A complete interior renovation, combined with fresh approaches to amenities and operations, has revived one of the Northeast’s grandest properties.
The exterior of the Tudor-style clubhouse at North Jersey Country Club in Wayne, N.J., has always made an impressive statement, befitting its status as the first in a succession of classic buildings designed in the 1920s by famed club architect Clifford Wendehack.
After establishing his reputation at North Jersey CC, Wendehack’s portfolio grew to include projects at renowned properties including Winged Foot Golf Club, Bethpage State Park, The Ridgewood Country Club and Mountain Ridge Country Club (“Delighting in the Details,” C&RB, November 2012).
But while Wendehack’s first work has always spoken well for itself—and for North Jersey CC—from the outside, over time the message became much more muted, once members or guests stepped through the doors. And by the time Thomas Petruzziello, CCM, was hired as the club’s new General Manager in January 2012, the signals that the building was sending from inside and out were in clear conflict.
“It had been over 20 years since the last major [interior] renovation,” Petruzziello said of the space he inherited and would need to put to use in his new job to satisfy existing members’ expectations while also trying to attract new ones. “The clubhouse was just tired throughout, and wasn’t doing justice in matching the beauty of the outside of the building.”
Various proposals for renovating the North Jersey clubhouse had been fashioned over the years, but had always bogged down because they were too broad in scope, often involving extensions to the building and in general “leaving too much open to interpretation,” Petruzziello says.
But literally from day one of his arrival from Greenacres CC in Lawrenceville, N.J., to be the club’s new GM, Petruzziello began working with North Jersey CC’s Board and Planning Committee, to shape and implement a new, much more sharply defined strategy. “Basically, a plan was developed to keep the structure intact while focusing on interior refinements and improvements that would pretty much touch every one of [the clubhouse’s] 30,000 sq. ft.,” he says.
Club: North Jersey Country Club
Location: Wayne, N.J.
Members: 275 full golf; 460 overall
Clubhouse Size: 30,000 sq. ft.
Project Cost: $5.5 million
Construction Dates: October 2012—June 2013
Architect: Jefferson Group Architects
Interior Design: Judd Brown Designs, Inc.
Construction Management: Donnelly Construction
After being presented with a much clearer picture of how such a sweeping overhaul could restore the clubhouse’s lost grandeur and also improve its functionality and position the club for future needs, the North Jersey CC membership gave its quick and overwhelming (90-plus percent) consensus to finally proceed with the long-overdue makeover. Renovation work began in October 2012 and nine months later, in June 2013, members were brought back for a grand reopening where, no matter which way they turned upon reentering the clubhouse—left or right, up or down—they found new ways to be struck by 1) just how magnificent and unique their building really was, and 2) how it could now be used for a full variety of modern-day purposes, to maximize the value of their membership.
Because the renovation coincided with a near-complete turnover of the North Jersey CC management team, that sense of excited discovery continued to prevail throughout the rest of 2013. And as the club now prepares for its first full season in its restored and repurposed clubhouse, there doesn’t seem to be any danger that anything at North Jersey CC will be seen as “tired” for some time to come.
“We now have fresh faces and a young, energetic staff to go with the dynamic changes we made in the building,” says Petruzziello. “Overall, it’s been a very healthy regeneration—successful membership programs, new management and the impending renovation have helped us rebuild to full membership and start a waiting list again. Additionally, we’ve regained members’ trust and confidence in our services, and they’re now looking for reasons to come to the club, and to bring guests when they do.”
The most dramatic day-to-day evidence of that confidence, Petruzziello reports, has come from an immediate surge in a la carte dining that’s shown no signs of subsiding. “We were expecting maybe a 20 to 30 percent increase, and it’s been double what we prepared for,” he says. At the same time, where the club was previously doing “very little catering, and pretty much zero weddings,” it held seven in the six months after reopening in 2013. “And we anticipate having ten to twelve in 2014,” Petruzziello says.
