Circa-1920s Home Receives Modern-Day Kitchen Remodel

SHORT HILLS, NJ The owners of this picturesque home set in the woods moved here from their small brownstone in Jersey City, NJ to gain a little more room for their family, which includes two growing sons.

In doing so, the family gained more outdoor space, plus the charm of a circa-1920s house that features high gables and leaded windows reminiscent of something straight from a children's fairy tale.

However, that's where the fairy tale ended, as the interior space needed a some serious reworking. This was particularly the case with the kitchen, which was a cramped, dark space with failing fixtures, dated cabinetry and cracked floor tiles. It was certainly not the happy ending the owners especially the husband, who loves to cook envisioned.

Cue New York, NY-based Messana O'Rorke Architects, which the owners called upon to transform the fractured fairy tale of a kitchen into a modern-day ode to cooking for a family of four.

"The family was a client of ours," says Brian Messana, AIA and principal of the firm, along with his business partner and architect Toby O'Rorke. "We did some work for them on their brownstone that included remodeling the kitchen that [the husband] loved. This is the second project we've done for them."

And this project began with the simple idea of remodeling the existing kitchen and adding a sunroom.

"But Toby and I thought it was going to be too shady and cold because it faced north," says Messana. So, after further discussion with the owners, he and O'Rorke countered with a plan that moved the existing kitchen into the old den and changed the old den into a new guest bedroom with a bath attached.

"They loved it, and we went forward with the project," says Messana, noting he and O'Rorke worked with structural engineering firm Dunne and Markis Consulting Engineers in Riverdale, NY and general contracting firm Quality General Construction, Inc. in Kearny, NJ.

Into the 21st century
This project, which included reconfiguring most of the interior space on the first floor and enhancing the exterior, centered on the new kitchen addition.

And Messana and O'Rorke's only mandate was to provide a large, highly functioning kitchen. Their plan to relocate the kitchen "freed up a large amount of space, and they were gaining a much larger kitchen," notes Messana. "It also improved the circulation of the house."

But before they could put the kitchen together on the new location, the duo had to excavate an existing nuclear bomb shelter. "Because of the local building codes, we could not build on top of it," recalls Messana.

Once that challenge was tackled, Messana and O'Rorke put their plan into action by first continuing the light gray Portuguese Finestra limestone floor from Innovative Marble and Tile Inc. they laid down over radiant heating throughout the reconfigured first floor.

The next order of business involved punctuating the space with lots of natural light. To that end, "We installed a large skylight that the couple can look through from their second-story master bedroom window. Then we put a large 'hopper' window over the two Franke butler sinks and Waterworks faucets that sit on the wall that faces the lake. And we placed a picture window to frame the sky high up on the north wall," Messana explains.

Recessed Halo downlights, WAC undercabinet lighting and Luceplan D27 Orchestra lights for the skylight complete the illuminating lighting design.

Messana and O'Rorke then turned their attention to matters of storage and aesthetics by installing custom cabinetry throughout the kitchen.

The north wall features a custom, flush-mounted unit that houses a Sub-Zero refrigerator flanked by upper and lower cabinet storage. Two stainless steel countertops and a pair of open shelves for extra work space and small appliance storage are concealed by bi-fold doors on either side of the Sub-Zero.

Each concealed countertop area is replete with outlets for said small appliances and the family's flat-screen TV.

Two base cabinetry units sit opposite each other, on the east and west walls. One houses the two porcelain butler sinks along with a built-in Miele dishwasher and a concealed cleaning product storage and trash area. The other holds deep drawers full of the husband's pots and pans. It flanks a stainless steel, professional-style Wolf range, above which a pot filler and a stainless steel shelf for herbs sit.

All of the cabinetry features ash veneer fronts, which, he notes, contrast beautifully with the limestone floor, as well as with the statuary and Cararra marble they used in the new kitchen.

"We actually liked the color white, so we were using different tones of white," explains Messana. Indeed, he and O'Rorke installed statuary marble countertops from Tilary Granite and Marble Inc. and applied tiny Cararra marble bricks from Waterworks to the walls.

"The statuary has more white and less, but larger, more clear grey veins, and the Cararra is a little more gray. Above the Cararra is dry wall painted in all white. The limestone floor is all gray. We loved the contrast between the different tones of white and the gray floor and the natural grains and tones of the ash fronts," describes Messana.

As requested by the owners, Messana and O'Rorke finished the space by placing a stainless steel table and stools for the sons "to hang out" in the center in lieu of an island.