Tucked away in Central Jersey lies a structure, a piece of art, and an incredible architectural statement. Said to have had Andy Warhol darken its doorways, this contemporary home (c.1981) makes a statement unlike any of its neighboring dwellings. Its stoic, but inviting facade is breathtakingly beautiful, and behind what appears to be merely a wall, hides a home that would captivate anyone who appreciates design. With hidden gardens, stone pathways, spacious rooms, countless windows, and awe-inspiring mixtures of color, this home is aesthetically pleasing in ways that artists would dream of.
Thanh Nguyen and Gavin Quynh have been partners for 18 years. Having recently purchased this home, a blank canvas of sorts, their relationship, and capacity for creativity has come to life, their house the conduit. Having come from nearly nothing, Thanh and Gavin invite us into their home to share an intimate story, particularly in how this house is an expression of their love for one another, for their culture, and their love for attainable luxury.
When asked how they met, and how their journey played into their style, they explained that two years after meeting through a friend, they moved into a small apartment together. It was here that their love for design began to develop. It was an underwhelming second floor apartment and Gavin and Thanh say they had come from nothing, having to save as much as they could to merely furnish the space. It was ok though, they explained, as the landlord saw what they had done to transform the place, and was amazed.
Eventually, the couple moved to Kentucky intending to open a restaurant together. Unfortunately, Gavin didn’t last too long in their pursuit of marrying Vietnamese culinary arts with the Deep South, and the couple eventually found their way back to New Jersey. With a new dream of opening a salon, something the couple had previous experience in; they sought more affluent areas of New Jersey. They believed that the salon industry would appeal more to this type of community, and they took a risk opening a shop in a quaint, Central Jersey town. After opening, they began a tireless search for a new home.
Dirty, dated, and in need of extraordinary care, they eventually found the home of their dreams. Thanh shared his creative process, “It started with gutting the place, painting every inch of the house, ripping out walls, and refinishing the house’s signature concrete floors.” Thanh explained that they tried to create an “art gallery” environment while maintaining the home’s warmth. Discussing the previous owner of the home, “She had a
very interesting aesthetic,” he said, “She worked for a museum and her husband built this house for her. It’s rumored that Warhol came here to party. She entertained a lot of artists, but we’re still trying to find the proof.” Gavin and Thanh start their days very early, often working 12 hours daily, and leading a team of workers. When asked how this busy lifestyle translates into their gorgeous home, Gavin said it takes a strong work ethic and a willingness to work for the life one might desire, rather than expecting it to arrive on its own accord. Gavin explained that it’s a willingness to work hard that keeps them motivated to invest in their home.
As we sat in a sitting room off of the master bedroom, Gavin and Thanh began to open up even more about their journey. Gavin explained that before emigrating from Vietnam, the influence of the Communist Party was thriving, severely impacting North and South Vietnam. Gavin shared that his family, formerly wealthy, underwent what the Communists coined as “Re-diversified Wealth.” Ultimately, the Communist Party took everything from Gavin’s family, and they began to live in a refugee camp.
After his family was able to immigrate to the United States, Gavin talked about his love for the arts and how he became an artist. It was a therapy of sorts during an intense immigration process. Gavin credits his artistic background and his immigrant journey for not only offering him sanctuary in times of trouble, but also harvesting creativity within to inspire him in the renovation of the home. One painting hangs in the foyer, inspired by the 2016 Presidential Election. Rooted in feelings of hopelessness for our country, he explained that the painting represents LGBT rights, women’s equality, and a cry for change.
However artistic as Gavin may be, an equally prominent eye for design blazes within Thanh. “Gavin and I bounce off of each other. I come up with ideas in my sleep and I say ‘Ok, this is my vision, can you help me?’ I don’t claim to be an interior decorator, but this house is a reflection of the vision that I see. I come up with ideas, and he brings them to life.”
I couldn’t help but notice how luxurious, and aesthetically stimulating the house was. I wanted to know how, as a millennial, I could make luxury mine. We are a generation regarded as unwilling to work for the finer things. Thanh, laughing, responded, “Yes, we
like the finer things, but you must work towards it. It takes hard work, dedication, love, sacrifice, and fun along the way. Enjoy the journey, be focused.” Thanh went on to explain that the power of relationship fuels his success. Gavin took it a step forward, “In American society, there’s a difference between ‘relationships’ and ‘things.’ We tend to focus too much on the ‘honeymoon’ feeling, jumping into relationships when we’re not ready to work for it, and then we get tired, and move on to the next one. This house represents the relationship Thanh and I have. It came as a blank slate, but required lots of love, devotion, and heartache. If you work for it, if you’re patient, if you focus on the result, then you achieve it.
“If you just focus on the now, then you lose the essence of achieving it by your own hands. This house took many years. But now, we love to come home. It’s ours. It’s a satisfying feeling to know that it’s ours. We come home after a long day of work, and we say: ‘we made this.’”
Thanh and Gavin continue to invest in their home, actively creating new gardens, spaces, and projects. While investing energy into their business, they invest even more energy into how their home’s design impacts the people around them whom they love. The doors of this home are often wide open to family and friends. With plenty of room at their table, you’ll find a fresh plate of a hot Vietnamese cuisine waiting for
you, sitting comfortably in the midst of the captivating decor, and maybe even under one of Gavin’s latest paintings.
We thank Thanh and Gavin for sharing their home, and their heartfelt story. They have brought to life many human elements of design in this gorgeous place they call home.