From the June/July 2015 Issue:

Keeping in Character

    Writer: Denise DiFulco | Designer & Stylist: Jennifer Vreeland McDermott, Allied Member ASID | Photographer: Laura Moss |

A designer renovates her home while respecting its history

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enlarge | Color can go a long way in transforming a traditional home. Here, the designer covered the entryway—walls and ceiling—in a red stria wallpaper that contrasts with the yellow oxide walls of the adjacent living room. The living room’s dark flooring and the staircase railing, painted high-gloss black, provide grounding for the bold hues.
Updating an older home can be fraught with difficulty. While increasing space, adding modern conveniences and generally improving features that were lacking in the original construction, there’s always the risk of making changes that don’t quite fit.

Preserving the character of her 1930s Dutch Colonial was a priority for Jennifer Vreeland McDermott, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers, when updating her Englewood Cliffs home. But there also was a little added pressure: The three-bedroom, two-bath residence was built by her husband Mark’s grandparents.

The couple purchased the house almost 20 years ago, when McDermott worked as an editor for Country Living magazine. Over the years it has served as a laboratory, of sorts, for her design talents, which have taken her from Country Living to Montvale-based Wainscot Media, where she served as editor in chief of New Jersey Life. Both stints gave her the opportunity to step in front of the camera as well. While at Country Living, she served as a guest host on the home shopping channel QVC, and at Wainscot Media she appeared on several episodes of the reality show “Jerseylicious,” when one of the main cast members, Tracy, decided to pursue a magazine internship. Later this year she’ll begin contributing to the HGTV reality show “Property Brothers,” though these days her primary focus is on her interior design and event-planning firm, JV Design LLC, which she launched in 2013.

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enlarge | The bold design of the living room still evokes the traditional feeling of the home, which McDermott’s in-laws built in the 1930s. An original bead-board wall and brick fireplace were painted in a high-gloss oyster white, and the plaster walls were treated with a custom mix of ochre paint that hasn’t required a touch up in more than a decade. Blue accents throughout the room offer a visual punch against the bright, yellow oxide walls. Though the mood turns more solemn for the winter when accessories are changed and slipcovers removed, revealing more subdued colors and heavier fabrics beneath.
Step by Step
When McDermott started reimagining her home, she had anything but a television or magazine styling budget. She did, however, have a sharp eye and a knack for renovating on a dime. She and her husband immediately made some cosmetic changes to the living room that stand to this day. They ripped out the old carpets, revealing dark, hardwood floors, and they painted over orange paneling and a red brick fireplace with an oyster white gloss enamel oil paint that has mellowed to an eggshell appearance. For the walls, which are plaster and absorbed paint a little too readily, McDermott mixed a custom blend similar to traditional linseed-oil-based paints. The color is unapologetically yellow with a mottled finish that has stood the test of time.

“I’ve never had to touch it,” she says. “It survived two kids and three dogs. It’s unbelievably strong.”

Through the years she’s added the high English and French country touches that she adores, such as blue-and-white delft tiles hanging on the mantel and floral slipcovers, pillows and throws. There’s a little bit of blue everywhere in the summer. In the winter, the accessories change and the slipcovers are removed to reveal a red, Scottish wool plaid on the ottoman and olive green mohair on the chairs.

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enlarge | A built-in bar in the den was created under a doorway that once led from the house to the backyard. A carpenter built the shelving based on the design of an antique hutch, and it was faux finished to look like red milk paint. Similarly, the room’s trim and ceilings were glazed in a tea stain for an aged appearance.
Time to Grow
Such attention to appearance can go a long way toward making an older house more livable, but ultimately, the McDermotts needed to address their space concerns. About 10 years ago they put on an addition, bumping the square footage from about 2,000 square feet to 3,000. “We eked out as much space as we could,” McDermott says.

With the new construction they were able to add a den and a custom kitchen, repurposing the original 10-by-10-foot kitchen into a mudroom and computer station. They also built two new bedrooms on the second floor.

They could have made the upstairs portion even larger, but instead decided it should appear as if it was part of the original house. To minimize the impact, they opted for a sweeping gambrel roof line on the second floor. “That’s where I chopped away any extra space I would have gained,” McDermott says. “It was important for the authenticity of the house.”

