From the June/July 2008 Issue:

Fresh Heirloom

  • Writer: LIZ SMUTKO
  • Photographer: PETER RYMWID

Though recently rebuilt, this Morris County home looks like it’s been around for years.

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enlarge | A Mendham home is rebuilt with rooms configured and designed to better meet the owners' needs.
He loved the lot in Mendham, but the house was quite another thing.

Though the layout, room size, and details such as arched doorways appealed to Todd Christie, an inspection of the original 1940s white brick and clapboard house revealed significant problems. “It had been renovated to flip,” he says, “but the renovation wasn’t a good one.” The roof was bad and lacked insulation in spots, for example, and gas heat was vented through a dryer exhaust, which created so much moisture in the clapboard the inspector could stick a screwdriver into it.

“I didn’t want to bulldoze the house because I liked the scale of the rooms — they seemed warm to me,” Christie says. The decision was made to rebuild, using the old house as a guide. Christie and his wife, Andrea, wanted an elegant but warm home in which to raise their young family.

The architect and construction manager was Peter Dorne in Morristown, a member of the American Institute of Architects. Interior designer Kathryn Tafaro-Platt of KP Interiors in Mendham came on board early. “There were drawings of the exterior elevations” but not much more at that point, she says. Those renderings showed an elegantly rebuilt house. The roofline changed completely, some bays had been bumped out, windows were altered, and the driveway was relocated to end in a circle at a generous porte cochere because Dorne felt the home should have a more stately, though still welcoming main entry. The porte cochere and chimneys also anchor the home to the property visually, he explains.

On the exterior, the white clapboard was stripped and everything was surrounded with stone, aged brick was added as an accent around the windows, and wood sills were replaced with bluestone. The redesigned roof was clad in slate. Inside, Christie wanted the home to feel warm and comfortable and for the rooms to be the appropriate size for their use. The billiard room and sunroom have generous proportions, for example, while the library is more modest. The collaborative efforts of Tafaro-Platt, Dorne, and builder Denis Gann Contracting in North Caldwell yielded the overall effect of a gracious country residence that has been on the heavily treed property forever.

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enlarge | Foyers can be intimidating spaces, but adding furniture, a rug, and rich wall color and texture breaks down the space and makes it inviting.
Formidable Foyer

Dorne basically worked with the existing footprint, though he gained some space by adding a sunroom on the right side and a second floor over the garage. The front doors open to a soaring foyer with a winding staircase leading to the second floor. Such vast foyers can challenge interior designers, so this is where Tafaro-Platt started. “Foyers can be alienating, so adding the right light fixture, an area rug, and some furniture makes it welcoming.”

Because it’s the first impression of the home, Tafaro-Platt concentrated on making the foyer reflect the Christies’ desire for livable Old World elegance. Judicious but generous use of wainscoting and door trim is balanced by woodwork on the ceiling, while rich faux painting adds interest to the walls. A tumbled marble floor and large area rug anchor the space. “The ceiling in the foyer is the most magnificent thing in the house, the woodwork is just so impressive,” Todd Christie says. “People touch the wall and expect wallpaper and are just amazed that it’s paint.”

The same attention to detail is apparent throughout the home. Next to the foyer sits a bright and welcoming library. “Todd had wanted to put his office here,” Tafaro-Platt says. “But I thought he would need a buffer zone between the front door and his office.” The library serves that purpose. Retired from Wall Street, Christie now directs philanthropic initiatives.

In the office Tafaro-Platt achieved a warm, heirloom quality through the effective use of details and materials. The color scheme started with the rug, whose reds and blues are repeated and combined with browns and greens in the window treatment and chair fabrics. Paneled walls contain bookshelves and covered storage, but Tafaro-Platt went in an unusual direction with the wood. “Most clients want mahogany or cherry, which can be too dark in some rooms,” she says. “We wanted to keep this warm, and pine lends that feel.” Originally designed just for Todd Christie, the room proved so inviting that his wife moved her desk in also.

