December 2010 Web Exclusive Article

Upscale Downsizing

  • Writer: Liz Smutko
  • Photographer: Peter Rymwid
  • Designer: Karla Trincanello

A retired couple moving from a single - family home find they can have everything they want in a renovated townhome

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enlarge | Once separated by a wall, the living and dining rooms now flow together. The ceiling heights in the rooms were different, so the stepped pattern unites the ceilings while adding dimension to the rooms, designer Karla Trincanello says. A Santos mahogany floor laid on the diagonal adds to the seamless transition.
The townhome community in Florham Park had so many positives — including charming architecture based on a French village concept, a golf course winding around the property, only six townhomes clustered on each cul-de-sac — that a retired couple looking to downsize from their single-family home nearby were intrigued. They live in Florida over the winter and didn’t want to worry about the grounds and maintenance while they’re away. But they still needed a welcoming base of operations close to their children and grandchildren in New Jersey and the culture and entertainment of New York City.

Opening the door to the 20-year-old unit for sale, though, revealed a disappointing interior. The living room was small, the dining room closed off, the kitchen didn’t have enough storage, and the draperies on all south-facing windows had to be drawn tight to block the glare and heat of the sun. This also blocked the views of the golf course greens, pond, fountain, and gardens. Still, it was roomy at 2,800 square feet and had three bedrooms, three full baths, two powder rooms, and a walkout basement with good natural light.

Before buying the home, the couple asked for options from Karla Trincanello, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and president of Interior Decisions Inc. in Florham Park. “They wanted to downsize, a trend that is bringing a whole new market to townhomes,” Trincanello says. “But when people consider them, they usually don’t realize things can be changed. These clients did.”

Trincanello, consulting with Phillip Kowalski, an architect and engineer in South Orange, determined that walls could come down or be moved to create spaces more appropriate to her clients’ wishes. With this information, the clients went ahead and closed the deal. “That’s one thing people are doing more of, asking designers whether it’s feasible to add on or revise a home,” she says. “It’s important to understand this process, however, because someone contemplating removing a wall must have a licensed architect or structural engineer provide drawings and documentation that the building will be supported and structurally sound to avoid serious problems and future liabilities. My job was to design a space that creatively satisfied their needs and incorporated the furniture and accessory design in a suitably prepared environment.”

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enlarge | The new foyer opens to the rest of the main floor and adds a much-needed and convenient closet next to the front door. A warm terra-cotta paint anchors the stairwell and unites the spaces.
Opening Up

The foyer presented the first obstacle. “The entry was barricaded by a railing, and it stepped up two spaces to the main floor with another reception area leading to the dining room, living room, and kitchen,” Trincanello says. “Removing part of the railing and continuing the stair treads opened up the space.”

The homeowners wanted to unite the living room and dining room. Removing the wall between the two and installing two columns as load-bearing supports accomplished this structurally. But the ceiling rises to 11 feet in the dining room and only nine in the living room. Trincanello designed a step pattern to soften the difference, add dimension, and unify the spaces. It also makes the living room ceiling appear higher.

Townhomes often lack character — a symptom of a builder using materials and finishes in bulk. However, details can be added to personalize the spaces. In her clients’ living room, for example, Trincanello added a true mantel to the fireplace. “It gives the room body,” she says. To solve the problem of the blazing sun through the windows with southern exposures, she selected wide louvered plantation-style shutters, which also add dimension and character.

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enlarge | The homeowners eat most meals in the kitchen, so the table was moved off center to create more floor space, and a banquette was added to seat grandchildren when they visit. The TV on the wall can hinge out for viewing from the working areas of the kitchen or the table.
Adding On

Though the kitchen had been renovated recently, it had only seven feet of counter space and lacked a sense of permanence, Trincanello says. Space previously wasted by a triangular storage closet became a new open butler’s pantry, adding 10 feet of new counter space and 30 square feet of storage and display cabinetry.

