Home Again

Inspired by a Vermont farmhouse, a young couple collaborates with designers to redo a 1960s colonial. The result is a space that brings the pair back to their New England roots.



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The architect designed the new kitchen of this Bergen County home to open into the family room. A traditional post and one step delineate the two rooms.

Photography by Laura Moss 

When a young couple purchased an older, four-bedroom home in northwest Bergen County, they promised the previous (and original) owner that they wouldn’t tear it down. Instead, they planned to add to the 1962 Garrison colonial and preserve as much of the original structure as possible. Though that was the goal, and the house still had plenty of charm, many things about it screamed “redo.”

It didn’t take long for Jeff DeGraw, of DeGraw & DeHaan Architects in Middletown, N.Y., to figure out that his hands were full when he was hired for the large-scale renovation.

“It was in bad shape when we first saw it,” he says, recalling the outdated design—low sloping roof, overhang in front, aluminum siding. “Plain and simple: It was a disaster.”

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Ivory cabinets complement the earthy tone of the red-oak floors and center island. The island was designed and built to resemble a table rather than food-prep space.

But a successful architect-client collaboration quickly ensued. Thanks to the homeowners’ New England roots and their frequent trips to a well-aging farmhouse in Vermont, they had a vision of exactly what they hoped to achieve.

“That building is what they wanted, and it served as our inspiration,” DeGraw says of the farmhouse that the couple had seen during previous house hunting trips. “The homeowners visited it several times and took notes, and we had pictures of it tacked up wherever we worked.”

As promised to the seller, the colonial was spared the wrecking ball, but the majority of the interior was overhauled. Changing the boxy feel of the old home presented the biggest challenge, DeGraw notes, as the homeowners sought an open, livable family space.

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A new white mantel pops against the bold red clay-colored walls, while the 8-foot ceiling and newly installed beams give the room its character and warmth. The blend of contemporary and rustic furniture, all selected by the homeowners, creates a cozy vibe.

“It was a rabbit hole of rooms, and we had to create something that flowed,” he says. Much of the house was stripped and brought down to the studs. More than half of the walls were demolished to create light and space, particularly in the living room. The facelift in that room also included the installation of ceiling beams as well as a fireplace and mantel.

One aspect that didn’t change in the living room (and the entire first floor) was the existing 8-foot ceilings, maintaining the coziness of the now-roomy space.

“That was part of the charm of this house,” DeGraw recalls. “In today’s world of high ceilings, a lower one creates a homey feeling—something big, new houses tend to lack. It also helps the home fit in with the character of the neighborhood.”

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Visitors in the foyer are welcome to ascend the paneled staircase to the second floor, turn right into the formal dining room or left into the living room (not pictured). The homeowners’ love of Oriental rugs is evident throughout the house. Most floors are covered with rugs by Karastan.

Also unchanged were the red-oak floors, which were laid throughout the existing structure then added to the rooms of the addition. A new kitchen was part of that addition and is highlighted by a large island. According to DeGraw, it was designed to resemble a piece of furniture found in a family room instead of the food-prep area.

Stools are set up at the island for those seeking a quick bite, while an inviting nook adjacent to the kitchen is available for a cozy meal. The homeowners selected furniture, countertops and the ivory cabinetry design, which was replicated on the facing of the refrigerator and range hood.

“Kudos to the homeowners for their selection of furniture and design—they knew exactly what they wanted,” DeGraw says. “We did all of the trim and millwork and the built-ins, like the banquette in the eating nook.”

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The butler’s pantry offers extra storage space and is a staging area for formal meals served in the adjacent dining room.

The kitchen steps down to the new family–televisionroom, the distinct spaces unified by trim and paneling but offset by the step and a support post. From there one can access two porches, including a screened-in, brick-floored outdoor room.

“The brick gives it a good New England feel,” DeGraw says. “It’s a lovely three-season room that overlooks the pool. It’s great for Sunday brunches or if you want to be outside but out of the sun.”

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Each of the 3.5 bathrooms is wrapped in blue floral wallpaper. The vanities are topped with bracketed marble shevles and countertops.

Four bedrooms, three bathrooms and the laundry room are situated on the second floor, which also boasts the same 8-foot ceilings. The tallest area is the new master bathroom—it was built as part of the addition and is the only room with a 9-foot ceiling.

The home expanded to 5,000 square feet when the project was finished. Despite the size of the project, it was completed in only about 10 months. “It went really well,” DeGraw says, complimenting the homeowners, the architecture team and the builders for the swiftness of the undertaking. “That shows what you can do when everyone is on the same page and decisions are made together—and when you have a clear inspiration.”

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The well-lit master bathroom includes the same red-oak floors found throughout the home and an elegant soaking tub beneath a trio of windows that overlooks the rear yard.

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