Room for Everything
Judd Brown, of Judd Brown Designs and its partner firm, Jefferson Group Architects, which collectively served as the primary architect and interior design firms for the project, is not surprised that the renovation generated such an immediate and positive response. “It’s a signature building with phenomenal bones,” says Brown. “The project was an opportunity to pay proper respect to what made the building great, while also reshaping it for the future.”
The historical aspect, Brown explains, was approached by restoring original materials throughout the building. In the ballroom, he reports, this involved removing an acoustical spray from ceiling beams that had been applied during a previous “renovation,” and restoring the original woodwork. Color palettes were also “contemporized,” and throughout the building’s rooms and corridors, North Jersey CC’s history was evoked by adding touches such as commissioned water-color renderings made from archived photos of the club and its Walter Travis-designed golf course, as well as colorized prints of issue covers from a monthly, magazine-style publication that the club issued as its “newsletter” throughout the 1920s.
At the same time, Brown adds, the clubhouse’s interior space was “reorganized to improve circulation and utilization, and respond to the club’s current and future needs.” For the ballroom, he notes, this involved turning what had been used as separate rooms into one with movable walls that now provides much greater flexibility—it can be set up with a dance floor to accommodate 220 people, but can also be closed off to create pre-function space, or for regular formal dining nights.
Throughout the building, Brown says, a key emphasis of the renovation was to bring in more light and “improve the inside-outside connection.” In one area this was accomplished by taking down a 1960s addition, complete with mansard roof, that had tacked what Brown calls a “fast-food restaurant look” onto the Tudor splendor of Wendehack’s original design. A row of hedges was also removed to help take full advantage of the views from inside the building, and patio dining space was enhanced in several areas. “Now, the outdoors is truly part of our dining experience,” says Petruzziello.
The most exciting connection between the building and the rest of property was gained through creation of a new viewing deck on a previously unused flat rooftop that overlooks the course from the back of the clubhouse. The deck quickly became established as one of the restored building’s most popular new venues, Petruzziello reports.
While North Jersey CC still has sufficient demand from among its membership to hold formal dining nights on Fridays and Saturdays, by closing off part of its renovated ballroom space, the project also helped it take steps to “create more restaurant-like environments that can compete with public venues,” Brown notes.
This was a particularly important objective for Petruzziello, who feels that club dining, especially in traditional clubs, has found it’s too easy to stay “homogenous” and fall back on presentations that don’t allow for enough “personal space and expression.”
Petruzziello saw the renovation as an opportunity to embark in a new direction that would create two new outlets, each with their own “restaurant feel and personality.” These wouldn’t be places, he says, “where [members] feel they have to go to use their minimums”—instead, they would “have the feel of a Brasserie’s upscale service and menu selection, but in a less formal atmosphere [one even now allowing jeans at all times].” And each would stand on their own, he adds, as “great restaurants where you want to go.”
To create that draw, North Jersey CC now also bustles with dining activity in the Fairway Lounge, which functions five nights a week as the club’s main evening dining room. The Lounge has seating for 80 inside and 32 on a redesigned patio, with no tablecloths and what Petruzziello calls “tasteful plate settings.”
Lunch service, meanwhile, is concentrated in the Hobart Tavern (named for Garret Hobart, the club’s first President who also served as Vice President of the United States, under President William McKinley). The Hobart Tavern also offers dinner on three nights—but it was primarily designed, with seating for as many as 144 when outdoor tables are included, to be able to handle the club’s largest groups, including double-shotgun golf outings that involve both breakfast and lunch.
Purposely, neither room has either “mixed” or “grille” in its name—all part of the club’s new desire to continue to build on the proud traditions reflected by its historic building, but not be trapped by them. Other evidence of this approach comes from a wireless sound system, which can be controlled from smartphones, that has been installed to project contemporary music (and make announcements) throughout the entire building and around its perimeter.
“No elevator music,” says Petruzziello. “That goes with the theme of the new restaurants, too. When people walk into the clubhouse and hear their favorite music, they’re instantly in a great mood. And now we have many other amenities here to keep them feeling that way.”