From the April/May 2022 Issue  

Family Ties

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Patricia Burke  |  Designer Suzette Donleavy  |  Builder Neighbour & Groves LLC  |  Location Brielle, NJ  |  Kitchen & Bath Cabinetry & Design Town & Country Design Studio

Creative space planning and practical touches increase opportunities for shared memories and special moments at the Jersey Shore

The Manasquan River beckons just beyond the lower-level auxiliary kitchen and gathering areas.

Nestled on the banks of the Manasquan River, this Brielle, New Jersey, home is just one of a few projects interior designer Suzette Donleavy has undertaken for longtime clients: a couple with adult children and their expanding families. Donleavy, principal of Well-Designed Interiors, describes her clients’ home as “a perfect downsize,” with a master bedroom on the first floor and two bedrooms upstairs — one dedicated to “Mimi’s sleepovers.”

The home’s lower level, which has direct waterfront access, was planned for a later phase, says Donleavy, who is now based in South Carolina and New Jersey. However, as work progressed on other areas of the home, the lower level “fell quickly into the plans for completion,” she says. “The homeowners fell more and more in love with their new home and saw the potential for the space.” Their vision? “Spending summer days on the river and returning to the ease of one-level entertaining with all the comforts of home.”

The bespoke kitchen cabinetry with its “beachy” proprietary stain on premium-grade walnut “appears to be a simple Shaker style, but there is much more to it,” kitchen designer and architect Christine Bolton says. “Each detail for the design is carefully considered — including unique offsets on the doors and decorative molding and panels — for a stunning, three-dimensional appearance.” Chunky end panels frame each section of cabinetry.

Open shelving and handy storage under the staircase maximize space in the bar zone. A mix of cast bronze pulls and handles in unlacquered brass “was key to completing the look,” Bolton says.

At the top of the list was an auxiliary “summer” kitchen, Donleavy says, along with casual dining and living areas and ample storage. Converting a small powder room and closet into a full bathroom on the same floor was another main objective. “Because the owners are boaters with the Manasquan River right outside the door (and with their own private beach), a shower was key,” especially during summer months.

Working within the structure and confines of a “basement environment” required relocating doors and mechanicals and also presented other space challenges, Donleavy notes. “As we began to unfold what was needed to function as a fully operational small-scaled kitchen, the cabinet space was quickly devoured with appliance and sink placement.” Specifying open shelving helped offset the issue” and played into the overall design aesthetic, she says. There was also an appliance conundrum. “We had to think outside the typical appliance package on this one.”

Reinforcements came on several fronts. “It was great to collaborate with Christine [Bolton] from Town & Country Design Studio (TCDS) in Red Bank” on the design of both the kitchen and bathroom, Donleavy says. “I knew she, Ginny [Padula] and the team would rise to the challenges ahead of us” and make every inch count. Todd Prutzman of Top Line Appliance Center in Wall worked in tandem with the team, guiding them to the right appliances, including an induction cooktop with a downdraft for venting in a space where running a gas line was prohibitive.

Bespoke Shaker-style cabinetry features carefully considered design details and is made of premium-grade walnut with a proprietary stain. “These design-savvy clients were drawn to the beachy look of this unique finish for their ‘summer’ kitchen,” Bolton says. “They fell in love with it immediately when they visited the studio.” Cast bronze cup pulls and handles of unlacquered brass were “key to completing the look,” she adds.

The Galley Workstation, a design studio favorite in small or large spaces, proved to be a wise choice. “The Galley sink allowed us to maximize workspace efficiently as the sink and [induction] cooktop left us very little counter space,” Donleavy says. “Essentially the sink becomes a workstation with prep, service and cleanup all in one space.”

For the backsplash, Donleavy continued the minimal look with the same quartz material as the countertop: Calcutta Gold in a suede finish. “I insisted on no seams on the counter or backsplash,” she says. “Bedrock Granite [in Shrewsbury] “was up for the challenge.”

Used frequently, the kid-friendly dining area is ideal in inclement weather or for kids’ craft-making in any season, interior designer Suzette Donleavy says. The framed silhouettes of the grandchildren inspired the colorful flatweave rug, she adds. “Two new baby silhouettes will be added in 2022!”

An adjacent dining area “is used frequently and is ideal in inclement weather,” Donleavy says. There is also a sitting area opposite the kitchen with a cozy fireplace (not shown). “The entire space is very kid-friendly,” from the furnishings to the flooring, Donleavy says. For the latter they went to another trusted trade partner, Atlantic Flooring in Eatontown, to discuss options for luxury vinyl tile. “Not only is it beautiful and hard to tell it is not wood, but it was a good choice for the water factor” and also added acoustic value, she says.

For the bathroom’s driftwood-inspired vanity and shelf, Donleavy credits Eric Seebald of Seebald Construction LLC. “Eric did a beautiful job creating a vanity that honors the natural shape of the wood,” she says. A vessel sink, wall-mounted faucet, shiplap, penny tile and the homeowners’ collection of nautical art (not shown) contribute to the classic shore vibe.

With their growing brood of grandchildren, the homeowner envisioned serving the little ones their summer favorites from the kitchen window. In lieu of undercounter supporting brackets that would limit space for stools, Donleavy opted to have the countertops cantilevered at the window in advance of installation to maximize seating. The exterior’s concrete countertop, she adds, “was the perfect choice of material for outside elements and complemented the fieldstone façade to look as if it had always been there.”

“Mimi’s drive-in window” serves up watermelon and other summer favorites for the grandkids, Donleavy notes. As the homeowner likes to say, payment is in hugs or kisses, with a reminder “from management” to say “please and thank you.”


A concrete countertop stands up to the outdoor elements and blends beautifully with the existing fieldstone façade.