When Dan Pacek and John Roynon moved to the New York City area from Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2002, they settled in a 1911 American Craftsman–style house in Leonia, New Jersey, minutes from the George Washington Bridge. The house, with its oak floors and vintage woodwork, was well preserved and much to their liking, but there was one glaring exception.
“It had this little U-shaped kitchen,” Roynon says, “and the problem was, once you were in, you were kind of trapped. Someone would come in and try and help you, and you’d be pushing them out because it was a dead end. And if you had the dishwasher door open, forget it. No one could move.”
A wall, concealing plumbing from the upstairs bathroom, disrupted the flow in and out of the kitchen and contributed to its dark, uninviting feel. When company came by, one of the hosts inevitably would find himself sequestered in the kitchen, cut off from the conversation and merriment unfolding in the living room.
It was no way to live. Pacek, who trained as an architect before embarking on a career designing retail and restaurant interiors, began thinking about how he and Roynon could recreate the kitchen as part of a larger addition. “With kitchens, when people want to do a remodel, they basically think, ‘We’ll take out the old cabinets and put in new ones,’” Pacek says. “This was more of a challenge because we had an opportunity to add space. But the question was ‘What should we do?’”
They ended up adding 615 square feet of living space to the 1,547-square-foot house. Extending it on one side allowed for the addition of a new master suite upstairs while creating enough room below for an expansive and inviting L-shaped kitchen. The obtrusive wall was removed, and two new entrances were created—one leading to the dining room, the other to a landing on the stairway that is outfitted with a window—on either side of what had been the far end of the old kitchen. At the opposite end, a bump-out offers expansive views of the newly landscaped garden.
The couple furnished the space with a round Ikea table and a set of aluminum office chairs salvaged years ago from a medical office building in western Pennsylvania that Pacek’s father, a family physician, once managed. A 12-foot “display island” gives the kitchen programmatic function—food and drinks are prepared here; cooking and cleaning are consigned to the back—and helps make it a welcoming space, whether Pacek and Roynon are entertaining or simply enjoying time to themselves.
The project—which took 18 months and was completed in the summer of 2013—proved transformative in more than one way. “No matter how much our design sensibilities were aligned, we still had to find common ground,” Pacek says, “and we thought, ‘That’s the type of work you do with clients.’” A design business, called Dan and John Life, emerged from the renovation and has since become a full-time venture for the couple. “With this renovation,” Pacek says, “we realized that there’s a spark when both of us are involved that makes the project even better.”