Room to Move: Terrific Townhouse

Empty nesters in Summit trade their 1905 Georgian Colonial for a three-story townhouse.

In the kitchen, a pot rack frees up valuable cabinet space. The green stools add a pop of color.
In the kitchen, a pot rack frees up valuable cabinet space. The green stools add a pop of color.
Photo by John Bessler

Packing up and leaving a longtime family home can be difficult for anyone, but leaving a landmark home­—one that was host to countless parties and charitable events for as many as 350 people—is likely traumatic. Deb Belfatto and husband Joe insist it was anything but.

“It was time,” says Deb matter-of-factly. She and Joe are in their early 60s and have a grown daughter. “We had squeezed all the joy out of that house. Our lifestyle was changing. We wanted to lighten the load and simplify.”

The Belfattos are typical of the many empty-nesters downsizing to townhomes or condos—homes where someone else is responsible for cutting the grass and shoveling the snow; homes where taxes and maintenance costs are reduced; homes in a downtown area where many essentials are within walking distance.

In the Belfattos’ case, they stayed within their beloved town of Summit, but cut their living space in half, taking up residence in a three-story townhome in the Cloisters.

The Belfattos chose a 3-bedroom, 3½-bath townhouse in the 11-unit development because it’s close to downtown, but also because of its charm and elegance. “It reflected a bit of what our [previous] home meant to us,” says Deb. “It has a little bit of a Charleston look to it. It’s beautifully constructed.” Another key factor: It could accommodate her elderly father, Rocky, who moved with them. “It was really important that there was a place for my dad,” says Deb, who set up the ground floor as a private area for him. “It was a perfect plan.”

Joe and Deb acknowledge that they left their dream home. “I would pinch myself,” says Deb as she recalls pulling up the driveway to their majestically sited 1905 Georgian Colonial. “To have that much beauty in my life was remarkable. But I’m pragmatic. When it’s time, it’s time.” So the couple carefully selected what would make the move and what wouldn’t.

“It was an epic purge,” says interior designer Caitlin Rutkay, who worked with designer Charlotte Moss on the old house and designed the new one. But, she adds, her clients made it easier than expected. “Deb made it very clear that she wasn’t going to be bellyaching about this stuff…. There wasn’t a lot of weeping over pieces.”

Much of the Belfattos’ prized furnishings were sold during a three-day estate sale, but they kept what they knew would fit in the new place. The new dining room, for instance, has pieces culled from six different rooms in the old house. The chairs from the old breakfast room were recovered in what became the signature color in the new house: chartreuse. Deb’s home office made the move, as did much of their art collection.

“Everything that’s hanging on the wall has a story, a history,” Deb says. Many of the pieces were reframed for the new house. One clever idea: As Deb attempted to purge her vast collection of Gucci and Hermes scarves, Rutkay suggested framing a few favorites. Those now hang prominently in the stairwell.

New furnishings include the large sectional in the family room, the barstools in the kitchen and all the furniture in the master bedroom. “We wanted a sleeker look in the bedroom,” says Rutkay. “We got a fully upholstered tailored bed. It takes up less space and has less fuss.” The wall of cabinets and drawers, designed by Rutkay in conjunction with California Closets, is additional storage space for both Deb and Joe. Plus, Rutkay says, “it adds architecture to that room.”

Since the move, neither Deb nor Joe has slowed down. Deb, one of the founders and former executive director of Susan G. Komen North Jersey, is immersed in fund-raising and development for women’s organizations through her firm, DQB Consulting. Joe, a wealth-management and investment partner with Massey Quick, commutes daily to Morristown. Still, their move has brought about a welcome respite. “Life has become easy breezy,” says Deb.

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