Having it Both Ways

Must high ceilings and modern oversized windows rule out a comfortable, homey feeling? Not in this architect’s own Washington Township home.

Design by Dan D'Agostino

The property was simply too good to sell to someone else. Architect Dan D’Agostino had considered developing for sale a one-acre parcel of land in Washington Township with his contractor partner, Mike Elayan, who also happened to be his best friend. But after reflecting further on the attributes of the spot, it was no deal. D’Agostino and Elayan decided to divide the property and build on it for their own families.

The house D’Agostino set out to create—with ample input from his wife, Andrea—had to strike a balance between modern openness and cozy comfort. At the crest of a road lined with elegant homes, the leafy property was at the highest elevation in the area, affording unobstructed views of both sunrises and sunsets. Living in a house built to take advantage of those views, D’Agostino thought, would be like being on a permanent vacation. 

Soaring walls of glass on the front and back of the house make the most of celestial events and green vistas. D’Agostino installed  a floating steel stairway between the first and second stories to maximize outdoor views. “From the great room,” he says, “we can see the sun rising on our left in the morning and setting on our right at night.”

The great room also reflects the family’s desire to live communally. An open-concept layout allows them to be together even if they’re engaged in different activities. And while the spacious room encompasses living and dining areas and a kitchen, it’s still imbued with the cozy feeling the D’Agostinos loved in their previous, smaller home, thanks largely to clever design: While the ceiling is elevated in the entryway and over the dining alcove to take advantage of the glass walls, it’s deliberately lower over a large part of the great room. “I tried very hard to volley back and forth between closed and open,” D’Agostino says.

The coziest room in the house is probably the master bedroom. Its vaulted ceiling adds drama, but could also have made the room feel excessively stark had it not been for D’Agostino’s deft touches, such as a line of horizontal trim that leads the eye downward and, above it, the use of shiplap, which adds a series of shadow lines to break up the ceiling space. Adding to the warmth, quite literally, is a two-sided gas fireplace, one side facing the bedroom and the other the master bathroom, where it complements a clean, modern design featuring a floating vanity and mirrored wall. D’Agostino designed the bedroom’s east-facing window so that it would frame the sunrise, in keeping with the home’s “staycation” theme.

“We both wish we could stay in that area of the house forever,” he says. It’s a desire bolstered by the bedroom’s built-in coffee bar. 

Another intimate space is the playroom, which is literally hidden behind a  sliding barn door. The room’s playful elements include a hanging rattan chair, a lightboard, a chalk paint wall, a working pay phone and antique shutters to hold artwork. “We tried to make the room appealing enough so that the kids don’t necessarily need to rely on toys to play, but can play with the room itself,” says D’Agostino. That playfulness extends  to the mudroom, where “mailboxes” for stashing clutter are labeled with each family member’s birthday. 

As the mudroom indicates, the family draws a clear line between cozy and cluttered. “We’re neat freaks,” Andrea D’Agostino admits. So the design makes use of multiple built-ins, including a long cabinet adjacent to the floating stairway, to hide the detritus of daily living. D’Agostino tucked a large pantry area behind the kitchen wall to keep food-prep messes out of sight. “The downside of living in a house with an open-concept first floor,” says D’Agostino, “is that if you don’t plan for it, your house is going to look cluttered.”

The D’Agostinos’ house looks anything but. The built-ins, the glass walls and the sleek kitchen all give the home a distinctly modern feel, which is balanced by more traditional elements like a coffered ceiling in the great room, the shiplap in the master bedroom and an exterior that evokes New England by way of the Hamptons. In fact, says D’Agostino, from the floor plan, the house looks like something that was designed to sit on a cliff in California overlooking the ocean. But Washington Township isn’t Monterey, so D’Agostino designed a house that would make sense in its environment. On the exterior, the two-story glass walls are balanced by traditional touches, such as an oriel bay window—more commonly seen on Tudor Revival homes—and a roofline featuring three peaks, which, D’Agostino says, “ties everything together.”

In fact, what really ties the house together is joy: the joy of living next door to your best friend, in rooms specifically designed for the whole family, in a house by turns dramatic and homey—the perfect place, as it happens, for a vacation that never ends.

Categories: Bergen Health & Life, Homepage Features