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Open It Up!

Fortunato Architecture Transforms a Midcentury Ranch Into a Dream Home Featuring Open Space That's Bathed in Natural Light

Prisca Lee and Ronnie Tam had big visions for the midcentury ranch on a secluded acre in Princeton they purchased in 2018: A lot of light and an open feeling. 

The Canadian couple who was moving to the United States from Belgium, rented an apartment as they searched for an architect who could realize their concept for expanding the three-bedroom, three-bath home with an in-ground pool. When they met Dan Fortunato of Fortunato Architecture, they instantly felt a connection. “His ideas aligned with ours, and we liked his approach,” Ronnie says. 

Dan, who has 35 years of experience doing commercial projects for architectural firms and doing residential projects on the side, launched his own residential architecture company three years ago. “I always had a yearning for residential architecture, and I build as well,” he says. Dan and his son, Daniel, also formed a spin-off company, FCF Construction, with Daniel building from Dan’s designs. 

Fortunato Architecture, which is licensed in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, specializes in custom residential architecture, including new home construction, additions and alterations, and kitchen, bath and basement remodels. The company also offers interior design and works with landscape architects. 

Architecture has always been in Dan’s blood. “My mom got me LEGO and Lincoln Logs — things that I could put together — and dad was handy. I developed a knack for it,” he says. “In the third-grade spelling bee, one of the words was ‘architecture,’ and I was the only one who could spell it. I always knew what I wanted to do.” 

In high school and college, Dan gravitated toward jobs in architecture firms. “I’m a big believer in hands-on experience, which is why I like to be in the field,” he says. “I like to see the construction and know how it was put together.”

Prisca and Ronnie appreciated Dan’s hands-on mentality and approachability. They knew they wanted the basement finished, but were weighing whether to expand the house up or out. To maintain the character of the neighborhood and capitalize on opportunities to increase natural light afforded by reconfiguring the attic, Dan recommended extending the footprint of the house.

“I’m a big proponent of vaulted ceilings,” Dan says. “Unless you want an attic, you can use that space and volume.” He vaulted the entire ceiling from the entrance to the living area — dining room, living room and kitchen — and added skylights to bathe the space in natural light. 

He created a unique space in the remaining part of the attic above the bedrooms. “He added a spiral staircase that goes from a bedroom to a furnished attic area with skylights that the children use as a playroom,” Ronnie says. 

Another spiral staircase leads from the master bedroom to Ronnie’s home office in the finished basement. The basement also includes an art room for Prisca, with a door to the back yard, a studio for their children who like to dance, and a bathroom — one of five in the house. To enhance the home-pool experience, Dan created an outdoor access to a “changing room” bathroom on the first floor. Other details included raising the floor of the sunken living room so that it was level with the rest of the house and adding a three-car garage. 

In addition to the typical code issues that arise with projects, there was an unusual challenge: large rocks in the expansion area. “We moved a lot of the rock, but used the ones we couldn’t as part of the foundation,” Dan says. 

Construction began in April 2019 and was finished by January 2020, Ronnie says. “We saw the drawings, but seeing the final product is different,” he says about the first time his family saw the finished home. “It was a dream come true.”

“The greatest thrill for me is when people see the before-and-after of projects,” Dan says. He notes that the openness that Prisca and Ronnie requested is popular. “People ask me to take out a room to expand the space, to tie the dining room to the living room. This is why kitchen islands are huge: When you entertain, everyone stands around the island.” 

Dan advises homeowners considering an expansion or new construction to call an architect before calling a builder. “I will go through the project requirements, ask for a property survey and check zoning to see if the work can even be done and be done on budget,” he says.

See more of Dan's projects at