From the April/May 2020 Issue  

Reworking Split-Level Home in Livingston, NJ

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer John Ferrentino  |  Designer Tracey Butler  |  Location Livingston, NJ
Reworking Split-Level Living Room

The owners’ collection of blue glassware (seen here on the built-in shelves) sets the tone for the blue accents in the living room.

Back in Circulation — Reworking the walls improves traffic flow.

The 1970s split-level in Livingston had not aged well. “It was very dated with tight rooms and hallways,” says Tracey Butler, owner of  b. home interiors and Clear Home Design, both in New York City. “The house had no flow.” Butler knew just how to remedy the situation. “We completely opened it up, including taking down walls to achieve a circular flow throughout the house.”


STAIRCASE | The stair rail’s brushed metal frame — a border for the transparent glass rail — acts as a visual cue.

The transformation began in the foyer, where Butler eliminated walls and a closet that had hemmed in the original narrow staircase. The new stairwell features a glass banister that contributes to the entry’s spacious look by ensuring unobstructed sight lines. “The staircase is really the focal point,” Butler notes.

The former kitchen had similar space issues, and this time the solution involved relocating a wall. “This used to be a long, narrow galley kitchen with dated cabinetry,” Butler says. During the renovation, one wall was pushed out three feet into the garage. The extra space allowed room for an island, which was a specific request of the homeowner.

Reworking Split-Level Dining Room

DINING ROOM | The doorway between the dining room and kitchen was widened for a more open feel.

In locations where walls couldn’t be relocated or removed entirely, Butler enhanced the expansive feel by widening doorways. “We enlarged all the openings on the first floor to create an open floor plan,” she says.

The new spaces required furnishings that would preserve the airier feel. Butler focused on the new staircase when formulating her design plan. “The staircase sets the tone for the aesthetic in the home,” she notes. That aesthetic involves contemporary pieces with clean, straight lines.


KITCHEN | The backsplash adds a bit of texture to the smooth planes of the kitchen.

In the kitchen, flat-panel cabinetry and quartz countertops create uninterrupted smooth planes, giving the room an unfussy look. More multifaceted, but just as sleek, is the brushed-stainless light fixture over the island. Butler connected two rectangular fixtures to produce the dramatic 66-inch-long piece. The striking combination was also a financially prudent choice. “It was a real cost savings,” Butler explains. “Each one is 33 inches long, so this is over five feet of light fixture. The cost of one fixture in that length would have been exorbitant.”

The tall arch of the faucet and the gently rounded island stools introduce subtle curves into the space. Butler chose the swivel stools strategically. “We picked the low back because the kitchen isn’t huge; it creates a visual space where the cabinetry can be seen without interruption.”

Reworking Split-Level Master Bedroom

MASTER BEDROOM | A window in the master bedroom was enlarged to six feet and surrounded by ebonized walnut cabinetry.

Décor in the dining room, which also benefitted from widened doorways to the kitchen and foyer, “was really just about picking furniture that made it feel modern and that worked with the kitchen.” Butler built on the neutrals used in the kitchen and added subtle blue tones in the carpet and artwork.

Master Bathroom

MASTER BATHROOM | The cabinetry in the master bathroom is a light walnut accessorized with concave hardware.

Blue plays a much stronger role in the living room, where the designer took inspiration from the homeowners’ collection of blue glass art. “That was the jumping-off point,” she notes. The space tells “a story about saturated blue and the gray.” The large piece of art over the sofa, an abstract ocean image, “really tied it all together,” she adds.

Reworking Split-Level Daughter's Room

DAUGHTER’S ROOM | The daughter “was still living in a room that was done for her when she was probably 7,” Butler says. The designer gave her a more mature space that’s “modern, with a cool kind of whimsy. It’s sleek, but in an age-appropriate way.”

Butler remained true to the overall theme of clean lines and sleek surfaces. She clad the fireplace — which originally had a traditional, detailed surround — in white lacquer. The rest of the furnishings are straightforward, with smooth surfaces and minimal detail.

The master bedroom reiterates the simple lines of the living room and the kitchen with understated curves fluently incorporated into light fixtures and in a cocktail table. The master bathroom and children’s bathroom repeat the look as well, with flat-panel cabinetry and sophisticated finishes.

Children's Bathroom

CHILDREN’S’ BATHROOM | The kids’ bathroom features dark brown tiles and a brown marble floor.

Using those refined furnishings, Butler created a polished yet warm family atmosphere, transforming a residence showing its age into a home aging gracefully.