Berkeley Heights empty-nesters Judi and Matt Sills faced a challenge: how to make their home more welcoming for their expanding family. With both grown sons living several hours away, they wanted to make weekend and holiday visits more enticing, especially for their twin toddler granddaughters. Their gathering place had traditionally been the kitchen, but that space suddenly seemed awkward and outdated, and the family was unable to cluster around the small kitchen table crammed into the existing bay-windowed seating area.
They turned to their architect-hero Lisa Walzer of Livingston, who years earlier had rescued them from a similar situation by generating an inviting and generous family room seemingly out of thin air.
The solution seemed simple. Total square footage wasn’t really the problem—it was the existing kitchen’s irregular layout. “It was very awkwardly shaped,” says the architect. Walzer’s idea was to regularize the room to transform it from crooked and confining to sweeping and multifunctional.
With an assist from Structural Workshop of Mountain Lakes, Walzer decided on a dramatic, column-free solution that employed a transfer beam the length of the now doublesized kitchen. Suddenly, the space opened up before their eyes, and Judi and Matt gave the go-ahead. “It was really masterful,” says Judi. “Thank you, Lisa.”
Cloistered in a second-floor bedroom that had become their makeshift workspace during the pandemic, the couple watched the nearly 40-foot beam arrive in their driveway one morning. “It was quite a feat,” says Judi. “It had to be laid so gently.” A new shed roof over the expanded kitchen concealed the secret from view, and the change was nothing short of spectacular. The redesign opened up the space and allowed enough room for a new central feature.
“You always wanted an island,” Matt reminded his wife. Judi’s instincts were on target, and the extended room now performs double duty. The table area serves as their day-to-day eating place, and the new island is the perfect magnet when the kids and grandkids come to visit.
“They were amazed and happy at how easy it was to have these babies here,” says Walzer. “We had room to have booster seats on the chairs, and for them to stand around the chairs and deal with the kids.” And the 3-year-olds gravitate to the island. “The girls wanted to sit on big chairs at the island,” she adds, and it’s become the central focus when visitors are entertained. The island’s artistically clustered faucet, hot water and soap dispenser are by Franke in a satin nickel finish. The undercounter Wine Cooler is by XO in stainless steel with a matching dishwasher from Bosch.
The new aesthetic is light, bright and thoroughly modern, with discreet traditional touches to reflect the overall house design. Wood accents offset and warm up the white maple cabinets by Mouser Cabinetry from BKC of Westfield, and the wood plank flooring is actually durable porcelain tile from Eleganza Bio-Select, in the color walnut cinnamon. Light gray walls finished with Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist, topped by crown molding, work well with burnished matte stainless-steel fittings and appliances. Pendant light fixtures line up and add drama to brighten the activities at the island and table area. It is a palette that provides a serene backdrop to the busy family at work and play within the revamped space. Triple Frenchwood doors by Anderson open up to the yard and wash the eat-in seating with light to increase the feeling of expansiveness in the newly configured kitchen.
The new design makes things easier all around, and makes the kids and grandkids “more willing to come here,” says Judi, the satisfied homeowner.
Problem solved, and no one knows the secret!
TEXT by DON LONDON
DESIGN by LISA WALZER, WALZER ARCHITECTURE
PHOTOGRAPHY by MIKE VAN TASSELL