Finding Creative Inspiration — and a Historic Home — in Maplewood

Jan 25, 2021

The Palabrica family was looking for connection, community, and a unique place to call “home.” They found it in the New Jersey suburbs.

In spring 2019, Meghan and Brian Palabrica were living in Brooklyn Heights and pregnant with baby #2. “Our good friends had worked with Suburban Jungle, so we reached out — but we had no idea where we wanted to be,” says Meghan.

“Our Strategist Robin Hoberman was great. She helped us explore everywhere — Connecticut, Westchester, New Jersey. We were really trying to find the right spot — Brian’s from New Jersey, my sister, and her family are in Fairfield, we have good friends in Mamaroneck. So we really cast a wide net.” Beyond just being near friends and family, the Palabricas wanted to be in a not-so-cookie-cutter community.

Meghan grew up in a century-old home outside of Baltimore and the family wanted to find a more historic house in a walkable community. “I wanted to be able to walk to the grocery store and the coffee shop and parks and playgrounds,” Meghan says. “I didn’t want to hop in the car every time we needed something or wanted to go somewhere.

For us, Maplewood was a perfect fit — it really clicked with us right away.” After settling on Maplewood they quickly found the right house: a farmhouse-style home built in 1898. While it needed a lot of work, Meghan and Brian were eager to dive into the renovation and truly make this house their own.

A new home, a big move, and a new baby — in three months

In August 2019 the Palabricas closed, and it was a whirlwind from there. The family — Meghan, Brian, and their then 18-month-old son John — moved in October. One month later they welcomed Brian, Jr. “It was a lot, but it was probably better that way,” Meghan says. “We just dove in and did everything — the move, bringing Brian Jr. home, getting settled in Maplewood and in the house. I barely remember it!”

Though they planned to jump right into renovations, COVID-19 shutdowns delayed their initial timelines. Even so, Meghan says, they’re grateful for the time and the opportunity to slow down. Since welcoming Brian, Jr., Meghan left her job at Ralph Lauren, and Brian has been able to work from home. Now, though, renovations are in full swing, and the family is focused on balancing the home’s history with their own needs and tastes.

“We’ve been working with the Maplewood Historic Society to review the work,” Meghan says. “We wanted to go over some massive additions and changes, but we first want to figure out exactly what the original layout was — a lot of work has been done on the house in the last 120 years, and we want to stay as true as possible to the original intent. We want to make sure we’re preserving the character and maintaining the historic charm, but modernizing the house at the same time. It’s exciting — and it’s a lot of fun!”

Restoring, refurbishing, recycling…and eating lots of pizza

This process has also inspired Meghan to explore other creative pursuits. With so many families coming and going over this last year, Meghan says she frequently stumbled across old furniture — furniture she was able to restore and either keep or sell to local families. “That’s also been really fun,” she says. “I was seeing pieces unlike anything that’s being mass-produced today, and I started to refinish and refurbish what I was finding.”

That, she said, quickly led to her newly-launched candle business. “We were drinking a ton of wine during COVID — and it felt like everyone else was, too. I started to research what we could do with the bottles to reuse them, and I saw how people were using bottles as vessels for candles. So I taught myself how to cut glass and sand down the bottles, and I started making candles. Now my neighbors know me as the local wine bottle collector. They leave me their empty wine bottles or I go and pick them up and I make candle vessels out of them.”

In December she launched her Etsy shop, JB Salvaged Designs, and is working on an ecommerce site that features both her candles and her restored furniture pieces. “I’d love to have a shop in downtown Maplewood one day!” Beyond her restoration and candle-making work, Meghan has spent much of the last year getting to know Maplewood.

On weekends the family hikes “even if it’s freezing cold” or hits local playgrounds. She also loves taking long runs through the area every Sunday. “Friday night is pizza night,” she says. “People always post about the best pizza in and around Maplewood, so we’ve been trying them all. We try a new place every week and watch a movie as a family.

Then one night a week Brian and I cook dinner — we try out a new recipe after the boys go to bed, then sit down and actually eat it together.” While the Palabricas have been visiting Brian’s parents in Tampa during the initial renovations, they’re heading home in late January while the work continues. They’re eager to finish the renovations and continue settling into both the house and the community.

“We’re so happy here and so happy to finish up the work on our house,” Meghan says. “Being in Maplewood has been great for us and for the boys, and we’re excited about everything that comes next.”

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