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THE KLARA PROJECT #3 - The Design Process Begins - My Home Away from Home

Posted on March 28, 2019 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (221)

As the crew worked on building the new retaining wall and constructing the new patio outside, I was busy coming up with the new layout for the inside.  When I design I always think of function first.  How a space will be used and how can it be used to it's greatest potential are the questions I constantly ask myself. Functionality first, then the aesthetics. Our lives, our jobs, can be difficult and while it's great to come home to a beautiful house, imagine if it was an impractical one, one that was not very functional. That would only add more frustration to an already stressful life. My first goal is to make the homeowner's life easy, alleviate stress through ease of use.... functionality first.

To understand how a space is going to work to it's peak potentiality I first have to get to know the space and know it well.  Before I even start the design process I spend lots and lots and lots and lots of time wandering through the rooms, getting a feel for each one, exploring all the possibilities, until I figure out what the true configuration of the home should be.

Case in point is this coat closet.  It was located just to your right as you entered the house. While it's always great to have a coat closet, this one was way too small for the way we live our lives now.  Lets face it, we all have So Much Stuff!!  This little closet would never hold all the coats, hats, boots, brooms, vacuums, swifters, etc. that we use in our daily lives.

That size issue went along with another that I had with the space behind the closet.  It was a nice room, but you could only access it by walking through a living space to a door in the middle of a wall.

What I decided to do was seal up the door into the room, which would help create a second living space, and then get rid of the existing coat closet and create a doorway into the room that way.  That would let you come into the house, walk directly into the small room to your right where you would find a bench and a huge coat closet that's perfect for all your stuff.

Note: this is why I love my phone.  I can take pictures, measure, then write the measurements directly onto the picture.  Later I can then take all that data and create layout drawings.  Also this cool funky door would later become the door to my new powder room.

That took care of one side of the house. Time to address the other. In a very traditional and standard for it's time layout, the dining room was it's own room.  A powder room was in the space between the dining room and the kitchen. Our modern lifestyle tastes have changed. Now we prefer an open concept.

In order to open up the space between the dining room and the kitchen I first had to figure out where to put the powder room.  It's always a huge bonus to have a first floor bathroom so I didn't want to remove it.  Near by was a large pantry and a space with some cabinets.  This was an ideal location for the powder room.

I then had to measure out the kitchen to see how I could lay it out in the most fuctional way possible given the limited space.

You never know what you'll find when you start opening walls.  Once we began demo on the wall that would help open up the space between the dining room, through the powder room to the kitchen we discovered one of the main waste pipes.

There wasn't a way to move it, so I'd just have to design around it.

Having a master bath is pretty much on every home buyer's wish list and I knew I need to add one.  This full bathroom located on the second floor serviced all three bedrooms.

But there was this room next to the bathroom. Too small to be a bedroom, it was being used as an office.

I would just need to close up the existing hall entryway and create a new door into this bathroom from the bedroom that would become the master suite.

With a water supply and access to the waste line right in the wall dividing the two rooms, it was easy to image the office as a full bath.

Once the wall was open we could create the plumbing necessary for the new bathroom.

Up next, deciding on fixtures and finishes.... "Dressing Up Klara"

THE KLARA PROJECT - Part 2 The Great Wall - Battling My Frienemies...

Posted on February 22, 2019 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (102)

In the towns that I work in trying to buy an investment property is a challenge. There are many, many people out there who are looking to renovate and resell houses. Some of them are very good (these are my "frienemies"), some not so good and there are some that never should be allowed to work on a house again. I once left a broker open house distraught and physically ill having seen what a "flipper" had done to a great home. Unfortunately in my business I often find myself saying to clients, "It's when bad things happen to good homes".

With so many investors and such little inventory, when a property with great potential comes on the market it often ends up in a bidding war with multiple bids. And while I support, cheer on and give advice to those people who do amazing work, it's a highly competitive market I work in, hence my "frienemies" and I are always vying to buy the same properties.

But Klara was different.

The one big issue that investors saw as a major draw back and a reason to pass on the property was the backyard and the work that needed to be done there. The house is situated at top of a ravine and the stone retaining wall was in shambles and needed to be completely replaced. Luckily for us Alex, the contractor that I work with, had no issue taking on the arduous task of fixing the wall.

I was told that the wife of the couple that had owned the house had worked for a company that made headstones. It was said that she would take the rejected stones and the couple would use them as "fixes" for the wall. Which explains why we would find large pieces with names carved in them!

After all the big stones were cleared away, a deep trench had to be dug.

An early snow fall held us up.

