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Nature’s Embrace

Writer Meg Fox  |  Photographer Lisa Russman  |  Designer Rachael Grochowski, RA, NCARB  |  Architect John M. Reimnitz Architect P.C.  |  Builder Classics Reborn  |  Location Montclair, NJ

In a Montclair, NJ, remodel, outside views read as art

A couple seeking a retirement home found an ideal property that they could tailor to their lifestyle and needs: a house situated along a ridge that forms Montclair’s western border. It’s surrounded by treetop landscapes and views of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

Plans were in place for a renovation and addition drawn up by architect John M. Reimnitz in Montclair. Rachael Grochowski, founder and principal of RHG Architecture + Design — also based in Montclair — was then consulted for her expertise in creating a cohesive, calming interior design scheme where the views would take center stage. “Our goal for this cottage-style home was to evoke a warm, modern feeling through a balance of shapes, colors, materials and natural light,” Grochowski says. The main floor was designed as a public area, she says, with the “kitchen as the grounding element.” While the open floor plan elsewhere is bright by design, the kitchen’s dark-stained cabinets and warm, earthy palette “provide the sense of being protected,” she says.

A concrete sink anchors a wall of cabinetry while two countertop types — one marble, one manmade (Caesarstone) — offer contrasting delineation between work areas. A shimmering tile backsplash “merges with large windows, one of many almost seamless connections to the outside,” she notes.

Views of nature extend in all directions from the kitchen through the living room and back deck. Highlights include modernized Shaker custom cabinets in a matte stain, a waterfall marble island and a concrete sink.


“The window’s asymmetrical placement adds to the balance of the space,” Grochowski explains. A hidden door to the left of the cooktop leads to a pantry. “Orange was a color we wanted to integrate,” she says of the upholstered stools. “This location felt most natural, coordinating with the kitchen materials where orange would be supporting instead of stimulating.”

Passages between rooms were widened “to make it more easeful” and balanced, Grochowski says. She established a cohesive flow in the placement of windows and in the selection of furniture, colors and textures. Painting the walls a “soft and subtle” shade of white created a warm, modern backdrop, while black-framed windows helped to emphasize views where the “outside reads as art.” Accents of blue and green also resonate with nature and foster a sense of calm.

“Creating a sense of entry was important” without blocking views in the open layout, Grochowski says. Here a custom-designed metal screen visually separates the front hallway from the living room. Furnishings in curved shapes and creative angles “form a soft sense of gathering,” she adds. The fireplace façade, covered in white honed-marble chevron tile is “subtle but elegant.”

Creating peaceful spaces “is about calming the movement, which still has a clear path,” Grochowski explains. Often it involves creating tension with contrasting elements like curves or angles — or applying symmetry and asymmetry — all in equal measures. “When mixing the two you actually feel the difference, which creates an understanding of each element.”

Innovative storage solutions and spaces designed for reflection were other key design strategies. The addition of a reading nook, for instance, “creates a lovely space just off the family room for reading while feeling like you are outside,” Grochowski says. It’s also a place for “cuddling up with grandkids for story time while peering at the New York City skyline.”

Nestled off the family room, the reading nook is a coveted spot with views of Manhattan in the distance. “Design elements mirror the colors in spring,” the designer says.


LEFT | A windowed wall in the dining room opens to an outside deck with panoramic views. The choice of an open, airy light fixture keeps the vista unobstructed. RIGHT | A simple cross was selected for the doors “to create a recognition between inside and out while staying peaceful and calm,” Grochowski says.

A wide hallway, which connects the main floor/public living areas to a lower-level bedroom and art studio on the top level, is like a destination of its own. Here, a large-framed view of the landscape reads like a painting that changes with the season. Minimalist cubbies were created along the passageway to house books and treasured items from the homeowners’ travels. Opposite the built-ins is a light-filled powder room with a floating vanity and a custom mirror, placed within a tall window frame.

Sustainable design choices were highly valued, including the Caesarstone countertops in the kitchen, “a material at the forefront of sustainability with 42% recycled content,” Grochowski says. In addition, the paints are no-VOC, upholstery consists of natural-fiber fabrics and a few furniture pieces from the clients’ previous home were “mindfully integrated into the new modern elements,” she says. Some consisted of family heirlooms, the client’s own art creations or artwork collected over time.

Selecting the wood floor was an extensive process, the designer says. “Balancing quality, cost, color and healthy materials in an engineered wood floor is always tricky.” In this case, the homeowners desired a wide plank with a specific texture. “We always look at samples next to all the other finishes so we can be sure it doesn’t change the way they read.”

Built-in shelves offer space for books and curated collections. Dark metallic paint further accentuates the striking framed view of the landscape.


Special details of the power room include the asymmetrical placement of a textured Kohler sink and a custom mirror placed within the tall window frame. Limestone tops the wide custom vanity with plentiful storage. Running the length of the focal-point wall is a combination of matte and glossy graphite tile in a beautifully textured Chiclet-sized effect.

The lower floor, or “private zone,” includes the primary bedroom and bathroom, both with wide-framed views of the outdoors. The beauty — and simplicity — of the landscape is echoed in the bedroom, where warm, soothing blue hues and neutrals “are intended to create calm,” Grochowski notes. “Like the upstairs, the décor and finishes are kept to a minimum to ease the eye to the outdoors.”

A windowed wall blurs the lines between indoors and out in the primary bedroom, which is decorated in soothing neutrals and sky-like hues.


TOP | A mirror extending the length of the custom white oak vanity in the primary bathroom extends to the window, reflecting a view from all vantage points. LEFT | Penny tiles line the walls inside the glass-enclosed shower. The flooring is Thala Gray honed limestone. RIGHT | The relaxed soaking tub takes full advantage of its surroundings. Finger joints in the wood surround display unique craftsmanship, Grochowski says.