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NJ home makeover: $70K for a new kitchen with mid-century flair |

NJ home makeover: $70K for a new kitchen with mid-century flair

N.J. home makeover is a regular feature on NJ.com that showcases designer, contractor and DIY renovations, large and small. To submit your renovation for consideration, email home@starledger.com with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach “before” and “after” photos of what you renovated.


Barbara Kaplan and Edward Chestnut had six bedrooms and four bathrooms in a 1911 Montclair Colonial with 4,220 square feet of living space.


It was the house they’d lived in for more than 20 years as their son and daughter grew to adulthood. It was also a house with significant operating and upkeep expenses and a $36,000 tax bill that kept going up.

With their children grown and their own retirement approaching, Kaplan decided that a smaller house would allow them to better use their resources.

“My husband didn’t want to go,” she said.

But she convinced him that it would be better to spend their money on travel and experiences instead of property taxes and maintenance.

They enjoyed their life in Montclair and the town’s proximity to New York and their children and grandchildren. Finding a suitable little house in Montclair wasn’t easy, however, so they looked without luck in neighboring towns. Finally, a 1,800-square-foot Montclair split-level came on the market.

“I loved it the minute I saw it,” Kaplan said. “It was much more livable because it was small enough that we wouldn’t have to spend a lot living here.”

Beyond that, the home’s 1950s construction offered a sun porch, an enormous backyard, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sizeable play area for their grandchildren.

“It’s a house that is surprisingly large on the inside,” she said. “We had to fight to get it.”

And while they were going against a couple of young buyers in a bidding war, they were planning renovations that would make the house their own. Thanks to advance planning by their interior designer Tracey Stephens once they were under contract, contractors were able to begin gutting the kitchen the day after Kaplan and Chestnut closed on the property.

“I was able to arrange with the attorneys for permission to file for a permit before closing,” said Stephens, who noted that it typically takes about four weeks for building permits to be granted.

She had also measured the kitchen and ordered cabinetry.

“We were doing the planning, the drawing and ordering the cabinets before they closed,” she said. “The cabinetry has an eight-week lead time, so we planned so they would be on site when we were ready.”

The plan was a gut-renovation that would make the most efficient use of the kitchen’s 143 square feet. Kaplan says that was about a third of the size of her old kitchen, but she wanted it to have all the same features and conveniences within the existing footprint.

“I thought there was a way to do it,” she said. “It was just a question of whether we could fit everything.”

Her wish list included a large food pantry and enough space for orderly storage of all the cookware, serving pieces and eating utensils she would bring along.

“I wanted to be able to make food and serve it without feeling I was living in an ant hill,” she said.

They also wanted a kitchen where they could comfortably host their family and friends.

Stephens had a wall removed between the kitchen and dining room that opened up the space and gave the kitchen a bit of breathing room. Where the wall had been she ordered cabinetry for an L-shaped configuration including a 7-1/2-foot-long peninsula of cabinetry with an engineered stone countertop that matches other kitchen counters.

On the dining room side of the peninsula, Stephens made use of what could have been wasted or hard-to-reach space, giving it a stack of four drawers at the end where it flanks another cabinet on the opposite side. She also used four drawers in other areas of the kitchen.

“Sometimes in a base cabinet with three drawers, the drawers tend to be too deep,” she said.

More drawers with less depth can offer a higher level of order.

Kaplan also wanted a dishwasher in drawers. Her previous kitchen had a double-drawer Fisher Paykel dishwasher. Stephens, who specializes eco-friendly kitchen and bathroom design, also liked the dishwasher because it is among the kitchen’s features that use water and energy wisely.

Stephens began the kitchen’s design by devising a plan for the most advantageous placement of the dishwasher and other essential appliances. She then designed the cabinetry layout around them. The kitchen’s plumbing and wiring needed to be upgrades before work began.

“You don’t want to connect new appliances to old work, so we always replace all of that,” she said.

While preparing the house involved fixing surprise defects — including leaks, damaged flooring and a rotting wall — the couple kept kitchen renovation costs in check by going with built-to-order cabinets by Eastman Street Woodworks in Massachusetts. Stephens recommendeds the company for its quality and cost-efficient practices.

“They offer very few modifications and no customizing, with a limited number of stains and door styles,” she said.

But the accessories offered allowed Stephens to maximize storage and organization. They include four roll-out storage shelves in a tall pantry cabinet, a pull-out bin for utensils, and a narrow cabinet made for sheet pans and cutting boards.

The kitchen has mid-century modern influences in its flat, unembellished slab cabinet doors and the use of a cherry-colored stain on the cabinetry, as well as the trim around windows and double glass doors leading to the adjacent sunroom.

With the wider opening, there is enhanced natural light into the kitchen from the sunroom as well as improved flow between the kitchen, sunroom and a newly constructed backyard deck.

Radiant heat installed under the sunroom floor contributes to the home’s overall heating and makes the room more useful in cold weather.

Stephens also outfitted the kitchen with easy-to-maintain surfaces. The engineered stone counters are stain resistant and don’t need to be sealed. For the floors, she chose forgiving texture and color variation in porcelain tiles. (Ceramic tile is not durable enough for flooring, she notes.)

“You are not feeling like you have to clean it every five minutes,” she said.

With the award-winning design and its smart use of limited space, Kaplan says she prefers the new kitchen to her previous larger one.

“Everything fits,” she said. “I have so much storage space.”

There’s also enough room to entertain, with the peninsula’s top used for both food prep and serving.

“I’ve had 10 people to dinner, and it’s been fine,” she said.

What they renovated

The kitchen, one bathroom and the sunroom of a 1950s split-level home in Montclair. A new backyard deck also was installed.

Who did the work

Tracey Stephens Interior Design and Jason Aksman of Fine Custom Carpenty, both in Montclair

How long it took

The kitchen took less than four months; the deck took two months.

What they spent

About $70,000 for the kitchen

Where they splurged

On the dishwasher, French doors to the sunroom and a counters-to-ceiling mosaic of glass tiles in a backsplash above the kitchen sink.

Where they saved

On other kitchen appliances, porcelain floor tiles and cabinets that weren’t custom made.

What they like most

I love the kitchen – and so does everyone who sees it – and the deck.

What they’d have done differently

“The only thing I might have done differently was have a higher quality stove and maybe a larger sink,” Barbara Kaplain said.

Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at home@starledger.com. Find NJ.com Entertainment on Facebook.

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