Huge railroad ties were used to create the wall and areas that would hold the stone and gravel needed as part of the drainage system.


What's interesting is that while we were constructing this, and by "we" I mean Alex, I saw a show on Machu Picchu and how they built drainage systems on the side of a mountain and it was the same technique that we are still using today!

Alex and the wall.

Huge wall.  No fake "National Emergency" needed to get it built.

Once the wall was built and passed it's final inspections, we put a fence on top of it. This stockade fence is not what I would have chosen but given that the house is going up for sale and a family with young children could potential buy it, meant that safety needed to be my first concern when figuring out which fence to put up.  It would be easy enough for any buyer to later take down this fence and put up one more suitable to their liking.

And once the weather warms up a bit we'll cover the stones with 6 to 8 inches of dirt and top soil.

While the wall was being built there was still a lot of other work on the outside of the house that needed to be done. We wanted to fix up old blue stone walkways, create new ones and build a new large front blue stone porch.

Up Next: Post Demo Construction and the Design Process Begins!!

THE KLARA PROJECT - Part 1 Finding Klara

Posted on January 25, 2019 at 6:50 AM Comments comments (104)

As Realtor who specializes in home design and renovation planning, I'm always on the look out for investment properties for my investor clients.  And as a total house geek, I love finding poor, old, dilapidated homes to rescue and fix up. If you were to ask me what's my one passion, the one thing that drives me, it would be that...the desire to bring new life to a dead house.  I scower the internet daily looking for opportunities and one day last summer I found what would be my next whole house renovation.

Meet Klara. This sweet Dutch Colonial was half buried in the woods and perched on a crumbling ravine when I first saw her.  Situated at the end of a dead end street in South Orange, the location was amazing. Even though it's close to the town and the train, it still retains it's idyllic quality due to the surrounding woods, streams and waterfalls that flank and run behind the property.

Once home to an Architect, his wife and family, this house hadn't been occupied in what seemed to be a very long time.  And the house was filled with the accumulations of a lifetime.

The property was on the market as an Estate Sate and working with a lovely pair of Realtors who represented the sellers, I was able to secure the purchase of the home for my clients.  After the remaining family members took what they wanted out of the house, we donated or gave away as much of the stuff left behind as we could..

The kitchen was small and cut off from the rest of the first floor.  This was common in houses built in 1924.

But it did have this amazing eat-in area with a view!

There was a powder room tucked away in between the kitchen and dining room.

It was great that we had a powder room on this floor, only it was in the wrong spot and it would have to move.

It was a bit difficult to actually see what I had to work with given all the clutter.

It turned out that the couple that lived there were also artists and the house was filled with work that they had done.

I spent 4 hours in the house one day sifting through all the artwork and pulled out a pile of my favorite pieces. My plan is to frame and hang the best ones throughout the house once I stage it for resale. I thought it would be a nice way to preserve the memory of the people who spent most of their lives in this house and act as a bridge to the new owners.

Located on the second floor, this was the one and only full bath in the house.

The full basement has a ton of potential with its wide open space and tall ceililng.

There's also a place for a second powder room and a laundry room.

I really loved the location of the house right away, but what truly sold me, and my investor clients, was the gorgeous views from the homes picture windows.

Once the deal was done and the transaction closed, it was time to take off my Realtors hat and take over as the Designer and Project Manager.  One thing I insist on doing is a full home inspection with a qualified Home Inspector.  Even though I know that we'll be gutting and fixing most of the house, I still want a keen eye to point out and list for me all the faults and problems with the property. This way I can make sure we address all the issues as we're renovating.

The first order of business is removing all the trees and bushes that were a threat to the house and the back retaining wall.

The roots of these large trees were pushing out and compromising the integrity of the retaining wall, which had begun to crumble down the side of the ravine.

I love these stone planters we uncovered! I can't wait to fill them with flowers and place them on the new front patio that we plan on building.  The stone obelisks are the properties boundry markers.  How cool is that?!

Now we need to address what's left of the back retaining wall and rebuild a new one. Next up... The Great Wall of Klara!

The Story of Rosie, Part 2. The Living room, Dining room and Kitchen

Posted on December 21, 2016 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (108)

From the minute I walked into Rosie, I felt that the interior of this home could be amazing.  Yes there were potential issues to deal with, as with any abandoned home, but I knew there was nothing that we couldn't over come, even with our budget.  The living room was great.  Lots of light, lots of space.  The walls and floor were in good shape, they just needed cosmetic work.  A fresh coat of paint and sand/stain the floor.  Oh, and that God awful fire guard would have to come out!

