Twelve years ago, the search for a place to raise their two children led a New York woman and her lawyer husband to a quaint country lane in western New Jersey that meandered through an old 13-acre estate property. The mature trees, the greenswards, the views…well, it was love at first sight. Then the house came into view and, recalls the architecturally trained wife, her entire spirit heaved an underwhelmed “Oh.”
Dourly draped in brown siding, with a green asphalt roof, “the house lacked the obvious—a cedar roof, white-painted cedar shingles and Palladian windows,” she says. Nevertheless, they bought it and moved in. Immediately she stripped the interiors of dreary wallpapers and tried to make their furniture fit. Then a few years ago, on a mission to find a small table, she wandered into designer Matthew Frederick’s storefront studio and shop in Far Hills, New Jersey. “It was a breath of fresh air,” she says. “I immediately called a friend and said, ‘I’ve found my designer. This is my house!’ ” Soon after coming over for a look, says Frederick, “we were doing an entire gut. I’ve touched every room of the house.”
The couple brought in architect John James, who says his job was “to restore the original beauty of what an estate property should be.” The original early-1900s building had been added onto 40 or 50 years ago, incorporating parts salvaged from a nearby estate, including leaded glass in the family room and a classically designed sunroom with radius windows. James unified things with a new exterior of white-painted cedar shakes and natural cedar roof. To amplify light, he added and widened some windows and placed transoms above others. To pull that light through the assemblage of rooms, he widened doorways, too. A new portico gave the entry more presence, and building out porches and arbors “extended the house outdoors.” Finally, he renovated a carriage house, enlarging the first floor to accommodate the family’s cars and creating a guest apartment upstairs.
Inside, Frederick and his clients initially proceeded room by room, with things happening serendipitously. For instance, one day Frederick was using the sunroom as a photo location to stage an ad for his studio. The wife became so enamored of the resulting aesthetics that she kept everything. But about one-third of the way through the project, says Frederick, “we had to step back and think about how to combine what we’d done with a cohesive look.”
Today, “it’s the anticolor house,” says Frederick. Taking their cue from cottages in the Hamptons and on Nantucket, where the family summers, they followed an all-white path. To rescue it from monotony, however, “there are lots of textures in the mix of whites, and bright color in the art,” explains the designer. There are also warm woods, natural hues of sea grass and jute, and “fashion-forward” touches such as lacquered ceilings and banisters.
Finally, working with the clients’ longtime gardener, Nelson Castro, landscape architect Carolle Huber created outdoor rooms that broke up the enormous sloping lawn. She did so using stone from a crumbling barn at the husband’s childhood family home in Pennsylvania. “It was done using old-world stonework methods,” Huber says of the walls, whose bases begin 42 inches below ground for stability. Then Huber and Castro filled in with Hamptons-Nantucket-like plantings of hydrangeas, grasses, roses and, for winter color and structure, boxwood.
“What started out as an hour of shopping evolved, five years later, into a project,” says Frederick. “It makes the case that not everything has to be done overnight. When they bought it, they loved what it could be; now they love what it’s become.”