“When is a house magazine-ready?” Matthew Corso asked, with hesitation. He’d shared some photos while inquiring about a salvaged mantel. His kitchen was just about done, and we couldn’t help but notice the integrity of the design. Corso has spent the past four years rehabilitating and restoring a 1925 Dutch Colonial Revival house in Westwood, New Jersey.
“It’s coming along as I’d dreamed, and it will be worth it in the end,” he said. “I’ve been working like a dog on the kitchen. The Hoosier cabinet needed painting and adjusting, new linoleum shelf liners needed to be cut from the massive roll I got on FB Marketplace, and I painted the 1946 refrigerator.”
A few months later, he was working on getting the house furnished. Through much of the project, Corso lived with his parents in a town not far away. Motivated by a power outage there, he moved in during the pandemic shutdown. We got a call from him: “Three years, four months, 24 days—and I finally slept here!” He promised the house would be shelf paper-ready by the time of our scheduled photo shoot.
“I found it charming,” Matthew Corso remembers, “except for the garage and landscaping.” Built during a housing boom in the Twenties, the Dutch Colonial is in an eclectic neighborhood of working-class, Depression-era houses: Colonial Revivals, a few bungalows, and Tudors. Infills tend to be postwar traditional.
“When I went looking for a house,” Corso shares, “I had two things in mind: that it be close to family, and that it be a manageable project involving a house with character intact. I knew a man, years ago, who made a very decent living but always said that owning a small, manageable house let him enjoy it; he never lost his shirt on the cost of maintenance.
“I decided to heed his advice and so far, so good. I’m single, so much more house would be silly. And I was able to do most of the work myself, including restoration of 25 windows.” A high-school guidance counselor, Corso makes a bit of extra money for the house by buying and reselling antique lighting and salvage.
Corso delved into its history. He met and spent time with an octogenarian woman named Barbara (Jussen) Olson, whose family owned the house ca. 1938–1959. Corso had already become friendly with the previous owners, the Leavy family, who’d lived here from 1959 until 2017. “Tom Leavy even helped me with some small projects, and he’s become a great friend,” Matt says. They gave him a few furnishings that had been in the house for decades, including two upholstered chairs.
“I took one chair to the curb after they declined to take it,” Matt says, “but then I didn’t have the heart to let it go … I knew it’d belonged to their grandfather and had been in the house for about 50 years. After looking at modern recliners, I decided to reupholster the old one.” Soon an antique Limbert settle, bought at the Elephant’s Trunk flea market (etflea.com), joined the chairs. Everything else in the house is an estate-sale find or came from his own family.
Previous families had loved the house and done minimal modernizing— “close to none, actually. But that’s exactly what drew me to the house. It was so original. Only the kitchen and lone bathroom needed to be overhauled.
“This experience was stressful yet amazing,” says Corso, who may have caught the restoration bug. His brother Mike is restoring a 1902 Colonial nearby, and his brother Joe would like to join Matt in restoring an investment property. “Meantime, I’m staying here; 1100 square feet is plenty,” Matt says. “I’ll host my big family from time to time, and maybe it’ll be a little cramped. If they complain, I’ll just remind them that our fondest memories come from when 50 of us were jammed into the basement of a railroad apartment in our family’s 19th-century house in Jersey City . . . What everyone wouldn’t give to spend one more Christmas Eve down there, eating fried fish and waiting for Santa.”
A Modest Kitchen
“My idea was to create a period kitchen using vintage parts. It had to go with the vibe of the house, yet be functional: I wasn’t going back to a small oven on legs and an icebox.
“Woodwork and windows are original. The rest had become a hodge-podge, with no permanent cabinetry and a 1970s fridge in front of a window. I pulled up layers of Congoleum and vinyl and sanded the heart-pine subfloor. That apparent heat register in the ceiling is actually an access hole for upstairs plumbing.
“I added a Moderne cabinet found on Craigslist, and reconfigured an unworkable pantry with salvaged upper and lower built-ins. The Murphy’s Cabranette 1939 sink unit has integrated refrigeration on the bottom left. The cabinets over the stove were salvaged from another house”—Matt Corso