From the June/July 2024 Issue  

Updating a circa-1905 home

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Mike Van Tassell  |  Designer Anastasia Harrison, AIA, LEED-AP  |  Location Westfield, NJ

Architect Anastasia Harrison’s redesign works for her modern family while honoring her home’s history

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The wall between the kitchen and the dining room was removed to create one long eat-in space suitable for casual contemporary living. The kitchen is Harrison’s favorite part of the house. “I have a 12-foot island that I absolutely adore,” she says. The white marble countertops are protected by a sealant called TuffSkin®. “It’s kind of like an iPhone screen protector. You don’t even know it’s there. The countertop is absolutely gorgeous.”

Anastasia Harrison knew that this circa-1905 residence in Westfield was special from the first time she saw it. “This home had a soul and a presence unlike any other I’ve seen. The minute I walked in, I could feel the joy and positivity,” she says. Harrison, principal architect and owner of Westfield-based AHD & Co., loved the design details that give the home its character, such as the ceiling millwork in the living room and the built-in cabinetry in the dining room. Still, she understood that a house of this era would require some TLC.

Designer Anastasia Harrison’s home, a center-hall-switchback Colonial style, features stairs that rise to a landing and then turn 180 degrees to continue upward. The entry hall leads to the living room at left and the family room straight ahead. The secretary beneath the staircase is an antique that Harrison bought in upstate New York. The triangular cabinet is an antique purchased in London.

The kitchen, the result of a mid-1980s renovation, was in particular need of attention. The dated space had an awkward layout with a triangular island. Harrison removed the wall it shared with the dining room to create one large cooking/dining space. “We took a very formal house that had a back staircase and made it a little more casual — a little more suitable for today’s lifestyle.” That secondary stairwell — which was situated just off the kitchen, opposite the window wall — was eliminated to make way for a scullery.

A back staircase was removed to create space for a new scullery.

 

The built-in cabinets in the dining area are original to Harrison’s circa-1905 residence. A wall was removed to open the dining area to the kitchen, seen here at left in the photo.

During construction, the project team discovered that the secondary-staircase wall was load bearing (a surprise to all concerned, including Harrison, who assumed the kitchen/dining room wall was doing the heavy lifting). With that removal, the space needed shoring up. “We added structural beams that had to be installed from the outside,” Harrison says. “We cut holes in the outside wall to slide them into place.” Harrison covered the joists with millwork to create beams on the ceiling. They serve an aesthetic as well as a practical purpose, adding architectural interest that mimics similar treatments in the living and dining rooms.

The family room is a 1980s addition. “It felt like 1985,” Harrison says. “So we put wood on the ceiling and stained it a custom color to bring it down visually and create a better sense of scale.”

The family room also features a beamed ceiling, but in a much different style. “It was an ’80s addition and it felt different than the rest of the house, with different proportions,” Harrison explains. The designer toned down the effect of the high, vaulted ceiling by adding stained wood panels intersected with beams. “That created a better sense of scale,” she says. The addition of a cast-stone fireplace makes the room feel even more snug, regardless of its substantial dimensions. “Since the space was more contemporary, we gave the room its own identity that had more texture and is a bit more modern.”

Harrison showcased the fireplace in the living room by painting it and the wall behind it black.

Harrison brought bits of modernity to the home’s original rooms as well. In the living room, she used black paint to create a dramatic moment, using a gloss on the fireplace and mantel and a matte on the wall behind it. “You might expect all white,” she says. “The black really showcases the fireplace. We took a very traditional room and added bold style and a bit of moodiness.”

In contrast, the primary bathroom is bright and airy, and it also features contemporary touches. The flooring, for example, is an updated design incorporated with a nod to tradition. “It’s a very classic checkerboard that you would see in a home of this age,” Harrison explains, “but we modernized it by playing with the proportions. The pattern is unexpected.”

The diminutive powder room packs a powerful punch. “I was trying to create a moment,” Harrison says. “It needed its own personality. I’ve always loved that Rifle & Co. wallpaper—I even have sneakers in that pattern.”

As Harrison had anticipated, the home needed some work. But she could see it had been lovingly cared for by previous owners. “They preserved it well,” she says. Harrison enjoyed the process of honoring the home’s history while updating it for her 21st-century family. “I am a never-ending home renovator. This is an old house — that’s part of its joy.”

“I was inspired by the French doors because they are magnificent,” Harrison says of the design in the light and airy primary bathroom. “I wanted them to be a focal point. It made sense to put sinks next to the doors. You want light at the sinks. We wanted the shower and bathtub farther back into the room.”