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NJ home makeover: Creating a new kitchen that fits a circa-1725 home |

NJ home makeover: Creating a new kitchen that fits a circa-1725 home

N.J. home makeover is a regular feature on To submit your renovation for consideration, email with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach “before” and “after” photos of what you renovated.

When Melissa McNair and Meghan Shaw bought what is now a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom Colonial in Leonardo, they became caretakers of one of Middletown’s landmarks.

Their house, which bears a township plaque designating it a historic site circa 1725, is in a section of the township named for the prominent Leonard family whose forebears in the 1670s brought their skill as ironsmiths to the developing area.

The house, believed to have originally been a structure on Leonard farmland, was later purchased along with land by Joseph Thompson, a successful Atlantic Highlands hotelier who also served as keeper of the Twin Lights and Monmouth County sheriff.

While no specific construction dates were available through the township, a previous owner’s research suggests that what is now known as the Thompson House was enlarged with additions over centuries, the last believed to have been in the early 1800s. A preservation-related deed restriction now protects the home’s facade, but its interior was gut-renovated in the 1980s.

When it became the McNair-Shaw house a little more than three years ago, the couple began updating the 3,400-square-foot interior gradually to suit their taste and needs. To welcome their son, Michael, born last December, they painted one room and accented it with a wall covered in sliced brick.

They’ve done much of the work on the house themselves with the help of McNair’s father, who is skilled but not a contractor. Most of the work has been done on weekends and off days; McNair is a Port Authority police sergeant and Shaw works in data management.

“Whenever we pick a room to work on, we talk about it, and we figure out what we can do on our own,” Shaw said.

In addition to painting, what they’ve done on their own has included renovating a second-floor bathroom, which required moving a shower – and its plumbing – to the other side of the room. They’ve relocating doorways and installed a variety of wall coverings, including sliced brick, shiplap paneling and molding. Most recently they renovated their 304-square-foot kitchen.

“We wanted to give that room a big facelift,” Shaw said. The previous update did not appeal to them, and the linoleum floors were curling at the edges.

“We spend a lot of time in the kitchen and enjoy having parties,” Shaw said. “It was time to make that room look pretty.”

They took about a year to plan the renovation and select materials. They browsed home design magazines for ideas and saved photos they liked.

“I used that as inspiration for what direction we would take to bring this room to life, piece by piece,” Shaw said.

And with their choices, they kept their home’s past in mind.

“We wanted to honor the age of the house in the design, while also bringing some modern elements into the fold,” she said.

So they selected black cabinetry with an “antiqued” finish and complemented it with brass hardware, as well as brass light fixtures and decorative accessories.

“We also wanted to bring in brick, thinking that would make it look a little bit older,” Shaw said.

To balance their dark cabinets, they chose white shiplap paneling for the walls and white subway tile for the backsplash. 

“It’s classic, and it really doesn’t go out of style,” she said.

Marble counters with streaks of green and brown help tie everything together. “The marble was a big thing for us,” Shaw said. The slab they chose is slightly imperfect. “It has a lot of character, and it complements the antique flooring nicely.”

The floor, which they installed themselves, is an assortment of old reclaimed wood cut into planks. The various wood types, colors and widths create a patchwork effect they love.

“It has very light shades, medium shades and some that are really, really dark greens and black,” Shaw said.

The wood was sourced and cut into flooring panels by Real Antique Hardwood of Irvington, which stocks a variety of reclaimed wood that can be repurposed for home furnishings and interiors.

“We really wanted something unique, and they were able to help us,” Shaw said. “They gave us some direction on what to do and where to buy the glue.”

It took them three days to lay the floor, and then the company finished it.

“We had them come back and do the hand-sanding. It took about four days to get them sanded, coated and waxed,” she said. “You see all the different shades, which is what we are going for. It’s durable and it doesn’t show a lot of foot traffic.”

To improve the flow of foot traffic, they relocated two doorways so the kitchen now opens to an adjacent parlor. It’s filled with socializing guests when they entertain.

“We also put up brick walls and painted the shiplap and new ceiling boards with the help of friends and family,” Shaw said. “So, this was really a labor of love.”

What they renovated

The kitchen of an 18th century Colonial home in Middletown

Who did the work?

“The work was done by a collection of people and companies,” Shaw said. “My wife, Melissa, and my father-in-law, Jerry McNair, did a lot of work. We also used Thornberry’s Appliance to find the right cabinets.”

Stone World in Middletown installed the marble counter tops. Their flooring is made of reclaimed wood from Real Antique Wood in Irvington.

How long it took

About eight months

How much it cost

About $50,000

Where they splurged

“We splurged on the lighting,” Shaw said. “We really wanted to use the lights to help make a statement in that room. We also splurged on the counter top.”

How they saved

“We saved money by doing some of the work ourselves where we could, including the floor installation.” 

What they did themselves

Beyond installing the floor, they moved doorways, painted, installed paneling and molding.

What they like most

“I love the flooring, the lights and the counter top,” Shaw says. “The mix of old wood, brass and stone really makes the room come together.”

What they’d have done differently?

“If we were to do this over, we would do this when Melissa wasn’t pregnant.”

Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at Find Entertainment on Facebook.

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