N.J. home makeover: A historic Summit mansion gets a gorgeous $1.5M update – NJ.com


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 Summit Councilman Stephen Bowman and his wife, Karen, purchased a 1902 brick mansion on Summit’s Beekman Terrace, they became stewards of an irreplaceble piece of the city’s history.

In 1891, when Summit was a summer playground for wealthy New Yorkers, a well-to-do entrepreneur named Augustus Libby bought a large tract of land that he would sell off in parcels to other carefully selected “captains of industry.” They used his architects, Rossiter & Wright, to fashion their houses, and they’d become ranking members in his exclusive community’s private nine-hole golf course.

In decades that followed, the home was purchased in 1925 by Arthur R. Wendell, whose Rahway company was making Wheatena cereal, and would do so into the early 1960s. He called the house Wendelsora, and it remained in his family for 10 years after his 1952 death.

The 9,500-square-foot Colonial Revival mansion will be among six homes open to the public Dec. 6 for the annual Holiday House Tour to benefit Reeves-Reed Arboretum. Homes will be open 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to those purchasing $45 admission tickets. (Order through the calendar at reeves-reedarboretum.org.)

When the Bowmans closed on the house in 2012, it would be three months before they could move in. Their insurance company required all the knob and tube wiring to be replaced before the house could be occupied. Knob and tube wiring, which was commonly installed in homes built around the turn of the 20th century, is now considered a fire hazard.

“It was literally hundreds of thousands of dollars before we even moved in – all behind the walls,” said Karen Bowman, a partner with a global accounting firm.

She noted that the home’s previous owners had lived there for 37 years, before it was common to replace the obsolete wiring.

The Bowmans decided to have central air conditioning installed concurrently. The zoned system was run mostly through closets, avoiding further disruption to the home’s original plaster walls.

Two years later, they began the second phase of renovation — the part that would respect the home’s age and pedigree while outfitting it with features that suit their tastes and lifestyle.

The stately exterior features Harvard brick with black headers, accented by stained glass and other detailing. According to an article published shortly after the house was completed, the original interior walls were painted sage green, olive and bluff. There was a fireplace in every room, and the mahogany staircase replicated the one in John Hancock’s Boston home. According to the article, the house was “built in the most substantial and careful manner and with a view to permanency.”

More than 100 years later, the statement is proven true. In the home’s library, which is Stephen Bowman’s home office, twin arched cabinets are impressively framed in oak that matches coffered ceilings and other decorative woodwork. The couple had lighting installed behind the glass cabinet doors to highlight the detail. (Elsewhere, they had glass paneled doors of their custom kitchen cabinetry adorned with fretwork cut to replicate that on sidelights at the home’s front door.)

They hired The Lamp Shop in Summit to restore a dozen original brass wall sconces, and four in the living room that are 24-karat gold. J & R Lamb Studios of Midland Park restored the stained glass, insuring the numerous panes they had to remove for $50,000, Bowman said.

The house has five levels, including a full attic and a walk-out basement that was dug down about a foot and a half to convert what had been three small rooms into a three-car, side-entry garage beneath the house.

From the garage, the new layout goes from a mudroom to an area where an original elevator offers service to the third floor. (The home’s original owner was a widower in his 70s when he had the house built.)

“We use it only to move Christmas decorations,” Bowman says of the lift that was originally operated by a hand pulley and later electrified. Much like the type still found in century-old Manhattan buildings, “you open the door, and there’s a screen that you drag across.” The home’s impressive staircase is most often used to travel between floors.

Since the new garage was being installed beneath the home’s first-floor kitchen, the couple continued renovations there. They relocated a butler’s pantry to improve natural light and better showcase three stunning arched windows that are now within the kitchen. Three lantern pendants by Circa Lighting and other fixtures from the brand help illuminate the space while complementing the white La Cornue range.

“The kitchen was a bunch of small, choppy rooms that we opened up,” Bowman said. “Five walls had to come down.”

The resulting space now houses an open-plan kitchen, butler’s pantry and family room.

Beyond changes in the kitchen, the couple mostly kept the home’s original floor plan.

“We haven’t changed it significantly,” Bowman said.

The house now has nine bedrooms, six full bathrooms and a chic black powder room with a dramatic spherical crystal chandelier. On the second floor, three small bedrooms were combined to create an in-law suite. Also renovated were the master bedroom and bathroom, their 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom and bathroom, and a guest bedroom and bathroom. Most of the home’s bedrooms have en suite bathrooms.

