From the December 2018/January 2019 Issue  

Best of Both Worlds

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer John Ferrentino  |  Designer Tracey Butler  |  Location Caldwell, NJ

The bricks on the 1939 Tudor were originally red. The circa-1945 black metal windows were salvaged from a Colts Neck, New Jersey estate.

In Caldwell, NJ, a designer modernizes her vintage home while keeping its character intact

For Tracey Butler, buying and revamping homes is a passion; so when she found this beauty in Caldwell, New Jersey, she couldn’t wait to put her own stamp on it. Butler, owner of b. home interior design and R. Home Interior Design Store, both in Livingston, New Jersey, bought the 1939 Tudor as a downsizing property after her children went off to college.

Vintage homes like this offer a sense of history, period charm and unique style. They can also require lots of work to bring them up to modern standards. Butler didn’t hesitate to undertake a complete overhaul. “I did a total gut renovation of the interior,” she says, “opening up walls to create an open floor plan and wider entries to rooms.”

The designer added new hardwood flooring and sheathed the fireplace in ebony-stained walnut to match the cabinets in the kitchen on the other side of the wall.

One of the first challenges was installing a standard 21st-century amenity: an air conditioning system. “Getting ductwork into the walls was very difficult,” Butler says. Because she wanted to open up doorways and remove walls, the placement of the air conditioning system had to be well thought out ahead of time. “We accommodated necessary ductwork in the architectural plans.” The designer knew which walls were necessary to keep and which doorways could be altered without damaging the home’s structural integrity. “We still were able to achieve an open flow/floor plan,” she says.

Indeed, Butler wasn’t shy about opening up the walls. The fireplace originally opened only to the great room. Butler thought it should be enjoyed from both sides, so she cut through the wall and enlarged the openings. The fireplace now opens to the kitchen as well as the great room.

In addition, she added new hardwood floors and circa-1945 metal windows. “I found them at a salvage yard in southern New Jersey,” she says. “They were originally from a Colts Neck, NJ estate.” Though they may have a vintage provenance and are “respectful of the home’s original design, they actually give the house a clean modernity,” Butler says.

An addition at the rear of the home has the same type of windows. The new space includes an office on the first floor and two bedrooms and a master bathroom above, which was another nod to modern mores. “The upstairs originally only had one shared bath,” Butler points out.

  • GREAT ROOM | The high ceiling in the great room—Butler’s favorite space in the house—is original to the home, as are the stucco walls.


  • BALCONY | A Juliette balcony is typical of the Tudor style. The double-sided fireplace can be enjoyed in the great room, kitchen and dining room.


The designer chose “a more modern, midcentury décor” for this home. She began by staining the hardwood floors in high-gloss ebony. As a contrast, Butler “painted the entire first floor “Navajo White,” including the original stucco walls in the high-ceilinged great room.”

The furnishings are “a combination of new, modern upholstered seating mixed with midcentury pieces.” That’s an appealing combination. In the great room, a 1960s rosewood cocktail table is bordered on two sides by new oversized sofas with flannel upholstery. The crisp lines of the table present a pleasing counterpoint to the softness of the sofas.

While the great room has a laid-back vibe, the kitchen brings on the drama. Black cabinetry and countertops set against a white backsplash make this room striking. “I was just feeling it,” Butler says of the ebonized walnut cabinetry and charcoal pietra black-and-white limestone countertops.

  • KITCHEN | The black and white kitchen is accented with brass plumbing fixtures and brass dome pendants above the island.


  • DINING ROOM | Linen slipcovered barrel dining chairs circle the ebony-stained dining table.


  • OFFICE | In the office, which is part of an addition, a modern light fixture and chairs pair with a traditional long wood table.


  • Butler enclosed a back sunroom to create the den.


“There has been a recent trend toward black cabinetry in kitchens. I think it was a reaction to all the white, farm-style cabinetry. I was feeling like I wanted to switch it up.” This particular kitchen lent itself to the color scheme. “I had a lot of windows, so I could take the darkness.”

The brass faucet and brass pendants over the island present a bold contrast, strong enough to stand up to the deep tones.

MASTER BEDROOM | The master bedroom is saturated in a deep, dreamy blue.

There’s more drama to be had in the master bedroom, which is immersed top to bottom in deep blue. Butler explains her design strategy. “Often, when faced with the challenge of a smaller space, for drama and serenity I just flood it with one color.” The monochromatic palette blurs the lines of distinction in the space. “You don’t notice the walls or floor or the furniture jutting out. It’s just a continual horizon of blue.”

MASTER BATHROOM | Butler added blue glass spheres to the new master bathroom. “I did it as an art installation,” she says. “I wanted them to be art.”

Though the project involved knocking out walls and adding square footage, Butler’s design still managed to walk a delicate line between the old and the new. It emphasized the original structure’s good bones while altering the layout to reflect more current tastes. It incorporated vintage pieces with contemporary elements. The project was a successful modernization of an 80-year-old home, completed without sacrificing the original character.