Craigslist Love Story: How New Jersey’s Toledo Geller Does Custom Furniture

Toledo Geller custom furniture

They met on Craigslist. Seriously. Designer Virginia Toledo had just launched her own firm and, inundated with work, posted a quick help-wanted online. Meanwhile, Jessica Geller was in the midst of exiting her career in social work when, on a lark, clicked to apply. (It was the first design-industry job she’d pursued.) That was 15 years ago. The Bergen County, New Jersey, duo has been partnering creatively ever since.

Never ones to shy away from pattern nor color, the women have found a successful niche melding handsome textures and time-tested neutrals with more “editorial moments,” as we say in the biz—think Thibaut and British-maker wallpapers, powerful powder rooms, and envelope-pushing kids rooms. (Gingham on the ceiling!) Their respect for traditional furniture plans means the resulting rooms are always forward-thinking and livable, ostentatiously never look-at-me. There’s undoubtedly a note of fun in each—theirs are rooms that make it hard to mope or complain. The same can be said of the Toledo Geller studio—the firm’s Wellness Wednesdays have included both a trip to a local yoga studio and a margarita night because, as they put it, “wellness means different things to different people.”

Read on for more—and don’t miss their explanation of the workhorse custom pieces that tie it all together—this is smart stuff. —Sophie Donelson

How’d you get that style of yours
We’ve come a long way, baby. It definitely took time for us to ‘find’ ourselves. That balance between playing it safe and taking risks that we had some level of confidence that we could pull off. Trial and error, studying coffee table books and magazine spreads of the greats and of our contemporaries… We have always experimented with color and pattern and as we’ve matured our abilities also became more refined. 

What was your first-ever custom-made piece?  
We had a project with a lot of low-slung European furniture that the client already owned. This was a long time ago when really sleek and modern furniture hadn’t come stateside yet—at least not at a normal price point—but if we had selected ready-made readily available furniture, we knew that our new items would look like giants or that the sofa our client already owned would look child-size. So we sketched out some sleek ‘fireside’ chairs and a modern, low-slung tete-a-tete to coordinate, scale-wise, with the existing furnishings.

What do you always spec as custom?
There’s a hybrid sofa/bench that we designed—it’s sized more like a bench but looks like a comfy sofa. It fits in spaces that really can’t accommodate a real sofa but isn’t practical to have a bench that no one would ever sit on. And there’s a modern skirted ottoman we designed that we find ourselves using over and over—it has all of the comfort and practicality of an ottoman but the flat top and tailored skirt keep it from being too frumpy and casual.

What custom project are you dying for a client to request?
A tented room, lattice walls…. something dramatic and theatrical. 

Tell us about a mistake making furniture:
Many years ago we specified an 18’ dining table. It was the right size for the room, but we failed to consider how it would get into the room. And through a New York City pre-war apartment on the 10th floor no less. We tried everything, and eventually had the top sent up with a brave soul ON TOP of the elevator shaft, and the base sawn in half on the sidewalk of Park Avenue. We gained a few gray hairs with that one! 

Design your personal sofa style at home:
Jessica: I Just moved into a new home and I’m designing one that’s super comfortable but doesn’t look messy—think tight back with loose down seat cushions. Skirted and striped! With a pair of pillows in each corner/end. 

What do you find… questionable?
Really tall and really tufted… like that glam look. Think white leather and lucite. Not for us.  

How did you learn to spec custom pieces confidently?
We always dissect measurements. We’ll find a sofa in our studio or home and compare those measurements to what we’re trying to achieve, seeing what’s realistic and what just won’t be comfortable. Custom pieces are a necessity when a standard size just won’t cut it.

It’s sometimes easiest to stop scouring our sources and just create it ourselves.

What sorts of pieces do you do really well?
We designed a modern chaise/daybed several years ago that is the perfect piece to tie a long or narrow living room together. We’ve spec’d this piece over and over. 

What fabric and profile combinations always work?
We do stripes, checks, and plaids on everything… we recently made our hybrid sofa/bench in the sweetest blue and white stripe and we walked away saying that everyone should have one of these! 

Go-to textile companies:
Schumacher, The Vale, Rebecca Atwood, Anna Spiro.

How do you address upholstery for a family with young kids?
Always invest in upholstery—especially the pieces that will get used a lot because those insides will stand the test of time. Fabric should always be high performance. If it doesn’t come with stain protection, get it protected after the fact. 

Rapid-Fire Round

What’s on the playlist? Jessica likes acoustic covers, Virginia likes Country. When we need to focus it’s French Bistro music and always Disco Fridays.

Sofas: Skirted, platform, or bare legs? Plinth base.

Sofa pillows: Knife edge, box, welt, or other? All of the above, adorned with contrast piping, welts, tape, or fringe!

Sectional sofas: Yes, all the time. It’s how we live, so why fight it? 

Generously decorative-pillowed beds: Shams and maybe a body pillow/bolster. But we aren’t fussy in the bedroom. 

Upholstered headboard? Nine times out of ten. 

Coffee table or ottoman? Slight preference for a coffee table.

Your best ideas: Shower, always!

A dream client… trusts you and is willing  to take risks. And is KIND! That’s the most important!

My first real sofa:
Jessica: A turquoise Jonathan Adler with a white wood frame scored at a warehouse sale.
Virginia: A custom royal blue English roll arm taped in white trim.

We’re suckers for… seersucker, plaid, leopard.

Any office pets? Wolfgang, a Weimaraner; Tate, a Goldendoodle; and Poppy, a Double Doodle.

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