Distinguished Design at The Hugh
As a National Historic Landmark, the City of Cape May is steeped in the Victorian era, with a preponderance of period homes featuring gabled roofs, intricate woodwork, and plenty of towers, turrets, and dormers. And that’s just the exteriors. Inside, many of these homes—particularly bed and breakfasts or small inns—feature interiors to match: picture ornate carvings, dark wood, and loads of embellishments. And though in recent years, Cape May has seen an influx of tastefully modern, coastal boutique establishments like Lokal Hotel and Boarding House to round out accommodation options, one of the city’s most recent additions to the B&B lineup, The Hugh, harkens back to the Victorian era in a most unconventional way.
“We’ve been calling it Modern Victorian but one of our guests called it Victorian Glam, which I really liked,” says Sandra Vizzone, who along with her husband John Vizzone, owns and operates The Hugh.
Though Modern Victorian is an apt description, Victorian Glam is really spot on, and the Vizzones nailed it. And while they didn’t use a designer, they aren’t your average DIY couple. In fact, the Vizzones are arbiters of style. John Vizzone is the John Vizzone, luxury menswear designer of both his own line as well as former creative director of Ralph Lauren’s menswear collection. And with her own finger on the pulse of fashion, design, and entertaining, Sandy Vizzone, who also spent time in the world of fashion retail, most recently operated as the force behind two popular food and entertaining blogs. To say that the Vizzones understand how to make a visual impact is an understatement.
“With John’s design and my interest in entertaining, it all lent itself to us opening this place,” says Sandy. “It was almost like it was priming us for something that we didn’t even know was about to come.”
Though design and style come naturally to the Vizzones, renovating The Hugh wasn’t without its challenges. “John and I have been together since we were 19 years old. We’re together forever and ever and ever, and we have never argued as much,” says Sandy, about the renovation process of the house. “But I think where the arguments came in was how much to push it. John wanted to push it more. I was holding back.”
In the end, compromise won. And while the Vizzones’ personal style is extremely modern—their former home was a 4500-square foot all-white structure in Montclair, New Jersey—at The Hugh, they wanted to pay homage to the home’s Victorian roots without sacrificing their own aesthetic. The result? A design that is eclectic, interesting, and frankly, swoon-worthy, one that manages to channel the Victorian period without a single doily in sight. “We thought, okay, maybe they will appreciate our aesthetic,” says Sandy. “We had a vision, but we didn’t know if anybody would appreciate it.”
They needn’t have worried.
Prior to being purchased by the Vizzones, The Hugh operated as The Blue Rose Inn and Restaurant. It was a predictably cheerful Victorian, with a turquoise hue exterior and appropriate—though somewhat uninspired—period pieces inside. As The Hugh—named for the family that originally lived in the 1883 structure—the three-story Second-Empire style Victorian quietly commands attention with its notably dark façade.
“With the Mansard roof and all the woodwork, we really wanted something to make it pop,” says Sandy. “I like moody.”
While guests are treated to a glamorous interior, even passersby can catch a glimpse of The Hugh’s aesthetic. The muted black exterior with white gingerbread trim is subtly eye-catching, as inviting as the enormous porch full of rocking chairs in front and black rattan, wood, and natural wicker furniture with striped and floral cushions layered atop natural fiber rugs on the side porch.
The exterior hue is echoed inside, where everything is black and white, an ode to the color palette of the Vizzones’ former home. Unlike the stark modernism of that home, however, The Hugh is decadent, perfectly blending the Victorian elements of the house—crown molding, foot high baseboards, intricate ceiling medallions and a spindle railing, all painted black—with choices like bold black and white striped wallpaper in one sitting room and black damask wallpaper that’s almost gothic in another.
“I thought the damask brought a Victorian flavor,” says Sandy.
The choice of furniture is just as bold. In any given room, guests may find a modern white leather sofa—a remnant of the Vizzone’s former home—juxtaposed against gilded mirrors, antique marble top tables, a black painted upright piano complete with a bright pink velvet cushioned bench, alongside brushed gold accent tables, ornate chandeliers, and a striking collection of modern artworks.
And while the two sitting rooms on the first level are moody and bold, the enclosed porch, home to restaurant Jardin at the Hugh, is picturesque in its own way.
“I started following these designers from Australia and everything was in natural woods, light woods,” says Sandy. “Everything was bright.”
Complete with an entire wall of multi-paned windows, the Australia-inspired room is brighter than the other rooms of the house, with cheery black and white botanical wallpaper, simple white tables, and beaded sconces.
Upstairs is no less well-considered. Each guest room is named for a color, an homage to the antique brass door knockers that were on each door when the Vizzones took over. As such, the eight guest rooms—four per floor—each implement a distinct color palette, from the Ebony Room to the Rose, Green, Bronze, Ivory, Blue, Burgundy, and Silver Rooms.
The rooms aren’t large—the Vizzones didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the house by altering its footprint—but they are well-appointed with tufted headboards, bright white linens, and surprising pops of color. In the Rose Room, the gray tufted headboard is a soothing contrast to the deep pink walls, with chartreuse pillows adding a little of the unexpected, while in the Green Room, bold green walls act as the background to a show-stopping purple tufted headboard and purple chaise lounge. And in several places throughout the halls, guests can find quiet sitting nooks with cozy seating and views of stunning artwork.
The Hugh, with its modern Victorian design, manages to transcend both the potential coldness of a modernist aesthetic and the potential stodginess of traditional Victorian style, resulting in an environment that’s somehow both inspired and intimate—a welcome addition to Cape May. ■