A Dutch Colonial Bumps Up the Charm
A gentle expansion builds on the spirit of a 78-year-old house
It never hurts to have a decorator in the house—especially one with drafting skills. Witness what pro Jennifer Vreeland McDermott was able to accomplish at the place she shares with her husband, Mark, and their two kids. Never mind wallpapering the dining room ceiling and hauling home a vintage stove. On some days, while the rest of the family was fast asleep elsewhere, she was standing in the backyard of their discombobulated Dutch Colonial Revival. "I was out there at five in the morning to make sure we got it right," she recalls of the rear addition. "I would say, 'No, it needs a better curve,'" meaning the final swervy dip taken by the new roof.
Architect: Lou Heiser, Tall Tree Studios; Tucson, AZ
General contractor: All State Builders and General Contractors, Harrington Park, NJ; 201-784-2600
Landscape architect: Garden Makers Landscaping, Trenton, NJ
Roof: Authentic Roof
Shutters: Atlantic Shutters, Inc.
Balusters, newel posts, and brackets (exterior) and beams and molding (interior): Fypon.com
Paint: Benjamin Moore's HC-113 Louisburg Green (siding), HC-9 Chestertown Buff (trim), and PM-15 Cottage Red (door)
Most homeowners take a pretty relaxed approach to the back of the house, even if they spend more time there than they do out front. But for Jennifer and her longtime enabler, architect Lou Heiser, all four sides matter, from the detailing around the eaves to the way alterations to the exterior affect the flow of traffic and light—and standing room—inside.
Shown: The addition's roofline echoes the side-facing gambrel roofs and has a bumpout with shingles to match those added to the existing dormers.
Tasked with turning her family's 1,600-square-foot house into a more functional 21st-century home, Jennifer and Heiser worked from the outside in. The result was a fresh layout and more living space, made possible in part by an addition that faces the backyard with camera-ready style and unexpected grace.
"Additions are almost sinful sometimes, and that was the last thing I wanted to do," says Heiser. "We tried to keep the same rooflines and made the interior fit, even though that meant some sloped ceilings on the second floor."
Shown: The homeowners and their kids, Kate, 16, and Dillon, 14, pose with Luna and Zoe.
Jennifer, a former magazine editor, first got to know Heiser back in the 1990s, when she was producing an annual show house and he designed and built one of them. They became so used to collaborating, you could say they were able to finish each other's floor plans.
"He can eke out usage in the smallest spaces," Jennifer says.
The house Jennifer wanted Heiser's help with this time was a 1937 three-bedroom, one-bath family heirloom, built and handed down by its original owners, Mark's grandparents. Situated in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, a suburb that blossomed after the George Washington Bridge opened to traffic, in 1931, the little house had done some hard time as a rental between the second and third generations. Overgrown foliage blocked the light in front, and in back the narrow stoop seemed hesitant about making contact with the yard. Still, the neighborhood offered period charm, not to mention easy access to Manhattan, and at first the couple spent their off-hours simply cleaning, scraping, and refinishing.
Shown: Deep-red walls set off the small foyer in the 1937 Dutch Colonial Revival, while sunny yellow walls and blue accents unite the stairwell gallery and living room.
"So much character was covered up by wallpaper and layers of paint and dirt and linoleum," Jennifer says. "We found some of the original doorknobs in the attic"—during his landlord years, Mark's father had replaced them with privacy locks—"and put them back." She adds: "We spent the first 18 months getting down to the bare bones, ripping up carpet, power-washing the outside. It was kind of like stripping off the 1980s as much as we could to bring the house back to the late 1930s."
Shown: Jennifer whitewashed the living room's brick fireplace and pine paneling and reinforced the home's cottage style with colorful textiles.
As the kids got older, the house began to feel more cramped. The 10-by-10-foot kitchen was crowd-averse and had four space-squandering doors, one on each wall. The sole, charmless bath was upstairs and served the whole house, and storage was a throwback to the Depression. "There was only one tiny closet on the first floor," says Jennifer. "You couldn't fit four seasons for four people in there."
To address the big picture, the couple brought in Heiser and general contractor Christopher Mueger— though brought in is probably the wrong phrase for Heiser. Working long distance from his Michigan studio, he turned discussions and drawings into finished plans without ever stepping into the house.
Shown: A rejiggered area near the garage entry now holds an office with built-in shelves and a dining table repurposed as a desk. Slate floor tiles allow the area, which also holds a coat closet, to double as a mudroom.
The team's goal was to expand and rework the layout without burdening the house with one of those supersize additions one sees so often in suburbia. By bumping out a mere 12 feet and cleverly tucking new spaces around old, the redo would increase living space from 1,600 to 2,300 square feet and give the family two baths, an extra bedroom, and two more closets upstairs, plus a new kitchen, a den with a gas fireplace, an office-area-plus-coat-closet that serves as a mudroom, and a half bath on the first floor.
Shown: Soapstone countertops, painted pine beadboard, and a table-like island reinforce the vintage look of the new kitchen.
