Business Maplewood Millburn Real Estate South Orange Towns

Home Grown: Creating ‘Idea Space’ in Maplewood’s Hilton Area & Beyond

Photo: Anna Herbst

When Julie and Darren China (pronounced Key-nah) purchased their home in the Hilton section of Maplewood in 2007, they renovated it top to bottom, and they have been having a creative impact in our communities ever since.

After collaborating on their home so successfully, and on a few more design projects in recent years, Julie and Darren decided to take their personal partnership to a new level. In December 2015, Julie partnered with Darren at the previously named Studio China Architecture + Design — now re-named Idea Space Architecture + Design to be more in line with their creative thinking.

Essentially, it is a complete service business that combines the very best in interior design (Julie’s expertise) and architecture (Darren’s expertise) to create spaces for people that maximize both elements.

Here is the impact they had on their own home:




Dining Room Before & After

mw-house-dr-before mw-house-dr-after

Kitchen Before & After



Typically, if you want to renovate a kitchen or put on an addition to your home, you’ll need to hire an architect to draw the plans, an interior designer to decorate the space and then contractors to interpret and build it. With so many moving parts on one project, there is a wide margin for error.

Now, there’s Idea Space, which can do it all. Julie and Darren have a very organic approach in working with new clients. First, they meet in person to probe their true needs and wants. Then they discuss their style preferences. After brainstorming, they come back for a meeting to present multiple different design concepts.

After much discussion and a thorough analysis of the different concepts, the client often chooses to combine various elements of each. The Chinas then refine the plans, develop the design and create the construction drawings and put the work out to bid to three local contractors.

And if that’s not enough — they also manage the entire project through completion. It’s an ideal business model because the client has the advantage of having an experienced professional involved in every step of the process from start to finish.

Julie has 15 years of high-end residential interior design experience working for a prestigious firm in Manhattan. There, she put her design degree from Pratt Institute to use designing luxury apartments in notable Manhattan buildings.

Darren worked as an architect in both Manhattan and Brooklyn for many years before going out on his own. Together, they are a winning combination for executing homeowner’s dreamy designs that cohesively combine form and function.

While they personally favor a modern aesthetic, they do not push it on their customers. Instead, in the early stages of each project, they ask their clients to create idea boards on Pinterest to include room styles, furniture, paint colors, etc. that they favor. This helps them to define the customer’s preferred style and to design with it in mind.

They have renovated kitchens and put additions on homes in Maplewood and South Orange as well as some commercial spaces in the area. Because they are residents of SOMA and choose to source all local talent for their projects (contractors, photographers etc.), this is not only a unique business concept, but is also completely “home grown.”

Recently Completed Design

Kitchen Before

franklin-before-1 franklin-before-2

Kitchen After

Photo by Anna Herbst
Photo by Anna Herbst
Photo by Anna Herbst

Three Design Tips from the China’s for Making Your Kitchen More Inviting:

1. Lighting: Introduce as much natural light as possible during the day by way of windows and doors while at night creatively utilize various types of light fixtures to not only illuminate the room, but provide a sense of warmth.

2. Color: Create a contrast in color between various surfaces to allow certain elements in the space to stand apart. Don’t be afraid to mix in a color that you love if it makes you happy.

3. Gathering: The kitchen is the heart of the home and there should be space for the entire family to gather and hang out.  There’s nothing better than gathering everyone around a kitchen table or an island to prepare a meal together, laugh and have good conversation.


Julie China – Principal and Interior Designer, Idea Space
[email protected]
C: (347) 452-1591

What is “Home Grown”?


Amy Harris

I don’t know about you, but I am always bowled over by the incredibly interesting people I meet who reside in South Orange and Maplewood. When I speak with friends in neighboring towns and other areas of New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut they are equally as bowled over by the notable people who choose to make their lives here and the incredible contributions they make to the community.

That’s why I am writing the blog series titled “Home Grown.” In it, I profile South Orange and Maplewood residents who are having a measurable impact in their professional and personal lives including the arts, education, social justice, public service, parenting, innovative entrepreneurs, etc.

An important component of what makes these people notable is how different their backgrounds are, where they come from, and how they landed in SOMA. There will not be a financial component to being profiled in “Home Grown.”

If you or someone you know may be right for participation I welcome your recommendations. Please email me at [email protected].

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