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enlarge | To lighten the effect of all the wood, the office is clad in pine rather than the expected mahogany or cherry. Designer Kathryn Tafaro-Platt calls it her favorite room of all her designs.
Defining & Refining the Look

Ceiling details play a great role in the family room too. Todd Christie loved the all-wood family room in the original home, though Tafaro-Platt was less enthusiastic. Her description: “It was horrible.” He also had seen a family room he loved in a magazine, and the two figured out what elements would translate. The beams are pecky cypress that was stained, whitewashed, and then stained again. (Pecky cypress has lengthwise pockets and yields an attractive, three-dimensional look when cut.) “The wood in the ceiling creates the warmth Todd had responded to, and then we painted the walls, rather than panel them, to lighten the overall impression, Tafaro-Platt says.

That same desire for Old World quality is evident in the kitchen, which is designed for work, not show. “Sometimes I go into huge kitchens in huge houses and think ‘pretty nice museum you have in here,’” Christie says. “My grandmother spent half her life in Sicily, and we would go back with her to visit. Those are the kind of kitchens that inspire me — real Mediterranean kitchens.” As a result, the Christie kitchen has plenty of counter space for chopping, the finish on the cabinets is mixed — paint and wood — to break up what could be a monolithic wall of cabinet doors, the walls are plastered, and there’s a fireplace in one corner.

Though the house is around 10,000 square feet and has six bedrooms and seven baths, the Christies have no problem filling it. His brother lives three miles away, and his sister is within five miles; between them there are nine kids to add to the Christies’ two. “There’s always someone over at the house,” he says. That closeness is something he hopes his house fosters, as the house where he grew up did. “I grew up in a three-bedroom, one-bath ranch,” he says. “Sometimes I’d be in the bathroom brushing my teeth while my brother was showering and my father was shaving, and we really got to know each other.”

“Sometimes my wife and I drive up to the house at night and just look at it and chuckle because we can’t believe we live here,” Christie says. “I’m a grateful man.” - DNJ

Liz Smutko lives and writes in a renovated Bucks County, Pennsylvania, farmhouse.


SOURCES Overall: interior design and custom furniture and millwork, Kathryn Tafaro-Platt of KP Interiors in Mendham; architect, Peter Dorne, AIA, in Morristown; builder, Denis Gann Contracting in North Caldwell; landscape architect, Knapp & Associates in Morristown; faux paint finishes, Judy Mulligan Inc. in Gladstone; stonework and tilework, AC Tile in Newton; marble and granite, Elana Marble and Granite in East Hanover. Foyer: rug, J&S Designer Flooring in Morristown; tumbled marble floor tile, The Square Yard in Summit; stair rail, International Architectural Ironworks in Irvington; chandelier, Dennis & Leen through Holly Hunt in New York City; window treatments, L&G Decorators in Netcong. Library: custom-designed sofa, J&L Upholsterers in Leonia; rug, J&S Designer Flooring. Office: desk and chair, Smith & Watson in New York City; rug, J&S Designer Flooring. Living Room: custom-designed sofa, J&L Upholsterers; coffee table, Rolling Hills Furniture in Chester. Kitchen: Viking range, Miele dishwasher, Sub-Zero refrigerator, Karl’s Appliance in West Orange; fixtures and hardware, Moe Distributors Inc. in Morristown; floor tile and backsplash tile, The Square Yard; barstools, Rolling Hills Furniture; custom-designed cabinetry, through KP Interiors. Wine Cellar: glass door and custom lighting, International Architectural Ironworks; flooring, The Square Yard. Master Bath: tub surround, through KP Interiors; Kohler fixture through Moe Distributors; rug, J&S Designer Flooring. Master Bedroom: bed and furnishings, Julia Gray through KP Interiors; rug, through J&S Designer Flooring. Daughter’s Bedroom: Julia Gray bed and furniture, through KP Interiors; carpet, J&S Designer Flooring.

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