Miriam Silver Verga traded in her big, suburban home for a nearby 1960s ranch house—not for a design reason, but so that she could fund her children’s college educations. “The house had absolutely no character with the exception of a single brick wall,” says Verga, co-founder of New Jersey-based interiors firm Mimi & Hill. The upside? Complete freedom to create a new look for her family.
The designer tackled the 2,500-square foot gut reno during the pandemic, with every member of her six-person family (plus her mom!) in residence. “We felt that we could live through the chaos since we have older teens,” Verga says. Then, COVID. The two older offspring, who were supposed to have been away at college, ended up at home. “Incredibly, we all have the best memories of that time,” Verga says, pointing to a family celebration for their daughters’ bat mitzvahs.
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Verga says her family has never been happier—they truly treasure the “forced togetherness”—and that living in a home that functions properly for your family and looks beautiful is more important than living in a huge one. “We are big believers that smaller designs are as impactful as large ones,” she says.
The dark, dated house sat on the market for a year and a half and was empty when the family saw it.
The designer incorporated the existing exposed brick wall into the design, and added rustic wood planks to the ceiling. She cites the Woodstock Way Hotel in Woodstock, New York, as inspiration. “Their cottages feel engaging, warm, and modern,” the designer says. “We love the connection to nature so built as many ways as we could to get outside.
The couple worked with Hildie Lazar Architecture on the layout. Lazar suggested relocating the kitchen to the front of the house so that sliders in the adjoining dining area could open onto the backyard, where they put in a swimming pool. The setup suits the family, who eats dinner together every night. “We had a formal dining room in our last house and frankly, we don’t miss it,” Verga says.
Opening up the ceiling to the gable roof was the project’s biggest splurge. “The space gained incredible drama & airiness,” she continues. “While the square footage isn’t huge, the room reads very large.” Installing new, wide-plank white oak flooring on the main level infused a breezy, modern feel and painting the slider trim a mushroom color added interest and warmth.
The large kitchen was costly too (as was the pool!), but the designer notes that they opted for less expensive cabinetry and quartz countertops over natural stone. “My daughters, me, and my husband all cook together,” Verga says. “We love cooking for each other.”
The cantilevered island countertop doubles as extra working surface and a place to sit. The hood’s rustic wood trim brings the outdoors to this side of the house, while white cabinets with clean lines fade into the background.
A cozy den with a brick fireplace is open on both ends. Barn-style doors painted black open to the kitchen, while French doors painted black open to the stair. The detail helps make up for their initial desire to use black windows in the back of the house, which they decided against in order to economize and match the existing windows in the front of the house.
The couple’s bedroom opens to the pool. “We back up to a forest which is unusual in our suburb,” Verga says. “We love the connection to nature, so we created as many ways as we could to get outside.”
The designer melds elegance and levity by pairing a stained-wood vanity boasting fluted detailing and elliptical brass and stone sconces with a Roman shade that features hand-drawn faces and a playful chandelier over the tub.
Two of the couple’s daughters comfortably share one of the bedrooms on the second floor, where inserting a dormer drastically enlarged the space. “It was a very cost-effective way of adding livable space,” Verga says. Bleached the red oak floors on the upper level provided a significant cost-savings over replacing them.
The team added a dormer to the second upstairs bedroom, too. Thoughtful furnishings help the room function efficiently: A canopy bed gives the illusion of airiness and a hanging chair offers a snug place to sit without crowding floor space.
A double vanity with lots of counter space and plenty of drawers works well for the three siblings who sleep upstairs.
A retro fridge makes entertaining a delight.
A new basement bath for the designer’s mom has a spa-like feel thanks to the pale wood vanity and teal tile that channels the sea.
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