It’s a familiar story: With three young children, the McLaughlin family was outgrowing their old house and wanted a place they could stretch out in. But, bucking the trend toward maximum square footage, they didn’t want to stretch too far—except when it came to the view. None of the houses they saw, however, fit all of their criteria. So, rather than renovate, they decided to start from scratch. They found a large piece of property that offered a stunning vista of woods, meadows and a large pond on the New Jersey–Pennsylvania border and set about building the perfect family home: large enough for comfort, but not so large that they’d lose the sense of coziness they’d loved in their old home.
Stacey McLaughlin admits they wouldn’t have achieved the ideal blend of space and comfort but for the discerning eye of their designer, AJ Margulis. They hired her just after the house had been framed in, and she immediately set about correcting what she saw as flaws in the original plan. She tightened up openings between several areas on the main floor—notably, from the foyer into both the kitchen and the dining area, and between the kitchen and the family room—and trimmed them up to make them feel more like individual “rooms.” Pure open-concept spaces, says Margulis, “don’t feel as comfortable as people think they’re going to—you need to pace the eye.”
Warmth was a top priority for the family, who added a golden retriever puppy into the mix right after they moved in. Margulis achieved it with a palette that’s bright and light with pops of inviting colors such as amber—which she used on two inviting wing chairs in the family room—and various shades of blue, including pale blue cotton on the kitchen stools and a deeper blue on family-room throw pillows that enliven a pair of white woven-blend sofas. The room, says Margulis, “incorporates a lot of color while still feeling pretty-elegant, without being stuffy-elegant.”
There’s nothing at all stuffy about the house, in which traditional pieces sit comfortably alongside contemporary accents. McLaughlin admits her tendency to go for trendier pieces was one the designer reined in, warning that they might not stand the test of time. She’d been smitten with navy blue cabinets, for example, but Margulis said white would be more practical and certainly more lasting in terms of style. “It’s been three years,” McLaughlin says, “and I know I won’t get tired of those cabinets. If I’d done color, I could imagine wanting to fix that later on.” She calls Margulis’ taste “timeless” and believes it suits the house perfectly.
A mix of timeless and on-trend is evident in McLaughlin’s office, which happens to be her favorite space in the house. A strikingly modern desk from Julian Chichester, with playful gold legs and a white vellum desktop, feels entirely at home sharing the room with a vintage mirror and garden stool and a pale blue Parsons chair. A wall of built-ins adds warmth and also controls clutter. “I love to put things behind closed doors,” says the homeowner. Her office is one of the few rooms on the main floor to have an actual doorway, but the French doors leading into the room are often open— except when McLaughlin, who works for a nonprofit, needs peace and quiet.
The other first-floor room with a door is the guest room that’s often occupied by McLaughlin’s mother, who lives in Texas but was around to consult with the designer for much of the build. “We weren’t exactly channeling Texas,” says Margulis, “but the room is a little bit light and airy, a little bit modern.” With an upholstered bed, a pale wool-and-silk rug that’s soft underfoot and a pale-printed Roman shade, it’s the essence of restfulness.
A room with a similarly restful feel is the upstairs master bathroom—though that wasn’t the case initially. With its pale finishes, the overlarge room might have ended up feeling too cold, so the designer placed the spacious shower around a corner. Now, when you look into the room, you see just the vanity and the tub, whereas before, says Margulis, “it felt like you were going into a ballroom. Now there’s a little more privacy.” She installed a window seat next to the shower, which adds a note of comfort and convenience—“it’s a nice place to put down your towels and your robe,” Margulis says.
Conversely, the kitchen was one of the few rooms in the house that didn’t feel quite large enough. So, the designer added extra storage in the hall and a second refrigerator in the mudroom. The kitchen incorporates a space for informal dining that’s surrounded by windows looking out on the patio and the backyard. Like the rest of the house, the area is large but not too large, the perfect place to gather as a family, catch up on the day and take in the expansive view that drew them to the property in the first place.