Kitchen designer: Broadway Kitchens & Baths
Cabinets: Plain & Fancy
Countertops: Vermont Soapstone Co.
Beams and molding: Fypon
Montauk Black slate floor tile: M S International, Inc.
Island top: Craft Art
Refrigerator and microwave-wall oven: KitchenAid
Sink and faucet: Rohl
Pendant fixtures: Circa Lighting
Sconce: Robert Abbey, Inc.
Barstools: Unfinished Furniture Expo
Rug: Dash & Albert
"We figured we could just live upstairs with a makeshift kitchen in the living room while we renovated," Jennifer recalls wryly. But after a month, construction dust pushed them out the door and into the home of Mark's parents, where they began a three-month countdown to the final finishes.
Shown: Tucked into a period-style alcove is a restored 1950s Chambers stove.
Mueger's crew peeled off the old aluminum siding and took portions of the house down to the studs, allowing new windows, wiring, plumbing, and insulation to go in. The team kept the front-facing master bedroom while turning the second bedroom into a master bath and walk-in closet. They also tinkered with the hall to the new bedroom and study and updated the hall bath.
The addition proved to be its own production. "With any old house it's difficult to match up to the old framing and foundation so that it's seamless going through," says Mueger. After mapping out the study and the third bedroom on the addition's second floor, Jennifer asked to have them moved one step up, which would allow higher ceilings below. "Old houses always had steps," she pointed out to Mueger, who was skeptical at first, "and a higher ceiling meant I could add beadboard and faux beams and fatter molding."
Shown: The pantry door was salvaged from the house, painted tomato red, and outfitted with a pull fashioned from a fork.
The team built the office-mudroom area and half bath in the old kitchen space. This hardworking complex of small spaces serves as a buffer between the addition and the attached garage while funneling traffic toward the back of the house.
Shown: An arched opening, matched to an existing one, welcomes traffic between the dining room and kitchen. Jennifer stained and painted the new hutch and had her GC add a wainscot topped with sea-grass wallpaper and fabric tape trim.
From the outside, the addition acts as a gentle rebuke to homeowners anywhere who aim to expand their living quarters by slapping on boxy one- or two-story rear additions. This one is capped by a traditional gambrel roof with a triangular pediment ornamented by a Heiser signature: a bumpout with support brackets and faux louvers, loosely inspired by 18th-century dovecotes. He shingled both the bumpout and the existing garage dormers, providing textural contrast with the lap siding added to the rest of the house.
Shown: The new den has decorative ceiling beams, a built-in bar, and a gas fireplace flanked by bookcases.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's HC-159 Philipsburg Blue (walls) and HC-26 Monroe Bisque (trim)
Gas fireplace and mantel: Heatilator
Wine refrigerator: KitchenAid
Sconces: Robert Abbey, Inc.
Wing chair: Hickory Chair
The addition's sweeping roofline rises higher than the main house while echoing its side views, where the original gambrel roofs still hold sway. "I always match the new roof pitch to the existing roof pitch," says Heiser. On one side the gambrel roof over the garage is neatly aligned with the original roof above it, and Heiser says it was a struggle to tie together the roofs and existing dormers while making sure rainwater continued to flow where it should. "When remodeling a house, the roof-lines are always the greatest challenge," he notes.
Shown: Painted paneling on the walls and ceiling, a vintage-style sconce, and a salvaged pedestal sink with separate taps give the refurbished hall bath an updated period look.
Jennifer created a similarly layered effect inside, where she worked with carpenter John Savoia to add not only beefy trim, dining room wainscot, and period-style beadboard but also built-ins, like the bookcases that now frame the fireplace in the den. A palette of Delft blue, sunny yellow, tomato red, and antiqued white spills across the house, underscoring the flow of light from the south-facing addition's windows and two sets of French doors.
Shown: Pale blues and sandy beiges add to the tranquility of the upstairs master bedroom.
"I just love my kitchen," says Jennifer when pressed to choose her favorite room. "It's such a functional space, and warmed up with vintage finds. The dining room is right off it and we use it every day, so it feels like an eat-in kitchen."
Shown: A French door closes off the new master bath while inviting a glimpse of the wallpaper and checkerboard floor pattern.
Now that it has all come together, does she nurture secret plans to undertake another redo, perhaps at another period-style house?
Shown: Patterned wallpaper (a remnant), mismatched vintage fabrics, and beaded 6-inch wall paneling soften the lofty, light-filled study on the addition's second floor.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Decorator's White
"Oh, no, I'm so done," she says with a laugh. "It's our forever house. In fact, I hope one day the kids will take it over and make it theirs, too."
Shown: The addition holds two new rooms on the second floor, including a paneled bedroom for Dillon, 14, with windows overlooking the backyard and a skylight overhead.
The redo added 700 square feet to the 1,600-square-foot Dutch Colonial Revival.
The remodel included shifting the kitchen to a new spot and adding one-and-a-half baths.