On Home-Design TV, renovations proceed with breakneck speed: Two months! Six weeks! One hundred days to build a house! Renovation of Wayne and Annie Norbeck’s 112-year-old Montclair home, on the other hand, has been neither a sprint nor a marathon, but more of a protracted meander. They began work on the house in 2015, just before they moved in, and, truth be told, they haven’t completed it yet. “It’s probably fair to say that we’ll never be finished,” Annie admits.
Taking their time while spending their day-to-day lives in the house—along with their sons, 10-year-old Van and 7-year-old Alex, plus their black mixed-breed rescue, Nova—has yielded an unexpected benefit. “Living in the house actually changed our perspective about what we wanted to do,” Wayne says. It enabled them to see, rather than imagine, the flow from room to room and the way the light moved from hour to hour and season to season. Initially, for example, they’d planned to maintain the footprint of the first-floor powder room—a windowless space on an interior wall next to a closet— and just redesign it. But over time they realized how beautiful the light was in that part of the house, so they moved the powder room to an exterior wall previously taken up by the closet. “We realized we could flip the entire thing and have much more light and really make it into a beautiful space,” Annie says.
Of course, it helped that both the Norbecks are creative, by inclination and profession. He runs DXA Studio, a Manhattan-based architectural firm whose designs are driven by both contemporary concerns and a strong sense of craft, and she’s a painter whose dreamy landscapes are as atmospheric as the house she helped bring back to life. Throughout the renovation, each was a sounding board for the other, a process that may have prolonged the renovation but ultimately yielded satisfying results. “I would draw things up and think I’d found a good solution,” Wayne recalls, “and Annie would say, ‘No, that’s no good.’” Eventually, they’d hit on the sweet spot.
Before they moved in, they renovated the second-floor bathroom. Then, while they were living on the first two floors, they worked on the third, a dark space that contained two bedrooms and a scary-looking bathroom whose focal point was an ancient toilet. They installed five skylights to fill the floor with light, including one in the shower of the formerly cramped bathroom, which they expanded into an adjoining hall. Wayne says the skylight, which looks up into the branches of 100-year-old oak trees, gives you the sense that you’re in an outdoor shower.
The room became the en-suite bathroom to the primary bedroom, a space that instantly charmed the couple with its slanting attic-style walls and trio of multi-paned windows.
While light informed virtually all of their decisions, it didn’t always dictate their choice of color. The entryway, home to a grand piano, is painted a bright white; the walls of the adjoining living room are a light, warm gray. The dining room, though, is a whole other story. All the woodwork, including the tall wainscoting on most of the surrounding walls, is painted a deep green-gray, which also blankets the fireplace surround and mantel. “It has almost a moody restaurant feel,” Wayne says of the room. “In the evening, against the pale wood floors, it really glows.”
The sunroom glows for another reason. It replaced a drafty, tumbledown greenhouse, becoming a four-season room whose floor-to-ceiling windows and skylit ceiling allow the light to pour in, where it reflects against the pure-white walls. In the warmer months, screens replace the window glass, making the room feel as much a part of the outdoors as the interior, down to the gray hammered-basalt floor tiles that echo the backyard’s bluestone terrace. The furniture in the space, though, is intended to maintain the link to the indoors. It includes a rugged leather sofa and a large rustic-wood coffee table made by Annie’s father, an expert woodworker in North Carolina, plus a sleekly modern set of table and chairs.
In fact, most of the furniture in the house blends the contemporary with the rustic, with antique pieces used throughout. “Because we’re in a historic house,” says Annie, “we love the idea of blending old and new.” In the dining room, for instance, an antique wooden table— long enough to comfortably seat 10—is flanked by sleek black Wegner wishbone chairs. Given the home’s two school-age inhabitants, not to mention a large, energetic dog, comfort and ease were two major considerations in the choice of furniture. In the living room, a contemporary wood coffee table, designed by Wayne’s firm, is meant to take a beating. “It’s very slightly industrial,” Wayne says, “and the kids can hack at it and do projects and it’s not a precious thing.”
Comfort rules in the second-floor library, a cozy room whose poufy gray loveseat and built-in bookshelves, filled with—yes!—actual books, invite lingering. “The kids’ rooms are across the hall,” notes Wayne, “and every night we sit in there and read for a half hour.”
The one room that hasn’t yet received the star treatment is the kitchen, whose redo is probably a couple of years down the road. Or maybe not. “We literally sit down every two months and completely redesign the kitchen because we have new ideas,” Wayne says. That’s perhaps the only downside of a renovation run by two highly creative homeowners guided and inspired by day-to-day experience. But don’t they always say that life is a journey rather than a destination?