Three years ago, after their grown children had moved out, a couple of empty nesters decided it was time to downsize to a ranch-style home. They found what they were looking for in Upper Saddle River. The two-bedroom house, a mid-century-style structure built in 1971, had loads of character and charm. But its original kitchen had “renovation project” written all over it.
Hoping to retain the homey aspects that had so captured their hearts, while also clearing up the space for a more organic modernity, the homeowners contracted architect William J. Martin, AIA, of Westwood-based WJM Architects and Woodro Construction in Dumont, to vault the standard-height ceiling in the kitchen and match it—with rustic beams—to the adjacent living and dining areas.
“When creating the 3D-computer modeling, it became clear that removing the loft area needed to improve the space would destabilize the roof trusses,” Martin explains. “The lofted area above the kitchen was bracing the roof structural system. Roof trusses had to be reinforced and, in some cases, re-built and replaced once that loft was removed. This was challenging because the contractor, Woodro, had to install temporary shoring and bracing in order to facilitate the structural modifications. But once the new trusses were in place, the true beauty of the mid-century modern space seamlessly emerged.”
What also resulted was an extremely tall and long rectangular area for the U-shaped kitchen—complete with an island at the center. The space features a wall full of windows on one side and a large brick fireplace structure that forms the “wall” on the opposite side.
So much open space, so much potential. Now, how to make best use of the possibilities in order to create a design that both complemented the mid-century architecture and embraced the elegant symmetry of a more minimalist grandeur?
Enter Bonnie Hufnagel, kitchen designer at Ulrich Inc. in Ridgewood. Working off the architect’s plans, Hufnagel and the rest of the Ulrich team put their considerable skills and resources toward meeting the tall order. Guided by the homeowners’ specific directives, Hufnagel designed and refined the de- tails of the kitchen layout, and the Ulrich crew installed all of the cabinetry and appliances.
“The client and I collaborated regarding the placement of the range top and sink,” Hufnagel says. “She definitely wanted the sink centered in front of the windows and not in the island, even though it was going to be 101⁄2 feet from the range top. I suggested a 36-inch-wide sink—we used a farmhouse style—which visually gave the sink some ‘presence’ and made the distance to the range top seem less.
“The kitchen was basically for the clients’ enjoyment and entertainment purposes,” the designer continues. “Leaving the island surface uninterrupted by any sink or cooking fixtures allows them to use the entire island as a buffet when entertaining.”
Along with placement, balance and proportion were also key considerations. “Because the room is long, it was important to us that the kitchen design be symmetrical,” the homeowner notes.
The fireplace “wall” originally housed an oven. Since the wall structure was to remain, a new Wolf double oven was situated in the same place to avoid altering the brickwork. All of the functional aspects of the kitchen—appliances and storage—had to be on the short runs of the limited wall space. Hufnagel thoughtfully planned out the locations of specific stations—a cooking center, a cleanup section and food storage areas—to ensure everything fit together within a balanced, cohesive layout.
Given the 20-foot length between the two functional ends, Hufnagel needed to create a convenient flow that would “not require roller skates.” Her solution: She kept the storage—refrigeration and pantry—at one end, and the cooking, near the ovens, at the other. In between, the large island in gray-stained wood tones centers the space, while the oversized, 36-inch Kohler farmhouse sink breaks up the long run of countertop below the impressive windows.
Although the row of windows let in light all during the day, nighttime illumination posed a dilemma: Any lights put in the vault would lose their brilliance by the time they reached the countertop surface. Installing pendants would require extremely long cords and would interfere with the wonderful window views. Also, the expanse of windows along this wall allowed no wall space into which to set lights. So, in a lightbulb moment, Hufnagel suggested placing sconces in the wooden divider between the upper and lower windows. “This solved the problem and added to the charm of the place,” she says. “They look right at home, bringing light over the long run of countertop along the windows.”
Such creative problem solving and collaboration among all parties involved proved essential for the successful outcome. “Working with Ulrich on the kitchen and Woodro on the construction in order to balance design with the clients’ goals is what made this such a truly great project,” says Martin.
Giving high praise to all the professionals who worked to create the bright and uplifting kitchen, the homeowners couldn’t agree more. “The transformation of the space is remarkable,” the homeowner says. “People walk in and exclaim, ‘Wow, it is truly a beautiful space!’”
“Photos don’t do it justice,” says Hufnagel. “You feel like you’re in a lovely chalet in the woods when you stand in the space.”
Text by Nayda Rondon
Design by Bonnie Hufnagel
Photography by Peter Rymwid