The house had an amazing flow to it and was so much deeper than it appeared from the outside.  Yet I wanted to open up the wall between the dining room and the kitchen to give the space a more modern, open concept design.

While I do love open concept homes, I'm still a huge fan of individual rooms.  So even though I was opening up this wall, I still wanted to frame out the space between the rooms, just to give them their own unique feel.  I taped out what I envisioned the opening would look like, just to see if I would like it.

Beyond the dining room lay the kitchen, very cramped and horribly laid out.

It was also wildly outdated with these '80's style cabinets.  I remember having these cabinets in the Brooklyn apartment my wife and I moved into way back when...and they were outdated then!

I didn't think that the kitchen needed to be reinvented.  It just needed breathing room, and the appliances had to be placed in the space properly.

This stove, jammed into a dark corner, was just too depressing and symptomatic of the whole overall feel of the house.  While it was winter, the house was actually colder on the inside than it was outside.  It just felt so lifeless, so abandoned.  It had no purpose, no one to love it and no one it could give shelter to.  It was a dead house.  But it was time to change that...

First up, demo.  All the old appliances were removed and a good portion of the cabinetry was repurposed as storage in the basement laundry room.

To move the refrigerator across the room to where it needed to be, I stole the back portion of a very deep linen closet that was in the hallway outside the guest bathroom.

Taking the wall down was really transforming the space.

Once the new header was in, the place felt huge!

I decided not to build the walls back out as much as I had originally intended.

I kept a jam that would distinguish the space and also give me a natural break point for the paint.  I intended to paint the dining room and the kitchen two different colors.  I actually used 3 different paints colors for the walls, unusal in an investment house.  Most Flippers indiscriminately buy a 10 gallon drum of paint and use it in every room.  Thus missing an opportunity to give a room a little personality.  This creates a "souless" feel to the property.

While all the construction was going on, I was at work on the design finishes.  The house was a modern take on an English cottage, so I wanted a mix of old and new.  Classic touches in a modern setting. 

I choose white shaker cabinets for their timeless feel and charming character. 

The Mrs. on Q.C. duty....

Painting prep work.  I knew I wanted a lighter color in the Living Room.

But here in the dining room I knew I wanted to go dark.

Once the walls were primed and given their first coat of paint, the floors were sanded, then stained.

I love how the stain color turned out on the floors.  It also matched the paint colors really well.  In the dining room I went with Benjamin Moore's Winter Gates.  I also had my painter use the same color, only in a high gloss finish, on all the trim.  This is actually quite old fashion, but at the same time it seems very modern to me - exactly what this house called for.

The newly installed appliances are KitchenAid.

Whenever we travel my wife and I love to shop.  We especially like to visit antique stores, flea markets and our fav, ReStores.  This one is in North Carolina where my mother-in-law lives.  We happened to be down there just after we started work on Rosie and I picked up a bunch of cool tile.... just to have.

As it turned out the original tile I had picked out for the backsplash was on back order for 7 weeks!  But lucky for me I had my ReStore find sitting in my garage.

The tile worked perfectly!  The colors fit right into the paint scheme and they were a fabulous compliment to the counter top.

The counter tops are quartz with a marble look.  The veining in this piece has soft flecks of gold in it, which plays off the accents in the room.

I'm a lighting geek!  I love lights and I especially wanted to get it right in Rosie.  I love this pendant from West Elm.  It too has that perfect blend of old world feel, yet it comes off as being very modern.

Once all the work was done we staged the house for resale. 

It took a couple of tries and a couple of different paint colors, but I finally found the right look for the fireplace mantle.

A great flow made better.

Love the open concept layout.  This space is now amazing for entertaining!

One last detail, the small school house light above the sink.  I had my electrician put that light together from parts I had in my garage.  I wanted a little something traditional to play off the more modern looking lights.

Now light, bright, spacious and warm, this house is back to life and ready to welcome its new family.

The Story of Rosie, A Whole House Renovation Part 1 The Exterior

Posted on November 24, 2016 at 11:45 AM

This house was an abandoned bank owned property when I first came across it. And It was love at first sight! I pictured her as an English rose cottage, surrounded by rose bushes and white picket trellises.  I instantly named her Rosie.

As a Realtor, I helped my investor clients purchase the property. After I shared my vision of what the house could become, I was hired as the Designer/Project Manager and was given a limited budget and short timeline to get her fixed up and back on the market.

The front porch had been enclosed in plexiglass panels by a previous owner.  They were now old and cloudy and had to go.  The space screamed to be opened back up.

