Modern Family in Jersey City

A Jersey City family renovates its cookie-cutter townhouse kitchen with a focus on functionality.

The Ngs’ renovated Jersey City kitchen functions perfectly for the entire family all at once. All major appliances line the back wall. The reclaimed-wood beam is structural, supporting the third floor, but looks decorative.
The Ngs’ renovated Jersey City kitchen functions perfectly for the entire family all at once. All major appliances line the back wall. The reclaimed-wood beam is structural, supporting the third floor, but looks decorative.
Photo by Laura Moss

Jen and Chris Ng had been living in their Jersey City townhome for 12 years when they came to the realization that their outdated kitchen wasn’t working anymore.

“It was a confined space, and we were all cramped and bumping each other,” says Jen. “We wanted a space where we could spread out.”

When the Ngs moved into the gated Port Liberte community from Manhattan in 2005, it was just the two of them and 2-year-old son Chris. Daughter Maddie came along two years later.

Still, Port Liberte had much to offer. Just a 17-minute ferry ride to lower Manhattan, Port Liberte is its own mini-town with a pool complex, dog park, bike paths to Liberty State Park, tennis courts and playgrounds, and amenities like a dry cleaner and a deli.

But the Ngs’ kitchen? That was annoying. “It was so cookie-cutter,” Jen says. “The same as everyone else in the neighborhood. The same appliances, layout, countertops. I began dreaming about a larger space.”

The three-bedroom, two-bath unit had a traditional galley kitchen separated from the rest of the home by walls and doors. The couple hoped to reconfigure that—knocking down a wall to combine two rooms into one large, open kitchen/dining area—but understood the limitations. Their townhouse is the second and third floors, with a neighbor beneath. “We wanted to make significant structural changes, but also had [community] rules and bylaws to follow,” says Jen. The couple did their research and found Bob Gockeler, whose Chatham-based design/build firm, KraftMaster Renovations, was up to the challenge. “We chose Bob and his team because of the one-stop-shop service he could provide,” Jen explains.

The project was “super complicated,” says Gockeler. He had to figure out how to remove the wall to open up the space, but keep the structure intact. To that end, he incorporated a new structural beam; it looks decorative, but serves to hold up the third floor.

Once the structural issue was solved, the space was planned. All appliances are against the back wall, with the sink on the large center island. That way, anyone doing cooking prep is oriented toward the family action in the adjacent dining space, where the kids do homework and hang out. Jen chose an oversized, 48-inch refrigerator. “It stores endless food for a growing swimmer and a budding dancer,” she says. She also picked a six-burner range with a vented hood “for all the Asian cooking we do.” Countertops are marble, the backsplash is ceramic tile, and the flooring is porcelain.

For the aesthetic touches, the Ngs turned to Gockeler’s on-staff designer, Maureen Madigan, who proposed a modern yet homey farmhouse concept. “It’s rustic, but a clean and updated look,” Madigan says. Central to the design theme are the reclaimed barn doors that divide the kitchen from the rest of the home. “Those barn doors are a big part of the project,” says Gockeler. “They frame the space and tie it all together.” As for the two reclaimed wood beams, one is structural, the other decorative, he says.

The 72-inch, square dining table, made to spec from reclaimed barn wood, is the hub. “It’s where everyone gathers,” says Madigan. “It’s bigger than any dining table. It’s perfect for game time.” In fact, teenage son Chris enjoys having his friends over after school. “They come over to work on a project and end up hanging out there,” says Jen. “We close the barn doors and let them have their privacy.”

The space is everything the Ngs hoped for. “Everyone enjoys the space in their own way,” says Jen. While son Chris hangs out with his friends, dad Chris has started experimenting with his own recipes. Maddie has taken up baking, and Jen now actually enjoys all her time prepping and cooking. “My favorite part of the new kitchen is the functionality,” says Jen. “But then I end up naming every appliance and why I love them.”

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