NJ home makeover: $75000 to make a Montclair house feel like home


N.J. home makeover is a regular feature on NJ.com that showcases designer, contractor and DIY renovations, large and small. To submit your renovation for consideration, email home@starledger.com with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach “before” and “after” photos of what you renovated.


When a job requires frequent moves, it can be difficult to settle into each new place.

Sabrina and Adam Rogers of Montclair learned this firsthand from work-related relocations that have placed them in rented spaces, corporate housing and other shorter-term quarters in the U.S. and abroad.

“When you know things are temporary, you tend to not really live in a place,” said Sabrina Rogers, a full-time mother who previously worked in marketing for the same global health care company as her husband, who is now a general manager in sales. “When you are renting, you tend to not put up as much or make it as cozy as you would if you knew you were going to be there a long time.”

But at some point in the process, the couple realized that, regardless of the length of their stay, they needed to unpack all their boxes and make each new place comfortable as quickly as possible for themselves and their son, 10 and daughter, 7. “There have got to be pictures up,” Rogers says. “It’s got to feel like a home.”

They recently moved to Montclair after a three-year stay in England. Initially, they rented a seven-bedroom, five-bathroom house.

“It was a bit too much house for what we needed for a family of four,” Rogers said in retrospect. They had anticipated frequent visits from family and friends, and so they filled up the bedrooms and other areas with furnishings. But at the back of her mind was one thought: “We are never going to need all of this stuff.”

She was proven right about two years later when the owner of the house decided to sell it. With the help of a real estate agent, they were fortunate to find a nearby four-bedroom, four-bathroom house before it went on the market. They moved in in the summer of 2017.

Of course, this raised the issue of what to do with all the furniture. Additionally, the new house had a large, formal living room that they wanted to use more effectively.

“We wanted to do something with the space to make it nice, but useable, instead of a place that people only went into once and awhile,” Rogers said of the living room.

But she wasn’t sure where to begin, and they were also planning a party in less than a month’s time. A friend recommeded interior designer Julie Liepold.

First, Liepold suggested that they donate their furniture to Family Assistance Resouce Center, a non-profit that provides replacement furniture and other basic living necessities to families in need. Next, they viewed and discussed the remaining possessions that were meaningful to the family.

It was decided that Adam Rogers’ collection of sports memorabilia would be the focus of a home office turned game room and TV viewing area. Originally designed as a sunroom, the game room had a length of cabinetry along one wall beneath a row of windows. Liepold had faux leather cushions made to top the cabinetry for a window seat.

“It is a small space, but it offers a lot of seating,” she said. Several throw pillows were added, making it a cozy place to read or relax. The sports memorabilia is hung on walls and placed in shelves around the room.

A large artwork painted by a friend would guide them as they outfitted the living room.

“If you look at it briefly, you might not be able to tell that it is depicting a closet,” Liepold said of the piece, where broad brush strokes render a somewhat abstract image of hanging clothes. The painting’s dominant blues inspired the selection of decorative accessories, an accent table and a loveseat that would be the room’s statement piece.

The loveseat’s irregular blue and white pattern calls to mind a seascape with water and waves, and several other elements of the room were selected to support that theme.

“We wanted to keep with the idea of very fluid, almost water like,” Liepold said.

Underfoot, a custom-cut nylon area rug with a mottled blue and white pattern might seem “as if they are walking on water.” This scene is especially relaxing because the carpet is resistant to stains and soiling.

“The family has two young children and they entertain often, so a more resilient area rug was a must,” Liepold said.

Set in front of a wall with all-white built in shelves, the eye-catching loveseat reduced the need to overfill the shelves with decorative items, Liepold says.

“The attention gets drawn to the upholstered piece rather than the decorative items behind it,” she said.

“This house has built-ins for days,” Sabrina Rogers said. She considers this a blessing and a curse in the 3,320-square-foot house.

While they have a lot of places to display keepsakes, “I just did not want to fill them with stuff just to fill them,” she said. “I didn’t want it to feel cluttered.”

Liepold unified clusters of the couple’s books by having them custom-bound with replicas of cityscapes that are familiar to the family: Manhattan, Toronto and Newcastle in England. The books are displayed on the shelves along with framed photos, keepsakes and other objects.

Keeping in mind the couple will likely need to move again, Liepold recommended they invest in well-constructed furniture in mostly neutral fabrics. That way the pieces can blend in easily in other places or be reupholstered as needed.

Liepold had similar suggestions for the home’s family room, and throughout she recommended the couple select accessories, such as benches, that can have multiple functions. Their accent tables with hollow metal bases are lightweight and easy to move.

“The metal finishes on the tables, fire screen and drapery rods were all customized by a local refinisher,” Liepold said.

For the family room, Adam Rogers had already purchased a large leather sectional sofa. Nesting occasional tables and a narrow side table with storage shelves beneath were selected with the idea that they would be easy to use when the couple entertains.

“They can set up the tables based on how many people they are entertaining,” Liepold said.

While their goals were different for various areas of the house, all the ideas clicked and work well for them, Sabrina Rogers says.

“What was meant to be temporary staging for a party, we ended up really loving and keeping,” she said of the family room layout. As for the living room, she said, “we didn’t want to just get that room done, that one was more ‘let’s do this right.’ “

What the renovated

The living room, family room and game room of a 1957 house in Montclair

Who did the work

Liepold Design Group

How long it took

About six months, from August 2017 to January 2018, for numerous custom furnishings and finishes.

What they spent

About $75,000

Where they splurged

On fabrics selected for the upholstered seating and window treatments.

What they like most

“I feel like everyone uses the living room,” Sabrina Rogers said. “My children go in to read. My husband and I will go in to have a drink.”

What they’d have done differently

“This was my first time undergoing a project like this and working with a designer,” Sabrina Rogers said. “We’re all really pleased with it, and there’s nothing we would change.”

Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at home@starledger.com. Find NJ.com Entertainment on Facebook.

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