From the April/May 2011 Issue:

A Framework for Comfort

    Writer: Iyna Bort Caruso | Photographer: David Van Scott | Architect: Tom Fitzgerald | Stylist: Bradley Olman |

A Califon couple celebrate the bones of their home

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enlarge | The timber-frame home is made of Douglas fir and clad in fiber cement siding. The detached 2 1/2-car garage houses a second-floor studio for Tracy Fitzgerald, an artist and art teacher.
It’s not surprising that an architect designing his own home would want to celebrate its “bones” instead of covering them with Sheetrock. That’s what Tom Fitzgerald, principal of Fitzgerald Architecture Studio in High Bridge, did when he and his wife, Tracy, built a three-bedroom timber-frame residence in Califon.

The walls were secondary to the drama of exposed rafters and joists. “We’ve always been fond of this style and this type of architecture,” he says. “My wife is an artist and appreciates the expression of the structure inside the home.” A traditional home is about walls and finishes. It’s just the opposite in a timber frame, where the structure that holds up the house is exposed. “It almost becomes art,” he says.

The Fitzgeralds initially looked to move into an existing stone house or to find a barn they could convert into a home. When neither idea panned out, they bought a 10-acre parcel and built new. Fitzgerald also has a construction background, so he not only came up with the floor plan but also built much of the 3,400-square-foot home.

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enlarge | A covered walkway is a transitional space between indoors and outdoors and has the feel of a hacienda courtyard.
Recycling Rewards
Eleven 70-foot poplar trees were cleared from the property to make room for the home. The trees were shipped off site, milled into 1 1/2-by-5-inch boards and used for the first-floor ceilings and second-story floors. “It was full-circle recycling. We used anything we could take off the property,” he says.

The home is situated on a gentle hill to take advantage of natural lighting. Winds also played a factor in the siting. Cross-ventilation serves as a natural coolant thanks to winds that hit the front and the back of the house. “We have three sets of French doors in the main living area,” he says. “When you’re standing in the great room, it’s like you’re standing outside because the winds just roll right through the house,” he explains.

Energy efficiency was an important consideration also. Timber is a natural insulator, for one thing, and the way the house is enclosed in its envelope creates an airtight seal.

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enlarge | Tracy and Tom Fitzgerald, with their dog Riley, sit on a limestone wall used to create a platform from the front porch. The stones were excavated from a neighbor’s property.
A Home, Not a Showplace
If you’re an architect, building a home of your own has its pressures. Like an interior designer decorating her home or a landscape architect creating his own gardens, an architect’s design becomes something of a calling card.

And, yet, the Fitzgeralds didn’t want to build a showplace, rather a home that was comfortable and representative of their lifestyle. “The things we had to have were the things that make it functional and livable for us,” he says. “We’re casual people, so we wanted a casual entertaining space, which was the great room.” And they wanted practicality. The master bedroom is no bigger than the other two bedrooms—they’re all 17 by 17 feet. He concedes that’s a decision that “may not suit most people.”

What distinguishes the master bedroom is the adjoining bathroom, which is actually a bit larger than the bedroom. It features a washbasin island and an open closet area. “There are a lot of communicating spaces,” he says. “The room is large enough that, when you’re in the closet, you don’t feel like you’re in the bathroom. The layout of the space gives you enough feeling of privacy.”

He credits his wife for much of the design. “She would throw things at me and say, ‘Here, make it work.’ It was a good team effort with her design sense and my technical ability.”

The home has a modern spin on a traditional style. The couple describe it as rustic contemporary. “It’s got a lodgey feeling to it, so it has a warm ambience,” he says. “We have the fireplace going in the great room in the fall, winter and spring. Every time we come into the house, we have the feeling that it’s not really our home. It’s a getaway.


Iyna Bort Caruso, a regular contributor to Design NJ, writes from her home in Rockville Centre, New York.

SOURCES Overall: architectural design, Fitzgerald Architecture Studio in High Bridge, cultured stone veneer on exterior, Owens Corning; fiber cement siding, CertainTeed; windows, Jeld-Wen. Backyard: fire pit, Lowe’s Home Improvement in Flemington. Great Room: end table and coffee table, designed by the homeowner and fabricated by Dasco in Whippany. Kitchen: cabinetry, Omega Cabinetry; countertops, AMJ Marble and Granite in Fairfield; backsplash, designed by homeowner with tile from Avid Tile in Lebanon; flooring, TRB Flooring in Wilmington North Carolina. Dining Area: table, Crate & Barrel in Bridgewater. Bedroom: bed and nightstand, Bassett in Flemington. Bathroom: vanity, Omega Cabinetry; vessel sinks and tub, Aaron & Co. in Flemington; flooring, TRB Flooring; tile on half wall, Best Tile and Wood in Flemington.

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