Once the front porch was liberated and the scraggly shrubs and bushes removed, the whole house was prepped for painting.

Since we were going to be relaying the stones, I thought it would be a fun detail to add the house number to the head of the walkway.


To me doors and doorways are a great place to make a statement.  But this front door was tired looking and very uninspiring. I knew I had to do something to make it fabulous.

I saw this amazing lion head door knocker at the Architectural Digest Show just after we started working.  I knew right away this would be perfect for the front door of Rosie.  Only hitch, this one cost $1,500.00!  Way too much considering my tight budget.

For weeks and weeks I hunted for a lion head door knocker.  It became something of an obsession I'll admit.  Then one rainy afternoon I stumbled across the Summit Antiques store.  On a lark I went in and within minutes I found this amazing piece.  Best part, it was extremely budget friendly and rumor has it that it was a big help in getting the property sold....

The trim was painted in my favorite white.  It stays soft and creamy as opposed to the white that most contractors and painters use.  Their super white tends to go blue and feel ice cold, which to me doesn't look good at all, especially against a stone facade.

As the weather got warmer it was time to focus on landscaping.  One of my Real Estate clients, now turned friend, is a landscape architect who I hired to help us out.

Everything was starting to take shape as we laid out the plantings before my landscaper began digging.

With my fierce lion head in hand, I knew I needed the right color background for it.  But it also had to match the colors we picked for the house and shutters.  Jade Green from Benjamin Moore worked perfectly!  I love the way the brass pops against the green,

Now THIS is a doorway that makes a statement!  It won't be easliy forgotten by anyone who visits this house.

The porch is so inviting now. The color for the shutters was pulled from a stone in the walkway for continuity.  And I love how the landscaping turned out.  I can't wait to see it in a couple of seasons, once the bushes and shrubs have matured.

The house is so beautiful now.  The curb appeal is just awesome.  Confession time: My investors, my wife, and I would sit up on that porch and have a glass a wine as evening would fall.  What a marvelous spot to end a long hard day.  As far as the outside was concerned there was nothing left to do but.....


The Condo Renovation Part 2

Posted on April 22, 2016 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (105)

Once I had the condo emptied of all it's contents, it took 3 truck loads, it was time to make it beautiful.

I had the carpet steam cleaned.  Then the painters came in and gave the entire place a fresh coat of paint. I picked one of my favorite colors, Wickham Gray.  With it's soft gray/blue tones, it makes you feel as if you're up in the clouds.  After the painting new windows were installed.

Next, it was time to tackle the kitchen. 

The appliances were removed and the cabinets demolished.

Since the space was small, I wanted to keep it as light and bright as possible.  I had white shaker cabinets made by Wolf installed.


I also had a new wood-look laminate floor put down, as well as replacing the broken pantry doors.

A quartz counter that had the look of marble was a perfect match for the cabinets.

Next, I picked out a gorgeous KitchenAid appliance package.  I love the satin textured handles on these pieces!

Here's the kitchen BEFORE:

Here's the kitchen AFTER:

Once all the work was done and the whole place scrubbed clean, I took photographs for the Multiple Listing Service. The condo went on the market on a Friday.  The property showed all weekend and I had a packed open house on Sunday.  We received multiple offers and on Wednesday my client accepted an offer that was well over our asking price!  We're now under contract. 

Another successful outcome...


Posted on February 9, 2016 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (5)

I've been asked by an Estate Executor to sell a condo located a half block from the heart of downtown Maplewood.  This is a fabulous property for anyone looking to sell their large family home, downsize, and stay in the area.  This 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath, is easily maintained, yet still big enough for visitors and sleepover guests.  Situated at 14 Highland Place, you're within walking distance to shops, restaurants and the train to NYC. 

But before I could put this property on the market there was the matter of getting it "market ready".  My plan is simple.  Clear it out, clean it up, paint, replace windows, and redo the kitchen entirely.

First up, the clear out.  Three, full, Got Junk truck loads later, and this is what I was left to work with.

Next on the schedule, carpet cleaning and painting.


Posted on December 4, 2015 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (101)

I sold this house to really fun couple a few years back.  When circumstances came up and they needed to relocate, they asked me to sell their house for them.  This house is a fabulous house to entertain in.  I had been to a number of Brazilian barbecues, Halloween parties and social gatherings at the house and always had an amazing time.  I was sad to see them leave the neighborhood.

Time, and weather, had taken a bit of toll on the property so they asked me if I could spruce it up first.  With a very small budget, I went to work.  First up was the front walk way which needed to be fixed.  Many of the blue stone pavers were loose, the cement holding them had cracked and was deteriorating.  The walkway was also over grown with bushes and was a bit of an eyesore.  The bushes were pulled, the stones cemented  properly and I planted colorful mums along side.

