A Light Touch

Rethinking a bad 70's remodel creates plenty of bright, open space.

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If there is a home-buyer's heaven, it must be lined with houses that are already renovated to suit a person's tastes and needs—so no one would ever have to live with a previous owner's mistakes. But back to reality—and this 1970's Cape Cod-style house, purchased 15 years ago by a ballet-school directo rand her dentist husband. On the plus side, it had a perfect location for the couple and their children: sited on two wooded acres on a quiet lane, in a small town near Boston. With three bedrooms upstairs and a large family room, the house offered a more than adequate 2,800 square feet of space. Unfortunately, a good portion of that came from a poorly built family-room addtion that formed an ell between the house and the garage and was just begging to be redeemed.



At First, Making Do
"We hated this house in the beginning," recalls the couple. "It was brown inside and out, and felt incredibly dark." The Cape's typical small rooms and deeply pitched roof didn't let in a lot of light and the family room's stucco walls and painted plywood ceiling gave it a slapped-together feeling. Worse, the room always felt and smelled damp, because its carpeting had been laid right over the concrete slab floor.



The couple took some interim measures, whitewashing the predominantly brown family room and coating the dark brown exterior with light gray paint. All the while, they kept dreaming of a different house: light, bright, and airy. After getting to know architect Lynn Hopkins, who brought her young children to the homeowner's dance school, the couple started to believe that their dark Cape could be turned into the house they envisioned. "The design process evolved over several years, " says Hopkins, who is based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Top requirements for the renovation: bring in more natural light, create a better traffic flow, enlarge and update the kitchen, and solve the family room's moisture problems.

If there is a home-buyer's heaven, it must be lined with houses that are already renovated to suit a person's tastes and needs—so no one would ever have to live with a previous owner's mistakes. But back to reality—and this 1970's Cape Cod-style house, purchased 15 years ago by a ballet-school directo rand her dentist husband. On the plus side, it had a perfect location for the couple and their children: sited on two wooded acres on a quiet lane, in a small town near Boston. With three bedrooms upstairs and a large family room, the house offered a more than adequate 2,800 square feet of space. Unfortunately, a good portion of that came from a poorly built family-room addtion that formed an ell between the house and the garage and was just begging to be redeemed.



At First, Making Do
"We hated this house in the beginning," recalls the couple. "It was brown inside and out, and felt incredibly dark." The Cape's typical small rooms and deeply pitched roof didn't let in a lot of light and the family room's stucco walls and painted plywood ceiling gave it a slapped-together feeling. Worse, the room always felt and smelled damp, because its carpeting had been laid right over the concrete slab floor.



The couple took some interim measures, whitewashing the predominantly brown family room and coating the dark brown exterior with light gray paint. All the while, they kept dreaming of a different house: light, bright, and airy. After getting to know architect Lynn Hopkins, who brought her young children to the homeowner's dance school, the couple started to believe that their dark Cape could be turned into the house they envisioned. "The design process evolved over several years, " says Hopkins, who is based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Top requirements for the renovation: bring in more natural light, create a better traffic flow, enlarge and update the kitchen, and solve the family room's moisture problems.

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Fixing the Flow—And More

 

Fixing the Flow—And More

original Cape Cod facade
Photo by Keller and Keller
An added-on family-room wing joined the original Cape Cod-style house to the garage.
Hopkins' smart design solutions delivered a house that feels much bigger, though in fact only 319 square feet of heated space was added. The bulk of the renovation took place in the family room and kitchen, adjacent spaces that had never flowed well together, in part because of a 22-inch step-down from the main house. "The family room and a mudroom entrance off the garage had been added after the house was built," explains Hopkins.



Her plan called for gutting the room and building up the floor 11 inches. "I decided to split the height difference," says Hopkins. "Before, you entered the mudroom and walked into the family room all on the same level, then stepped up four steps to the kitchen. Now, you enter the mudroom, go up two steps to the family room, then two more to the kitchen." To build up the family-room floor, local contractor Halsey Platt removed the carpeting, laid a moisture barrier over the existing slab, then added sleepers, floor joists with insulation in between, and a plywood subfloor topped with red oak flooring.



To maximize the feeling of spaciousness in the family room, where the ceiling soars to a 15-foot peak, Hopkins more than doubled the number of windows. She extended one side of the room with a bay of twelve-over-one double-hungs overlooking the backyard.



For the passageway from the family room to the kitchen, she devised a half-wall with steps on either side of it. This columned partition preserves a sense of openness between the two rooms while still providing some separation.

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Making a Functional Kitchen

 

Making a Functional Kitchen

Cape Cod driveway-side facade with new window scheme
Photo by Keller and Keller
A revised window scheme, gable-end finials, and yellow paint transform the renovated driveway-side facade. A new hip-roofed portico dresses up what is now the house's primary entrance.
After gutting the kitchen, Hopkins gave it a new layout made possible by eliminating its chief flaw: a side door that hogged one corner of the sink wall.



That gave the kitchen an extra 24 square feet—a small addition, but in a critical location. She improved the traffic flow from the kitchen to the dining room by adding a doorway between the two rooms. This opening also creates a line of sight from the dining room all the way through the kitchen to the family room and mudroom, adding to the house's newfound sense of spaciousness.



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Well-Conceived Additions

 

Well-Conceived Additions

new Cape Cod family-room transition
Photo by Keller and Keller
Raising the floor by 11 inches eased the transition from the family room into the new kitchen. A half-wall partition keeps the sight line open and adds a nice architectural detail.
While the owners wanted to retain the original Cape's New England character, the wife's Scandinavian heritage-a visits to the Swedish country home of Carl Larsson, often credited with popularizing the Swedish style-were also an inspiration.



Architectural elements of that style include using a variety of decorative window motifs and creating niches for specific activities. An oval window, a bay of twelve-over-one double-hungs, and a three-light transom enliven the patio-side facade. Inside the family room, next to the light-filled window bay, are a table and chairs where the kids can do their homework. Finials decorating the gable ends are another Scandinavian touch.



One last feature-a brand-new screened-in porch-capitalizes on the house's woodland setting. At just over 300 square feet, the unheated space has a 10-foot ceiling, a mahongay floor, and tall screened openings that line the room. For the couple and their now-teenage kids, the airy retreat has proven to be a favorite spot in which to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of their renovation.



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What They Did

 

What They Did

poor family-room transition before renovation of 1970s Cape Cod-style house
Photo by Keller and Keller
Dark timbers marked the entrance to the old family-room, which stepped down 22 inches from the rest of the house.
Raised the Floor in the family room—now two steps up from the mudroom and two steps down from the kitchen.

Bumped out the family room, adding a door to the living room on one side and a vestibule leading to the new patio door on the other. A bay of windows creates a niche for a table and chairs.

Added a half-wall to define the kitchen entrance while preserving a feeling of openness.

Closed up the side door along the kitchen's sink wall to allow for more work space and create a niche for wall ovens.

Put in a doorway from the kitchen into the dining room, creating sight lines from one end of the house to the other.

Added a box bay of windows in the dining room.

Enlarged the mudroom and built a portico over the outside door.

Added a screened porch behind the garage.
 
 

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