Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Mid-Century Modern in NJ

Once upon a time I joined the Coldwell-Banker Concierge Program.  What this program does is when you buy a house through CB, they give you lifetime access to their database of various services in your new area (or whatever area you end up in throughout your life).  I decided to sign up to offer my services to the people in my area.  I did get one call from it, for an office redesign.  When I met with my potential clients, they weren't sure if they wanted to stay in their office and redo it or move to another one.  They ended up moving and not needing my services for the office, but hired me to redo the first floor of their home in Englewood, NJ.

All the houses on their street date back to the 1950's and are all the same design.  My clients bought their house several years ago and always felt there was something amiss.  

Like most people they couldn't quite put their finger on it.  It was the fact that the previous owners tried to "traditionalize" the house by making it a Home Depot showcase, with traditional looking kitchen cabinets in Oak, an entry door with an oval patterned glass panel and arch-top raised panel doors to every room.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with full-width modern windows or the sloped ceilings and exposed beams on the first floor.  I suggested taking down the walls of the kitchen and making the entire first floor one open space.  The entire floor space was not too large, and my concern with an open space plan was that the components would be too close together.  But the family only consists of two people and they're not heavy-duty cooks, so it might just work. 

The space was broken into three functional parts: a kitchen, a dining area and a living area with a fireplace.  The clients loved their fireplace but did not use it enough because it was a traditional wood-burning one, which presented too much of a hassle for them.  They wanted it converted to gas logs (a much better option than a gas insert!) and they were also hoping to heat the Living Room with this fireplace.  When I asked why the heating aspect was so important it turned out they had severe heating and air-conditioning problems.  Once we opened up the walls and ceilings during demolition we instantly knew what the problem was: there was no insulation of any kind anywhere in the house!  This became the front-burner issue.  We consulted with insulation professionals and decided on a few insulation types to achieve maximum results. 

This insulation issue caused another problem: because the crawl space was not insulated, the Bamboo floors deteriorated severely.  They were probably poorly installed in the first place but the absence of temperature control played its part.  The planks came apart and buckled.  I was able to convince the clients to splurge on a new Walnut floor.  We selected the clear stain, which brought up the natural beauty of Walnut.

The clients wanted to keep the entire color scheme neutral yet contrasting, so we chose a dark Thermofoil for the kitchen cabinets, a taupe Quartz counter top and a glass mosaic tile that was a combination of pale neutrals and taupe. 

To visually connect the kitchen and the dining area, we chose to make the dining table out of  Wenge.  The richness of natural Wenge against a cream color of the dining area cabinets created the striking contrast we were after. 

The fireplace mantel was Travertine with a stepped-up hearth taking out a good portion of an already tight living area, so I proposed to remove it and make the hearth flush with the wood floor surface.  Because the fireplace was now a gas log unit, there was no danger of hot particles spilling out on the wood floor.  We selected a beautiful Emperador marble for the surround and the hearth, and I designed a contemporary sculptural composition to act as a mantel.

Now that this project is finished, the interior of the house is much better connected to the modern exterior and there is a sense of visual unity that the house was lacking before.  A few months after this project was completed I was called back to work on the landscape design.  I wanted a variety of shapes, textures and sizes, and with the help of a landscaper selected the appropriate plants.  We also added some path lighting and a sprinkler system. 


  1. It's nice to see some mid-century modern on the East coast! I'm from NJ now living in CA. Beautiful job!

  2. Thank you! The town of Englewood is filled with these modern houses but they have all been "traditionalized" and not in a very attractive way!