The dining room, which held many fond memories, felt a little dated to me.  I wanted to give it a sophistacated look that would appeal to the many buyers coming from NYC to our area.

First up, find a sexy, elegant chandelier.  I went to my favorite lighting store and found this one.  It fit my budget so well that I was able to buy the light behind it to use in the entrance foyer!

Next was choosing the right paint color.  I'm not very good a holding up a 1" x 1" square chip and imaging how it will look on an entire wall, or an entire room.  I like to get tester cans and really see the color in the space.

I finally settled on Charcoal Slate.  It really complimented the natural wood that was already in the room.  I also decided to remove the white chair rail molding.

I love how it all came together.

I loved the color so much that I carried it over to living room.  It works so well with all the white trim and batten board.

A new coat of paint is a great way to freshen up a home before putting it on the market.  But using the right colors and having a great design scheme in mind, can add tremendous value to the house.  In this case the house sold in 5 days with multiple offers and went for well over it's asking price! 


Posted on March 31, 2015 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (100)

The Spring buying season came early this year as Buyers rushed to grab the best homes off the market just after the Holidays. My gorgeous renovation on Tichenor in South Orange, which got a lot of love and attention but no offers for 6 six weeks, suddenly had multi-offers! A good part of that is because the inventory for houses is extremely low compared to past years. Even as a steady stream of homes have been coming onto the market every week, every week sees most of them quickly go Under Contract. Many of these homes end up in bidding wars with as many as 13 offers on one house! One of them just sold for $70K over the list price!

But some homes don’t get multiple offers. In fact they don’t get any offers at all. Why? Because they’re not updated. They look tired and old… and well, they sort of remind Buyers of Grandma’s house. And aside from the fact that the kitchen is from the 80’s and the bathroom’s from the 30’s, the flow is all wrong. Or the kitchen is this far away tiny room that was originally meant as work station, not the heart of the home, not the life of the party.

These homes sit.

This is where you come in and make an amazing decision. You leave the bidding wars to others. Let them push up the prices, overpay for their house. You don’t need that. You look at the homes that the others don’t want. Why? Because you can buy it below market value, renovate it to the way you’d like and have it designed to your lifestyle and tastes. Not only do you have a house that you’ll love, but you should end up with instant equity in the property. In other words after you buy and fix it up the home it should be worth MORE than what you’ve spent.

Most Buyers don’t have the cash on hand that they would need to use as a down payment for the purchase of the house, plus the costs of updating a property. This is a time to consider financing through a rehab loan. I found this video online. It was created by AmeriFirst Home Mortgage and it explains what a HomeStyle Renovation Loan is.


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Yes the process of buying a fixer upper takes more effort.  But isn't the reward worth it? You can pay $70,000.00 over the list price to buy a "nothing to do but unpack" house, only to realize months later that you actually don't like the walls painted that color and the funky backsplash makes you cringe.  Or you can get right the first time.  Pick the finishes that make YOU happy... not the previous owner. Want more information?  I'm a phone call or email away.  Get in touch with me.  I'd be happy to explain the process.


Get the Look: Tudor Style

Posted on October 14, 2014 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (99)

Here in the townships of South Orange and Maplewood we are truly fortunate in that we have a rich diversity of architecture.  On any given street you can find a mixed bag of home styles.  From Victorian to Ranch, Modern to Contemporary and the Colonial with all it's sub-styles, Side-Hall, Dutch and Georgian.  The uniqueness of each street keeps us fresh and interesting and holds off the stigma of "sameness" that most suburban towns suffer from.

As someone who loves houses, this area is special and one of the reasons my wife and I moved here.

One of the home styles that graces our streets is the Tudor Style.  We have many houses for sale on the market right now that are Tudor homes.  And like homes of all styles, many of these need an updating.  Here's a link to a fantastic article and slideshow from Tradition Home on Tudors and how to decorate them.  You can of course go traditional, bring back the luster of an earlier era, 1900 - 1940, when a lot of these homes were built.  Or update and renovate for 21st century living; open up some walls, paint the woodwork white, etc.  A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction when I say white wash the woodwork, they think it unthinkable.  But if you check out the slide show you'll see just how designers are doing it all the while keeping the charm of the original.

If you'd like advice on how to renovate, decorate or re-imagine your home please feel free to contact me.  My wife and I would love to come talk to you.  We love houses and looking at yours with you would be our pleasure.   



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