The most compelling books are irresistible, with storylines that dance back of mind all day until the hour you can curl up in your favorite chair and dive into the pages again. For designer Joan Enger, a great home is like an engrossing novel and the rooms within are chapters. “While each space is slightly different, they all work together to advance the story,” she explains.
Enger became the author of this Colonial-inspired abode’s tale after it was purchased by an Australian family of globe-trotters looking to put down roots in Morristown, New Jersey—a place where they could realize their dream of experiencing all four seasons. The spacious home had a great floor plan and was surrounded by lush, park-like gardens, but it needed a good rewrite to shine. “Even though the house was built in 2004, it has an old soul,” says Enger, who worked with architect Stephen Kowalski and general contractor Brinton Brosius to realize the new look. “The home was not to their tastes prior to the renovation. However, when I looked at things carefully, I saw this was more of an ‘update’ than a ‘change everything’ project.”
That meant editing every surface, finish and fixture to fit the taste of the current owners, a couple who appreciates good quality and timeless design. Having traveled extensively together, they’ve resided in everything from centuries-old dwellings to newly built, ultramodern apartments. For this home, they envisioned something luxurious yet livable. The design team focused on deleting the embellishments that didn’t fit the current narrative and on giving new life to the existing elements that could support it. For example, the wainscoting remains in the entry and dining room, but wears a fresh coat of paint. The grand entry staircase retains its elegant newel posts and gently curving handrail, but boasts new, sleeker balusters. The great room now has heft and importance thanks to substantial molding which gives the space more architectural weight. And the original rustic, wide-plank floors are refinished to a perfect honey hue.
New furnishings needed to be sophisticated for entertaining, yet durable and relaxed for the children and dog (who, as part of the family, is allowed to sit everywhere). In order to walk the line between chic and comfortable, the designer looked to the classic nature of the architecture as well as the couple’s personal style for inspiration. “They lean toward warm, neutral colors,” Enger notes. Channeling that proclivity, most rooms have quiet backgrounds—think off-whites, oatmeals and sands—with delightful visual plot twists such as a blush-hued sofa, moss-green armchairs and the occasional dose of deep blue in places like the living room sofa or kitchen island.
One of the first spaces considered during the remodel was the kitchen. “Given that family and entertaining are so important to them, this is the space we talked about the most in the planning of the home,” Enger comments. Kowalski had the idea of adding a long bay window to the room: At roughly 30 square feet, the feature allows for a large built-in banquette and trestle table, making it a comfortable front row seat to enjoy the leafy landscape beyond. “Watching nature both inside and outside is something this couple loves to do,” Enger notes. “This is the spot where they sit in the morning and have a cup of coffee while they watch the sunrise.” (For day’s end, Enger’s team installed comfortable seating on the front porch as that is where the owners wind down and view the sunset.)
The nearby music room—once a seldom used formal living room—is another spot that draws people together. Before, the family rarely entered the space, but with one of the sons growing serious about playing the piano, it’s become a hub of creativity and togetherness. “We added a built-in banquette around the perimeter, which allows guests to gather as he plays,” Enger adds.
As the dwelling’s latest chapter concludes, it brings the satisfaction of a happy ending. In the husband’s words, theirs is now “an amazing family home.” And, for the designer, this expression of gratitude is the perfect epilogue.