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enlarge | A storage closet was opened up to become a butler’s pantry, adding counter and cabinet space.
The homeowners typically eat at the kitchen table. “A banquette adds seating for the grandchildren,” Trincanello says, “and moves the table from the center of the room, where it would have been cumbersome.”

Up two steps from the main floor, the master bedroom is long, about 22 by 15 feet. Trincanello placed the bed on the long side, under two windows, to make the room more intimate. Then she added a fireplace on one side of the room and a comfortable chair and ottoman on the other for reading or watching TV. Louvered shutters cover the windows and the space between, creating the illusion of a window wall.

In the master bath, a single sink and dressing table replaced a double vanity. A closet that once opened onto the reception area was closed up and its access reversed to open into the master bath. Inside is a small washer/dryer (there’s a full-size unit downstairs), a hamper, and shelves for towels. “The homeowner wanted to do small loads without having to go to the lower floor,” Trincanello says. “I always ask for a wish list at the beginning, and this was one of the top items.”

The low-maintenance, high-style townhome has worked out wonderfully for the homeowners, Trincanello says. “Every April when they move back up, they call me and tell me how much they love it,” she says.

Liz Smutko lives and writes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, all 12 months of the year.


SOURCES Overall: renovation design and interior design, Karla Trincanello of Interior Decisions Inc. in Florham Park; construction, J.P. & Sons Home Improvement in Scotch Plains; hardwood floor installation, Rose City Hardwoods in Madison. Living Room: upholstered furniture and cocktail table, Century Furniture in High Point, North Carolina; round lamp table, Duralee Fine Furniture in High Point; oval black table, Swaim Furniture in High Point, North Carolina; sculpture, A&R Interiors in Denville; Asian antique artwork, Danielle Ann Millican in Florham Park; paint, Benjamin Moore Richmond Bisque. Dining Room: chandelier, Boyd Lighting in San Francisco; server, Swaim Furniture; floral centerpiece, Thia Design in Florham Park; paint, Benjamin Moore Richmond Bisque. Entry and Stairway: architectural prints and sconces, Interior Decisions Inc.; paint, Benjamin Moore Adobe Dust. Kitchen: cabinetry, Leonardis Kitchen Interiors in Morristown; banquette fabrication and upholstery, J&J Upholstery in Linden; table, Hillside Furniture mfg. in Sun Valley, California; chairs, Fremarc Designs in Los Angeles; paint, Benjamin Moore Wilmington Tan. Master Bedroom: upholstered headboard, J&J Upholstery; nightstands, designed by Interior Decisions Inc. and made by B.F. Woodwork in Linden; fireplace mantel and bedding, Interior Decisions Inc.; chair and ottoman, Swaim Furniture; lamps, Fine Art Lamps in Miami Lakes, Florida; paint, Benjamin Moore Yellow Squash. Master Bath: tile, Mediterranean Tile in Fairfield; satin nickel shower and sink hardware, Imaginative Hardware in Bedminster; mirror and shower door, Gorkin Custom Glass & Mirror in North Plainfield; swivel vanity stool, J&J Upholstery; paint, Benjamin Moore Richmond Bisque. Guest Bedroom: nightstands and bedding, Interior Decisions Inc.; paint, Benjamin Moore Manila. Loft: sectional and cocktail ottoman, Sherrill Furniture in Hickory North Carolina; swivel chair, Century Furniture; table, Swaim Furniture; throw and toss pillows, A&R Interiors; paint, Benjamin Moore Peanut Shell. Powder Room: pistachio onyx marble, mosaic tile, and glass vessel sink, Mediterranean Tile; wall-mounted faucet and toilet, Imaginative Hardware; counter fabrication and installation, Stonework Design in Teaneck; paint, Benjamin Moore Waterbury Cream. Twin Bedroom: bedding, Interior Decisions Inc.; rosewood grid screen, A&R Interiors; paint, Benjamin Moore Waterbury Cream. Basement: sofa: Century Furniture; recliners, ottoman, console table, Sherrill Furniture; lighting fixture, Fine Art Lamps.

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