It is a rare occasion to remodel a childhood home, and a delicate one at that. Two sisters were planning to retire and return to live in the house their parents had built in 1958. The midcentury traditional, Cape Cod-style house was full of cherished memories and sentiment but was not altogether suitable for today’s lifestyles and large family gatherings. The challenge was to bring the 60-year old house into the 21st century, while keeping it recognizable and feeling like home.
Typical of its time, the house had two bedrooms on the main level, two upstairs in the attic, a small kitchen, steep staircases, smaller windows, and few visual connections between spaces. The house had plenty of floor area but did not appear to be spacious. Also typical, the floor plan was not barrier-free, so aging in place was an important design consideration for the remodeling.
The interior was stripped of the original, skim plaster-coated walls so the house could be rewired. Sagging floors were leveled, ductwork was replaced, and asbestos siding was removed. Interior walls were opened up, and windows were enlarged. An extension to the side wing sunroom and a concrete sun deck over the carport were removed, restoring the house’s original footprint.
The staircases were removed and reoriented to be code-compliant and easier to climb. The new stairs are now design features, with custom-designed and crafted wood railings and newels. Large windows provide daylighting for the stairs, and lighted art niches and step lights illuminate the stairs at night. The rear stair serves as the main, day-to-day entrance to the house, and the new stairs wrap around a pair of stacked closets that are big enough to accommodate a future elevator.
The existing kitchen was completely removed; a new kitchen was built in the side wing and is bathed in daylight from morning to evening. Laid out for several people to work or gather, the U-shaped kitchen is fully open to, but aside from, the traffic between the day room, dining and living rooms. The white Shaker-style cabinets, farm sink, and soft grey beaded ceiling provide a comfortable feeling, while the white tile and grey granite tops gleam in bright cleanliness and efficiency.
The former kitchen location became a new dining space, opened up to the living room by means of a new, clear-span beam. The original wood-plank paneling was removed, restored, and replaced in the living room to preserve the look and feel of the main family gathering space. Also, a custom-designed and crafted fireplace surround and mantel were added where none had existed before. Enlarged windows provide ample daylighting, and the dimmer-controlled, recessed ceiling lights provide just the right amount of evening illumination.
Besides the wood-plank paneling, an especially unique feature of the original house included several built-up, X-braced, interior doors. All were preserved, restored and rehung in areas of the original house.
Barrier-free accessibility and today’s lifestyles go hand in hand, as two additions to the rear of the house surround a new garden patio courtyard. A new, vaulted den-dayroom on the south side features accent panels of the original wood-plank paneling, bringing the feeling of the old house into the new.
The new wing to the north has bedrooms, handicapped-accessible baths with roll-in showers, and a laundry room. The bedroom wing hallway has rooms on one side and a wall of French doors on the patio side for daylighting and garden views all day. The hall terminates at a private reading retreat tower, separate from the bustle of the house and with garden views in a quiet, peaceful setting.
The completed project is a remarkable transformation and rediscovery of a neighborhood house that had faded into the scenery and often passed by unnoticed. The new landscaping, front porch and contemporary styling present a smart and welcoming street presence, while the additions toward the rear preserve the comfortable scale of the house along the streetscape. The family house is still recognizable as home, but with a fresh and lively expression.
One of the sisters, Elizabeth, sums it all up very well by saying, “After having lived in the house for a year, I have noticed that I don’t have a favorite room. One of my friends, who was here for a party, remarked that there was not a bad seat in the house. Everywhere you sit there is a pleasing view. The outdoors is important to us, and this house allows us, in a sense, to ‘be outside’ without getting cold and wet. I also like how the old was merged with the new: the additions are not obvious. It’s as if the old house simply grew a little bit more square footage.”
The original article, written by Ken Berry, was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Best in American Living.