before and afterInteriors

Before & After: A Hotelier’s Century-Old Retreat

by Garrett Fleming


The year was 1884, and hotelier Charles Leland was in dire need of a respite from the hustle and bustle of the hospitality world. So much so, that instead of taking a standard vacation he decided to build himself a retreat on Long Branch, NJ’s Shrewsbury River. Modeled after the Cuban haciendas he so admired, his new home boasted a central courtyard and 11 fireplaces. Deemed “Content.” (yes, that’s a period), the decadent property shut him away from the world, allotting him the rest and relaxation he so longed for, and for years Charles enjoyed the space and its privacy. It was just what he needed.

Unfortunately, by 2014 the house was in foreclosure and in terrible disrepair. Pipes, running water and heating were nowhere to be found. Charles Leland’s dream home had definitely seen better days. The bones were still there though, and a special couple on the hunt for a beachfront house became enchanted by its old-world charm. That special duo was Courtney and John Achilli. It only took one glance for them to realize the value of revitalizing such a historic retreat.

At the start of the project both were working full-time, so renovating Content. took place on the weekends and late at night. After passionately chipping away the property for a bit, they both realized something quite extraordinary about Leland’s retreat. Its potential as a party venue and rental property offered them the unique opportunity to quit their jobs and focus on preserving the space full-time. And for the past two years they’ve done just that.

Through Courtney’s keen eye for design and John’s carpentry skills they’ve renewed the space while also playing into its heritage and roots, something the previous owners failed to achieve. Over the years, ex-owners had attempted to modernize the estate, bringing in jacuzzi tubs and switching up door frames and kitchen accessories. They were all poorly-planned and did nothing to amplify the house’s fabulous, vintage vibe. The clever changes Courtney and John have since executed make the home feel modern but not so contemporary that they seem out of place. Courtney says Goodwill and other secondhand shops are to thank for this new look.

Nowadays, with renovated bedrooms, bathrooms and a stellar kitchen fit for entertaining, Charles Leland’s home has been given a second life. Party planners line up to celebrate inside its walls and overnight guests luxuriate in crisp linens and bathe amongst vintage-inspired tilework. Overall, the pair has done a stellar job with the property and all of their hard work has definitely paid off. Click through to take a peek at the renovation, and be sure to check out Courtney and John’s site Content + Company for even more details on the estate. Enjoy! —Garrett

Photography by Courtney Achilli & Veronica Lola

Image above: The great room boasts two seating areas. While a luxury, this also proved to be a design challenge, and the Achilli’s had to play around with its layout for months. At the end of the day, this vintage-inspired mix of secondhand accessories situated around the fireplace is what did the trick.

Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
A $25 Goodwill find, this citron chair is vital to brightening the otherwise overpowering amount of dark wood tones in the great room.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
When John and Courtney purchased Content. in 2014 it had been abandoned for years and didn't even have running water or heat. Without a doubt the process of renovating it was a challenge, but laughing when things went awry and playing up each other's strengths was what kept the couple chugging along.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
Of all of the rooms in the home, the dining room was in the best shape when the pair took over the property. All it needed was a fresh coat of Benjamin Moore "Hancock Green" to modernize it. A coffee station for overnight guests and original doors also enliven the room.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
Nostalgic memorabilia such as the original deed to Content. and some of the creator's treasures hang at this end of the room.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
Lucy -- the previous owner -- used these quarters as her dressing room, and it was difficult for Courtney to strip it of this fabulous wallpaper. Unfortunately, it had been damaged by water and simply had to go. The silver lining, though, is how much the brick fireplace and original floors shine without it.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
When they removed the room's wallpaper, they discovered the walls were covered in this fantastic beadboard. Inspired by this original touch, John and Courtney continued the wainscoting to the ceiling and lathered it in Benjamin Moore "Tarrytown Green" to make it the star of the room.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
An outdated jacuzzi tub, exposed toilet and little storage made the bathroom off of the largest bedroom not only an eyesore but highly dysfunctional.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
In order to utilize the space better, the toilet was moved behind a dividing wall that provides much needed storage, and the gargantuan jacuzzi was replaced with a thrifted clawfoot tub. The latter's look fits much more nicely with the home's overall aesthetic and is framed by windows trimmed by John. Benjamin Moore "Van Deusen Blue" amps up the walls.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
This guest room came with a moody ceiling and renovated floors that were good to go. These rich elements inspired the pair to play up the idea of hard and soft by outfitting the rest of the room with crisp white linens and walls.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
The original kitchen was laid out quite awkwardly with the sink and stove in the middle of the room and drywall covering these fabulous wooden beams. In order to make the space more functional, all appliances were moved to the outer edge of the room, and John designed a new island that's perfect for entertaining.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
Since they aren't in here every day, Courtney and John looked to the guest bathroom to take a design risk: statement tile from SomerTile.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
This tile wall was a beast to execute, but the results have made it Courtney's favorite renovation project. The look was created using seven different tiles inspired by vintage designs displayed in a repeating pattern, hence the challenge.
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
"What we love most about our home is... embracing the challenges of preserving its history while allowing it to shape our future" -- John and Courtney Achilli
Before & After: A Hotelier's Century-Old Retreat, Design*Sponge
The hacienda-style home was built in 1884 by hotelier Charles Leland as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of work.

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  • This would be such a cute spot to have a weekend getaway. I love that they strive to keep the integrity of the home, it makes it all a bit more special. The mix of home furnishings is what gives the home a more vintage feel, for me.

    • Thank you Charlotte! We’re gearing up for a fun, beach season here at Content! Vintage furniture is never in short supply (I’m always collecting), and love changing out the looks with the seasons. It’s always a new experience for return guests.

    • Thanks Elizabeth! The kitchen is one of our favorite spaces, as well. John’s oak island is a dream for entertaining. As for the green, guest room accent wall, I suppose it’s not everyone’s cup of green tea ;) Luckily, that Suite is one of our most requested for overnight guests!

  • WOW! Just WOW! One of my favorite B&A’s ever. Courtney, what an eye you have. I’m a veteran thrifter and know well the giddy delight of finding the perfect chair or rug. You and
    John have done an incredible thing, beyond just making the space beautiful and comfortable. I’d say you’re going to heaven for rescuing Content. but it’s obvious you’re already THERE! Bravo!

    • Thank you so much for your kind feedback! Indeed, thrifting IS so satisfying! Its also allowed us to furnish Content. on a showstring, and we don’t worry about guests enjoying our decor since its already broken in ;)

  • Beautiful! You guys did a wonderful job reviving your home. May I ask where you purchased your iron beds? Thanks~

  • What an inspiring couple! I can’t believe how hard this must have been and you two seem to have had a great attitude about it. Great work. Also, I love the color you chose for the dining room. I might have to keep that in mind for when I paint my own bedroom.