pined for a place in the country and a garden to tend — a real garden. “I prefer digging in the dirt as opposed to a rooftop!” laughs Debby, a horticulturist whose dream came to fruition when her in-laws left her money to dedicate to an upstate home. After looking at just a few houses, she found Shipley Corner, a 19th century cottage in Freehold, NY, surrounded by rolling hills and old stone walls reminiscent of her husband’s native England. But most importantly, it had potential. “I loved this house because it wasn’t any particular style,” she says. “I could go in whatever direction I wanted, and it had lots of room for a garden.”
The day they were supposed to settle on the house, however, Debby fell down the stairs of her apartment and broke her hip. Though her lawyer was able to make the purchase, the mom of three soon found herself with an empty apartment in Brooklyn, a new house upstate, and an armful of crutches.
Enter Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co. The interior design duo had just relocated to Brooklyn and was struggling to figure out their next business move. “We were doing small jobs and selling at flea markets, but we knew we wanted more than that,” recalls Tara. “We wanted someone to give us the keys to their house, some money, and say, ‘Do whatever you want, just make it beautiful.’ Miraculously, it happened!” That someone was Debby, who reached out and gave the couple carte blanche to do what they wanted to both her apartment and country home. Over the course of four months, Tara and Percy gutted Shipley Corner and decorated it with reclaimed woods and vintage furnishings to give it warmth and a sense of history. “It was magic, what they did — they’re alchemists!” says Debby, who now rents the home out on Airbnb and leaves every guest with a fresh bouquet of flowers. “This was our first project and was truly, truly a labor of love,” says Tara. “I remember Percy’s mom painting the kitchen with globs of paint all over her hands. I remember sitting on the floor in the kitchen, trying to soak in every detail so I’d never forget it.”
- Location: Freehold, NY
Located on the corner of Shipley and O’Hara Roads, the house was built in 1860 as a guest cottage by the O’Hara family, whose descendants still own most of the homes in the neighborhood. Amazingly, the outhouse survived the subsequent subdivisions and renovations and still remains on the property. “It’s the most poignant reminder of the history of this house,” says Debby.
The sunroom was added to the house in the 1960s and was seriously lacking character. Tara and Percy redid the floors and clad the wall and ceiling with whitewashed barn wood. The antique sofa was bought off Craigslist for $250 and layered with pillows collected at flea markets, Home Goods, and Target. “You can spend a ton of money on pillows, or you can spend less,” says Tara. “But in general, I find you can’t go wrong with a collection of pillows in neutral colors and varied textures.”
The bar in the dining room is part of a built-in sideboard that stores glasses and dishware. During the renovations, Tara and Percy uncovered the lath wall and decided to leave it exposed. “We felt like we were on a creative retreat where we had room upon room to experiment with,” says Tara.
The tufted cream sofa, purchased from Home Decorator’s Club, was the biggest splurge on the otherwise budget-friendly project. But Percy and Tara embraced the challenge. “We slept on the floor for most of the time, surrounded by boxes, dishes, linens, books and everything else,” remembers Tara. “We were in our own little world up there. We ate pizza sitting on paint buckets and lived covered in paint and dirt. It was so utterly wonderful.”
Though guests may be inclined to cozy up by the fire or hang out on the spacious deck, there’s a wealth of activity in the surrounding area. The Greenville Drive-In shows classic movies and serves locally sourced snacks and brews at their beer garden. Down the road is Ruby’s Hotel Restaurant, run by a former New York City chef who plates up French fare in a restored 19th century hotel. “They send out an email every week to verify whether they will be open, in a ‘Hey friends, come for dinner,’ kind of way,” says Debby. “It’s very friendly and low-key.” Guests can brunch at Heather Ridge Farm and pick up provisions from their store for dinner. O’Neill’s Cafe in nearby Cairo serves a hearty full Irish breakfast, “and the waitress always remembers you.” The Greene Bee Greenhouse gets Debby’s stamp of approval. The organic plant nursery grows over 40 varieties of tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. “It’s the best nursery I know.”
Percy made the vanity in the bathroom from reclaimed wood. The sink, a find from ReStore in Philadelphia, helped dictate the design of the room. “Debby has a real love for gardening,” says Tara, ”and the sink seemed stolen right out of a greenhouse, so we knew it’d be perfect.”
Other than some salvaged base cabinets, the kitchen got a complete overhaul. “I don’t think a square inch of that house went untouched!” says Tara. She and Percy updated the countertops with Ikea butcher-block, replaced the sink, paneled and plastered the walls, and built a pantry. The wainscoting was painted black for a bold yet timeless look.
The lath wall in the guest bedroom was an economical way to lend patina and warmth to the space. Percy and Tara ripped up the carpeting upstairs, revealing the original floors, which featured two different types of wood going in opposite directions. To highlight the difference, they painted one half and applied polyurethane to the other, giving the floors an unexpected and modern update.
Tara and Percy built the spindle-legged console. Most of the artwork and accessories were purchased at flea markets or off Craigslist. “Every piece has a story — it’s always that way,” says Tara.
The master bedroom was very cramped, so Tara and Percy opened it up to expose the beams and create a pitched ceiling. As they peeled through layers of outdated wallpaper, they stumbled upon the original wallcovering, a dainty floral that they loved so much they decided to leave it as is, letting it peek through the plaster in an almost painterly fashion. The headboard was made from the frame of a screen door.
The vintage furnishings feel romantic and quirky all at once. “We wanted the house to be a relaxing escape for the family,” says Tara. “Something that felt unfussy and beautiful.”
In the daughter’s bedroom, Tara painted dots on the wall as a budget-friendly alternative to wallpaper. She couldn’t decide on the right color, so she painted multiple swatches on the wall and wound up painting the dots over them. “There was a revelation in every room for us; some original detail that changed our plan, or something gone wrong that turned into something so right,” says Tara. “That wall is the story of my life.”
A wall originally divided up the dining room into two small, dark spaces, so Percy and Tara tore it down. The two-tone plaster finish on the walls creates an instant sense of drama, turning this once cramped space into Debby’s favorite room in the entire house. “The room has wonderful old windows with the characteristic wavy glass,” she says. “The view reminds us of England, but it is really the plaster — the way it feels alive — that makes the room. The color changes throughout the day like the sky.” The chairs were purchased at Brimfield, and the table and light fixture were made by Tara and Percy.
The sunlit corner of the deck is the perfect place for an afternoon snooze. For fall, Debby plans to grow plants and flowers native to the property, including peonies, crabapple, Solomon’s seal, bleeding heart, as well as small flowering clematis and wisteria. “I want the property to be an example of what you can sustainably and responsibly do, while making it aesthetically beautiful.”