From the April/May 2019 Issue  

This Empty Nest Embraces a Modern Aesthetic

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer John Ferrentino  |  Designer Tracey Butler  |  Architect Jay Michael Petrillo, AIA  |  Builder Scandic Builders Inc.  |  Location Morristown, NJ

A bar cart and a fire feature elevate the sophistication of the living room. The artwork adds vibrant color to the space.

Semi-empty nesters embrace a modern aesthetic in their newly built home

A wealth of possibilities awaited them—that’s how Morristown, New Jersey, homeowners felt when they purchased the land for their new residence. With two children nearly grown and flown, the couple were eager to create a new home with their own tastes in mind. “They have college-age children who live there when they’re not away at school,” says Tracey Butler of b. home interior design and the R. Home Interior Design Store in Livingston, New Jersey.

The walkout basement “has high ceilings and full glass on the back elevation so it doesn’t feel like a basement at all,” designer Tracey Butler says.

More mature kids allow for more decorative possibilities, Butler says. “Because the kids are older, aesthetics could overtake durability in this family’s life.” So the couple focused on what was important to them at this stage of the game. “Decisions were made to please the eye and express the family’s love for art, architecture, wood and stone.”

First, of course, came the architecture. “The homeowners wanted a modern retreat,” Butler says. And modern it is. The façade is all straight lines and angles combining wood and concrete in a streamlined structure. The seamed metal roof slopes dramatically downward from a high point at the back of the home toward the lower-rising front, which is nestled into the landscape.

The ranch design was a specific request of the homeowners, who “wanted to be on one level as they approach their retirement,” Butler says. “They didn’t want a lot of steps.” That was certainly easy enough to accommodate. The residence, with all its living spaces on the main floor, is ideal for aging in place.

Also ideal is the setting. The owners wanted “the outdoors surrounding them,” Butler says. The home is indeed encircled by greenery, with well-ordered landscaping at the front and mature trees in a lush wooded backyard.

Straight lines dominate the pool deck and patio.


Aside from the trees, a key feature of the yard is the concrete pool, which reflects the sleek modern theme with straight lines and smooth surfaces. The long, narrow pool and deck area mimic the shape of the house.

The owners wanted the inside of the house to be just as sleek and beautiful. The clients “wanted this home to be an art piece,” Butler says. And this art piece has a clear point of view.

A multifaceted chandelier adds a mod bit of mass to the expansive space beneath the high ceiling.


“I designed the interior with a midcentury vibe,” Butler says.

The theme is apparent in the sophisticated furnishings, which reiterate the angular, low-slung appearance of the building itself. In the living room, a sectional sofa hugs one corner of a shag area rug. A fire feature with a rectangle-within-a-rectangle design separates the living and dining areas.

  • Squares and rectangles in various forms greet visitors at the entry. A large window on the porch looks into the kitchen.


  • In the wife’s office, the round desk chair and light fixture bring softness to the angles of the space.


  • The mudroom features terrazzo floors and frosted-glass closets for convenient storage with an industrial look.


  • The master bedroom is sedate and unfussy.


In the kitchen, smooth surfaces are set against a textured backsplash, the only non-flat plane in the room. Curved chair backs at the island and table offer a counterpoint to the straight lines of the space. Butler placed “great emphasis on exotic woods,” a hallmark of the midcentury aesthetic, and that’s apparent in the kitchen as well. The deeply toned walnut cabinetry, accessorized with bronze, straight-edged hardware, infuses the space with warmth. The granite island countertop adds a cool touch.

In the master bathroom, a multileveled vanity adds interest and makes a clear delineation between the twos sinks. | The kids’ bathroom also features hanging cabinetry. The elevated window brings in light while maintaining privacy. | Hanging cabinetry makes a smaller bathroom feel more spacious.

The master bathroom juxtaposes warm and cool elements similarly with a weathered white oak vanity set on a Calacatta gold marble floor. The designer used teak for the wall-hung vanity in the powder room and for the scallop-carved, wall-mounted credenza in the hallway that serves as a bar. In both cases, the rich wood takes center stage against the neutral walls.

Neutrals, in fact, make up a large part of the home’s palette. The master bedroom is predominantly light gray, from the bedding to the carpet to the sofa and chair. Gray is also a key player in the wife’s office, where two gray guest chairs sit on a steely carpet.

  • Textured ovals on the backsplash tiles and curved chair backs break up the smooth planes and straight lines in the kitchen.


  • The cozy kitchen book features a banquette tucked into two walls of windows.


  • The hallway bar oozes sophistication with its wood inset panels and black honed-granite countertop.


One deviation from the mostly neutral palette is the den, a decorative nod to the son and daughter. “The kids’ den was done in a vibrant orange with an interior window looking through to the glass stair tower to give energy and color,” Butler says. “It was intended to be youthful and exciting for them.”

The colorful kids’ den features an orange sofa. The interior window looks over a staircase to the basement.


Color appears also in the artwork found throughout the home.

“The family travels a lot,” Butler says, “and the art is very special to them. Each piece signifies a family trip.”

Large, single-paned windows, another element of midcentury design, help dissolve the distinction between indoors and out. One large window overlooks the front porch from the kitchen. Windows surround the kitchen dining area, and the basement entertainment area boasts a large wall composed almost entirely of glass. The windows allow a constant interplay between interior and exterior and have made a great impression on the family and guests alike. “The homeowners entertain a lot,” Butler says, “both inside and out. Hence the seamless décor through the glass to the sleek bluestone pool and deck.” In fact, Butler adds, her clients’ “favorite part of the home is probably the vast back elevation of glass. The very high glass windows and repeated sliding glass doors all bring the lush backyard into the rooms.”