Split Personality

A contemporary addition revitalizes one man's '30s bungalow

modern staircase
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You can easily drive by my house without so much as a second glance. From the street it looks much like all the other bungalows in my Atlanta neighborhood. But the view from the backyard is quite a different story. From there you see a bold, contemporary building with a vibrant red loft. You'd swear it was a totally different house.

That's fine with me. My challenge as an architect and also a first-time homeowner was to marry the traditional bungalow to a contemporary addition. I wanted the house to reveal itself gradually, not the instant you open the front door.

Rough Condition
Challenge is the nice word for what I was facing. Built in the early 1930s, the two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow was a rental past its prime when I first saw it seven years ago. It had old wiring, an aging furnace, a sunroom with rotting walls, and no central air-conditioning, which made it brutal in Georgia summers.

Finished surfaces weren't in any better shape. The exposed original heart-pine floors had been stained a nasty black color, and every room was dingy white, except for the kitchen's depressing orchid-print wallpaper. In fact, nothing in the kitchen was worth saving, from the cheap pickled cabinets to the floor that was 3 inches out of level and covered with ceramic tile that easily came up with my bare hands. But despite all of this, the price was right, and so was the location. So I bought the house, planning to upgrade, add on, and resell in a few years.

Some decisions were no-brainers. I had to rewire, add air-conditioning, and refinish the floors. Beyond that, I wanted to freshen the interior with paint and expand the house. So I gave the traditional bungalow a contemporary 700-square-foot rear addition containing a large master suite and a tree-level loft office. I've always loved tree houses, and I liked the idea of being up high in my own personal sanctuary.
You can easily drive by my house without so much as a second glance. From the street it looks much like all the other bungalows in my Atlanta neighborhood. But the view from the backyard is quite a different story. From there you see a bold, contemporary building with a vibrant red loft. You'd swear it was a totally different house.

That's fine with me. My challenge as an architect and also a first-time homeowner was to marry the traditional bungalow to a contemporary addition. I wanted the house to reveal itself gradually, not the instant you open the front door.

Rough Condition
Challenge is the nice word for what I was facing. Built in the early 1930s, the two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow was a rental past its prime when I first saw it seven years ago. It had old wiring, an aging furnace, a sunroom with rotting walls, and no central air-conditioning, which made it brutal in Georgia summers.

Finished surfaces weren't in any better shape. The exposed original heart-pine floors had been stained a nasty black color, and every room was dingy white, except for the kitchen's depressing orchid-print wallpaper. In fact, nothing in the kitchen was worth saving, from the cheap pickled cabinets to the floor that was 3 inches out of level and covered with ceramic tile that easily came up with my bare hands. But despite all of this, the price was right, and so was the location. So I bought the house, planning to upgrade, add on, and resell in a few years.

Some decisions were no-brainers. I had to rewire, add air-conditioning, and refinish the floors. Beyond that, I wanted to freshen the interior with paint and expand the house. So I gave the traditional bungalow a contemporary 700-square-foot rear addition containing a large master suite and a tree-level loft office. I've always loved tree houses, and I liked the idea of being up high in my own personal sanctuary.
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Concrete Decisions

 

Concrete Decisions

molding, remodel, renovation
Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn
The space for the new bath was limited, so my goal was to keep it simple—not even installing a bathtub. But when I started thinking about resale appeal, I changed my mind, juggling the modest room like a Rubik's Cube and swapping the locations of the toilet and shower to make space. Still, most tubs were too big. So I thought, "Why not build my own? It just has to hold water, and that's not rocket science." I ran the idea by Craig Smith, who was building the bath's concrete double vanity as well as the kitchen counters. He, too, likes a challenge, and though it required using five individually cast pieces held together with epoxy and treated with a waterproofing sealant, I had a 32-by-62-by-18-inch custom-made concrete tub.

Because I like to cook, I decided to gut the kitchen and expand it into the space taken up by the sunroom. But first I had to level the kitchen floor. I learned why it was so out of whack while replacing some rotted flooring in one corner. A beam bearing much of the weight of the kitchen floor was just hanging there. I jacked it up and then added wood posts and concrete footings in the basement below. A quick floor repair turned into a week of work. But that's the way it goes with remodeling, I guess.

Scavenger's Eye
Resourcefulness, which is handy on a limited budget, comes naturally to me. I always have my eyes open. For instance, the kitchen's concrete countertops, which were custom-made by Craig for a local designer, had been rejected for having tiny air pockets. I made an offer, knowing I could fill those minute flaws with grout matched to the color of the concrete. Similarly, the kitchen's pot rack—originally built as a restaurant wineglass-rack prototype by my design firm—was destined for scrap when I saw its potential.

Professional connections helped in other ways. I asked my coworker, interior designer Stacey Kirby, for advice on paint colors for the dining room. Plus, much of my work is restaurant design, so I have access to a world of professional kitchen fixtures and fittings. The extra-long-armed commercial faucet I selected is a good example. I liked its look, and it was no more expensive than residential options.

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Handling the Unexpected

 

Handling the Unexpected

molding, remodel, renovation
Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn
From the street (inset above), just a hint of the plywood-clad loft addition shows behind the bungalow and its new cedar-and-cypress fence. In the backyard, however, the change in siding and paint color is used to contrast old and new.
As with all major remodeling projects, there were setbacks—such as the morning I woke up to the sound of rushing water. Atlanta's late-winter rain was filling up the bare foundation walls of the new addition-to-be—and then funneling all this water into my dirt basement. The result was like a swimming pool. I shot out of bed and rushed to a 24-hour home-improvement center for reinforcements. I rigged a system of tarps and got a pump running, but it was a nightmare.

Still, these problems pale next to the satisfaction of seeing my house come together. I'll probably keep tweaking it, but the biggest projects are done. As for my original plan, don't look for a "For Sale" sign in front of my house anytime soon. I'm enjoying the fruits of my labor too much to move.

Project Particulars

Remodeling Cost: About $75,000.
Time Frame: About two years.
Where I Saved: Using salvaged materials.
Where I Splurged: On the fixtures and radiant floor heating in the bathroom.
What I'd Do Differently: Nothing really because I lived in the house for a while, took time to imagine the house's potential, and let my plans evolve slowly.
Biggest Challenge: Building during the rainy season and saving trees on the property line from being cleared for a privacy fence.
How I Solved It: I spent days pumping water out of the basement. And to save the trees, my neighbor and I got together and zigzagged a fence around them.
 
 

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