Karen Bowman’s home office and a new laundry room also are on the second floor. A basement laundry, changing room and bathroom were installed to serve the pool.

The couple frequently hosts events, including charitable and political fundraisers. Their dining table seats 22.

“We’ve had 200 on the first floor; we probably could go bigger,” Bowman said. “We have the annual Christmas party.”

This is the first time the house has been on Summit’s holiday house tour. The first and second floors will be open to visitors.

The third floor has not been fully renovated, but rooms there are being used for sewing, crafts, gift wrapping and other activities. One room has a balance beam for their daughter’s gymnastics practice. The family’s live-in assistant also has a third-floor suite.

The house, on two acres, was designed with good flow, Bowman said. So their renovations have been mostly cosmetic or to update areas, such as the kitchen and bathrooms, that had been previously remodeled.

“Anything original, we didn’t touch,” she said. “We’ve sanded and painted and were very careful in doing all that.”

What they renovated

A 1902 Colonial Revival home. The home’s footprint was not enlarged, but a three-car garage was added within a lowered area of the basement. Also reconfigured were the first-floor kitchen and family room as well as second-floor bedrooms.

Who did the work

Tom Conway of Rosen Kelly Conway Architecture & Design, Summit; interior design by Sonja Gamgort, construction by KDH Home Design, Maplewood; custom woodwork by Jason J. Koehler

How long it took

From December 2012 to March 2013 to rewire the entire house and install central air, and from July 2015 to October 2018 for renovation and decorating, which is ongoing. 

What they spent

About $1.5 million

Where they splurged

On kitchen light fixtures and the hand-carved arched moldings between the kitchen and family room.

How they saved

“We realized we could save money by not digging out the entire garage and instead having essentially a loading dock area in the back of the garage that was not dug out,” Karen Bowman said. “We love that feature.”

What they did themselves

Small do-it-yourself projects such as recovering the dining room chairs.

What they like most

“We absolutely love everything,” Bowman said. “Steve’s office, the library, is always a crowd pleaser. The powder room is a wow, and the kitchen is beautiful. We are so happy.”

What they would have done differently

“As with most of these types of projects, there was a lot of scope creep. It would have been better to have had a master plan,” Bowman said. “There was some rework, for instance.” Electrical boxes that were installed in the basement had to be relocated in the area that became the garage.


Upcoming holiday house tours

Many New Jersey organizations, charitable and otherwise, host holiday tour fundraisers. A few upcoming tours:

Christmas in Island Heights House Tour: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1, tour six houses in holiday dress appropriate for this historic waterfront community. The tour includes two crafts boutiques, with refreshments available. Tickets are $30 in advance by calling (732) 929-0444, and $35 on tour day at Island Heights United Methodist Church, 111 Ocean Ave., Island Heights.

Candelight Christmas Inn and House Tour: From 2 to 6 p.m. Dec. 1, six Spring Lake inns and two private homes will be open for this self-guided driving tour. Tickets are $30 in advance through eventbrite.com, and $40 on tour day at the Breakers on the Ocean, where the day’s events begin with tea and cookies. The tour includes a holiday train exhibit.

A Medley of Majestic Homes for the Holidays: From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 1, eight architecturally distinctive Plainfield homes, all designer-decorated for the holidays, will be open for this tour benefitting Plainfield Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are $35 in advance through plainfieldsymphony.org, and $40 on tour day at duCret School of Art, 1030 Central Ave., Plainfield. The tour also features a cafe and a curated holiday boutique.

Home for the Holidays House Tour: From noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 2, tour four Cranford homes lovingly decorated for the holidays. Tickets are $25 in advance through eventbrite.com, and $30 on tour day at Hanson House, 38 Springfield Ave., Cranford. The event includes the Green Thumb Garden Club Holiday Boutique and benefits charitable programs of Cranford Womans Club.

Visiting Nurse Association Foundation’s Holiday House Tour and Boutique: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7, tour three magnificent homes in the Two River area of Monmouth County in the association’s 45th annual holiday house tour. In conjunction with the tour, the boutique will be held at Salt Creek Grille, where tour-goers can reserve lunch from 11:30 to 2:30 for an additional fee. A portion of proceeds from the luncheon and boutique, both at 4 Bingham Ave. in Rumson, will benefit the VNA. Boutique vendors will offer holiday gift items, greenery and accessories. Festivities begin Dec. 6 with a boutique preview party from 4 to 8 p.m. House tour tickets are $50; $40 for seniors at vnahg.org, or call to reserve tickets at (732) 224-6780.

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

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