NJ home makeover: $66K to create a new kitchen, perfect for entertaining


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.


Joseph and Marie Canarelli were both teachers in Union with nearly 40 years experience when they fell in love. He was divorced and she was a widow.

They were married in the house where Marie had lived for 25 years. An in-ground pool that she had installed six years after her first husband’s 1996 death played an essential role in their backyard reception.

“We covered the pool with decking,” Marie said. “We had only the waterfall showing.”

The covered pool became a dance floor, and they tented the backyard to welcome 160 guests. “We had to get special permission from the town,” she said. “Our neighbors let us put the cook tent in their yard.”

Joseph and Marie were married June 1, 2008, and both retired on June 19, 2008. As retired newlyweds, they turned their attention to the house at which they were married, making adjustments over the years to make it a home for themselves and to welcome a growing extended family.

Marie lost her only child, Doug, in a tragic car accident, but says she has gained three daughters and eight grandchildren through marriage. She is also close to her sister’s two children, whom she loves like her own.

“Everyone is getting married and having children, so the family is growing,” she said.

The couple honors her son’s memory each year through the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholorship Fund, which she says has awarded nearly $50,000 to area performing arts students since her son’s 2004 death.

Marie and Joseph are both gregarious types, and the scholarship is just one example of their high level of community involvement in Union, where they both grew up. Theirs is the house where family and friends have always gathered.

“This is the party house,” Marie says with a laugh.

They host the holidays, the birthdays and even graduation parties. She proudly notes that Easter is their biggest event, bringing 36 guests to their home. Their kitchen renovation, the most recent of many over their 10 years of marriage, was planned with this in mind.

Two walls came down to enlarge the kitchen, and their former living room and dining room were absorbed into the expanded open-plan kitchen and dining room.

“We didn’t use the living room,” Marie said, explaining the decision to eliminate it. “The furniture was my original furniture from 1985. Somebody sat on the couch maybe 10 times.”

The house has a spacious, more frequently used family room that was added to the house by previous owners, she said.

Converting what had been the living room to the formal dining area of the new open kitchen allows them to add the warmth of fire to their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, which take place at a Restoration Hardware dining table that can seat 16.

“When we have big family gatherings, we move the buffet and we turn the table around so we can fit more people, and then we light the fireplace,” Marie says.

The centerpiece of the kitchen is a 10-foot-long island that had initially been designed at 8 feet.

“I wanted it to be longer because I wanted it to be the focal point,” Marie said. “It is unconventionally farther away from the dishwasher and oven. I wanted to be able to open the dishwasher or the oven, and people could still pass behind me.”

For everyday use, the island is their casual dining area. It’s still where everyone gathers during parties. It is Marie’s favorite feature of the removated kitchen because she can be among her family and friends while performing all her hosting duties.

The island houses a microwave drawer and added storage with cabinets on either side. There is also a beverage area with a wine refrigerator and supplies for coffee and tea service. The Canarelli’s had their sunroom overlooking the pool outfitted with two additional wine coolers that are always stocked for guests.

In 2013, they turned an existing wooden deck into the 400-square-foot sunroom with porcelain tile floors and numerous windows for enhanced natural light and views of the backyard pool.

“We spend a lot of time out there in the summer,” Marie said. “We are there even for Christmas Eve appetizers if the weather is not too bad.”

In addition to the entertaining-related home improvements, the couple also expanded the sleeping areas on their home’s second level. With an enlarged master suite and a second bathroom upstairs, the house now has four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. The original house had three bedrooms, one full bathroom and a first-floor powder room, which remains.

“The house was originally 1,800 square feet, so we’ve almost doubled everything,” she said.

The house is now about 3,000 square feet.

Between the updated kitchen and living room, an enclosed ceiling beam lends the necessary support to reinforce the house after removal of a load-bearing wall. The couple has turned it into a point of pride, with a plaque placed there. It’s painted with the numbers 07083, their ZIP code in Union.

“A lot of our friends were moving south, and we just decided that we were born and raised in this town, we had taught here for 40 years, and we really didn’t want to go,” Marie said. “The renovations really happened because we wanted to stay in Union. We are happy here. You have New York, you have the Shore, you have the mountains and you have Atlantic City. What more could you want?”

What they renovated

The kitchen, as the most recent project in the full, phased renovation of a 1938 Colonial in Union

Who did the work

Woodbridge Builders of Kenilworth renovated the kitchen.

How long it took

About four months, from April to July 2017

What they spent

About $66,000

Where they splurged

On the 10-foot kitchen island.

Where they saved

They spent what they needed to spend to get the job done right.

What they like most

“Being able to be with my guests at all times and not being away in another room,” Marie says. “You’re at the party even when you are cooking or serving or cleaning.”

What they’d have done differently

“We’re pretty happy with everything the way it turned out,” she said. “I don’t think I would do anything differently.”

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

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