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enlarge | LEFT: The English-style kitchen was designed to admit as much natural light as possible. The lower cabinetry is nearly all drawers made to spec, which McDermott says is far more functional than standard kitchen cabinets. RIGHT: A 1952 Chambers range, a gift from Mark McDermott’s parents, is the kitchen’s focal point. It’s surrounded by a custom hearth outfitted with classic blue-and-white tiles.
Focus on the Kitchen
The kitchen was the centerpiece of the renovation. The McDermotts wanted it to be large and open for entertaining, but they also hoped to introduce as much light as possible to the room. A bank of windows along an exterior wall eliminated any possibility of upper cabinetry. Compensating for that loss of storage space required some ingenuity—and almost an entirely custom design. Ralph De Stefano of Broadway Kitchens and Baths in Englewood, helped McDermott realize her vision using Plain & Fancy cabinets, but also by building some features to spec. “She came in with a lot of photos of a lot of kitchens, so we tried to incorporate everything,” De Stefano recalls.

To make the undercounter storage as functional as possible, McDermott chose to install drawers instead of traditional cabinets. To keep the look uniform, a false drawer front conceals the dishwasher next to the apron sink. For the center island, McDermott had considered using an old table, but instead went with a custom design that allowed her to install a pullout garbage can and extra storage for cookbooks and the like.

The focal point of the room is a custom hearth, inset with blue-and-white tiles and surrounding a 500-pound, vintage 1952 Chambers range. The range, salvaged from Michigan, was a gift from Mark McDermott’s parents.

The all-white kitchen was slated to have 8-foot ceilings, but McDermott felt it was somewhat non-descript and wanted to add faux beams. To do so, she had the ceiling height raised by a half foot. “It gives a quirky little step up in the upstairs, but a lot of old houses have that anyway,” she says.

Not only has the addition passed muster by McDermott’s own standards, but it also met with the approval of her father-in-law, who grew up in the house. “He is proud and happy with the changes we made,” she says.

Denise DiFulco, a regular contributor to Design NJ, is a Cranford-based writer.


Overall: interior designer, JV Design in Englewood Cliffs. Living Room: sofa, ottoman and chairs, vintage, homeowners; slipcover fabrics, draperies and pillow fabrics, Laura Ashley Home; rug, West Elm in Paramus. Dining Room: shutters and chandelier, vintage from an antique store; table and chairs, homeowners; hutch, British Traditions in Grandview, Missouri; wallpaper on ceiling, Farrow & Ball through Eagle Paint in Englewood; wallpaper on walls, Phillip Jeffries through Eagle Paint; rug, Starr Carpets in Englewood. Kitchen: design, Jennifer Vreeland McDermott; installation, Broadway Kitchen & Baths in Englewood; cabinetry, Plain & Fancy in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania; appliances, KitchenAid through Karls Appliance in Fairfield; Chambers range, vintage; tile backsplash, Artistic Tile in Paramus; countertops, Vermont Soapstone in Perkinsville, Vermont; island top, Craft-Art Co. in Atlanta; Rohl sink and Perrin & Rowe faucet, both through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery; pendant lighting, Circa Lighting in Savannah, Georgia; cabinet hardware, House of Antique Hardware in Portland, Oregon; paint, Farrow & Ball through Eagle Paint. Home Office/ Mudroom: bookcase, custom by JV Design; table and chairs, vintage. Den: carpenter, John Savoia, through JV Design; undercounter wine cooler, KitchenAid; sectional, Calico in Ramsey; fabrics, Ralph Lauren in New York City; leather wing chair, Hickory Chair through New Jersey Decorating Exchange in Rochelle Park; side table, Mitchell Gold Bob Williams in Paramus; rug and throw, Dash & Albert in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Sitting Room/Office: sisal carpeting, New Jersey Decorating Exchange; wallpaper, remnant; sofa, curtains, pillows and rug, vintage. Master Bedroom: window treatment, shams, bed skirt and chair fabrics, Ralph Lauren; dresser and table lamp, vintage; carpet, New Jersey Decorating Exchange. Master Bathroom: wallpaper, Farrow & Ball through Eagle Paint; sinks, Le Bijou through PlumbTile in San Diego; faucets, Hollys of Bath through Ferguson. Powder Room: sink, vintage through Green Demolitions in Fairfield. Sons Room: custom built-in bed with drawers and desk, JV Design; blinds, Back Exterior: landscaper, William Kucas of Garden Makers Landscaping LLC in Trenton. Front Porch: furniture, homeowners; carpet, Ballard Designs.

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