From the April/May 2021 Issue  

Character Traits

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Melissa Mellor  |  Designer Kara Vacca  |  Location Pennington, NJ

Marrying the old with the new for a timeless feel in Pennington

The kitchen, designed before Kara Vacca joined the project, mixes shades of white with a pale blue/gray ceramic backsplash. Natural materials such as walnut and marble countertops honor the integrity of the custom-built home and favor the tones in the post-and-beam ceiling. A vintage leather camera case sits atop a family room table in the foreground.


Custom saddle-toned leather stools with silver nail-head trim from Lee Industries deliver the “updated contemporary touch I wanted,” the homeowner says.  “They make the whole area pop.”


When Bonnie and Randy Vey sold the Olde Tymes Inn and Restaurant, a 1900s-era establishment they had operated in a Vermont resort area, they packed up their memories and antiques and headed to New Jersey. Pennington, that is, where they purchased a bucolic 7-acre property that is home to a charming New England Country-style farmhouse flanked by a white picket fence, cobblestone courtyard, sheep’s shed and guest quarters.

The “farmette,” as the property was described in the real estate listing, felt as remote as their life in Vermont, a feeling they wished to re-create when they purchased it in 1992, Bonnie Vey recalls. Still, “it gave us the best of both worlds,” she adds, with proximity to beaches, two major cities (New York City and Philadelphia), and towns such as Lambertville and New Hope, Pennsylvania, “where there is a wealth of art and creativity.”


Existing sofas in the family room and elsewhere are upholstered in Crypton, a high-performance fabric. A custom, oversized dark wood coffee table grounds the setting. Hints of blue were introduced in the new area rug, accent pillows and a pair of leather recliners (one shown). An antique bench next to the recliner doubles as a side table.


All the rooms in the open-plan setting — including the sunroom, where homeowner Bonnie Vey takes her morning coffee — enjoy strong indoor/outdoor connections. The vintage trunk hails from the historic inn and restaurant Vey and her husband once owned in a Vermont ski area.


Exposed brick walls and tongue-and-groove paneling speak to the character-rich details found in a kitchenette and in the hallway beyond. The ladder leads to a loft. New Windsor-style chairs in a grayish-blue finish team up with an antique Irish pine table.


This hallway niche “is like a little glove box,” Vey says. It’s the handiwork of the original owner, a cabinetmaker by trade. A framed photo of the couple’s son skiing at Vermont’s Okemo Mountain personalizes the space, while a leather-wrapped vase and brass drawer pull “add an unexpected yet charming element to the foyer,” designer Kara Vacca says.

Anchored by a welcoming front porch and free-flowing floor plan, the home blends farmhouse style with a “post-and-beam section for a Vermont-like feel,” Vey notes. Built in 1986 by the original owner, a cabinetmaker by trade, “there are lots of nooks and crannies and customized details we fell in love with,” she says. Features include exposed brick and tongue-and-groove-paneled walls, a large brick hearth and built-ins.

Honoring the character and integrity of the house was a primary consideration whenever the Veys made updates or improvements in their nearly 30 years of ownership. Take the home’s 2017 kitchen remodel. “I could have gone with quartz or something that wasn’t natural for the main countertops, but it wouldn’t have felt right,” Vey says. The warm brown veining of the Calacatta Borghini marble complements the ceiling’s rough-cut red cedar beams; a walnut countertop along the perimeter echoes the finish of the 8-inch wide-plank flooring. “We shopped around for a lot of floors,” Vey recalls. The couple ended up selecting white oak hardwood from New Hampshire-based Carlisle. “I love their product. It’s sophisticated, maintains its beauty and stands up to the wear and tear” of life on a farmette with dogs traipsing in and out.

Interior designer Kara Vacca — who consulted on the interior design scheme — never strayed from the Veys’ vision, which was to keep things comfortable, cohesive and current. “It was evident the charm and character of the home was already there,” notes Vacca, owner of Kara Theresa LLC in Monmouth County. “It just needed a refresh.” Vacca embraced that strategy by integrating the old with the new for a look that is timeless, meaningful and personal.

  • A charming Dutch door extends a warm welcome. The oak plant stand and mirror, reupholstered antique claw-foot chair, mahogany sideboard and two-clasp trunk — just beyond in the adjacent dining/living area — enliven the house with context and history.



  • Eclectic and relaxed, the dining area is a complete mix of old and new, the designer says. “I added the modern matte-black light fixture and sleek woven rattan chairs to give the room an updated feeling.” The coffee table’s metal base was fashioned from an old iron gate.




  • In the combined dining/living area, “the orientation of the furniture and lighting clearly defines each room,” Vacca says, but one large area rug unifies the two in a space-enhancing way.



In the kitchen/family room, large seedy-glass lanterns “mix perfectly with the natural light and paneled ceiling,” Vacca says. When designing, “the scale of decorative lighting is always top of mind,” she adds. Pale furnishings amplify the light in a neutral scheme balanced by the layering of wood finishes, some with a story to tell, such as a vintage mahogany sideboard, a two-clasp trunk and an antique claw-foot chair that was reupholstered in a fashionable but classic herringbone print. Hints of blue, inspired by the bluish-gray tones in a soapstone wood-burning fireplace (not shown), turn up in accent pillows, a pair of new leather recliners, area rugs and more.

Bookcase displays were once cluttered with double the number of vintage accessories and mementos. “Kara worked her magic,” refining and editing the collections down to the most meaningful, owner Bonnie Vey says. The football with the “P” insignia is a reminder of their son’s college days playing for the University of Pennsylvania. “Football is big in our family, and that represents an important time in our lives,” Vey says. “We put it up there like we would a treasured photo.” Vintage suitcases are among the other accents, as is a replica of a 1947 Farmall tractor, a nod to the actual one they use to mow the fields today.

“I didn’t want any room to feel like it’s off limits,” Vey says. To that end, “all the rugs selected throughout the house are constructed of indoor/outdoor materials, and fabrics and finishes are equally durable and easy to clean,” Vacca says. New woven dining chairs, which also can be used indoors or out, pull up to an existing rustic wood table with a black metal base in the informal dining area.

“A fun part of designing this home was sifting through the many items Bonnie had tucked away in storage and finding the right home for them,” Vacca says. Some were framed photos developed from old glass negatives found in the basement of their historic inn and restaurant. Others were vintage artifacts from their collections. Editing them down to some of the most treasured or meaningful, she adds, “showed my clients that a simplified look goes a long way.”


  • “Stationary white fabric Roman shades add texture to the living room while still allowing plenty of natural light to fill the space,” Vacca says.



  • Mixing contem­porary accents with timeworn pieces keeps things interesting—and unexpected. Clockwise (from upper left): contemporary wood beads, a vintage wood shoe form and antique power pole insulator, a vintage hand-crank ice cream churn and a new handcrafted terra cotta bowl.