Spend 3 minutes on Instagram and along with inspirational quotes, 83 ads (maybe I DO need to reimagine my makeup routine!), and cat videos (my personal favorite use of the internet) you’ll see dozens of drool-worthy 3000, 4000, or 5000+ square feet homes, boasting lofty ceilings, 6 types of refrigerators and freezers, and giant windows that cost more than your car.
But what if you live in an older, smaller home…and like it that way?
Our clients are raising and homeschooling 4 boys in their 1600 SF home in a great neighborhood that they have no desire to leave (and an equally low desire to lose their 3% interest rate on a new home). They enjoy having everyone close together, but the choppy 1960’s layout wasn’t working for their family. Namely – there weren’t enough seats in the living room or dining room for everyone to be together. Problematic.
They dreamed of a space where they could all be together in one room – and have it not be total visual and acoustic chaos. They wanted to do it once, and do it right. And while our homeowners have all the skills to execute the vision (they are General Contractors), they needed the vision. And the materials. And light fixtures. Oh, and all the furniture.
There were some immediate functional problems that needed to be addressed. In true 1960’s style, the floors had step ups and step downs that were going to be in the way of opening up the layout. Those all needed to be brought to the same height to give us a clean slate. We also needed to remove the 4 different flooring materials happening in the space – the dated brick, carpet, white ceramic tile (which hides nothing), and the wood flooring – to make way for one, unified floor material situation.
Then there were all the walls. We just live differently than our predecessors 40 years ago. Perhaps families didn't enjoy spending time together in the 60's?
I recognize in typing this that it is not, in fact, the year 2000 and the 60’s were actually 60 years ago, not 40. My brain has frozen in Y2K and will not relent judging all dates based on this marker. I apologize.
At any rate, a sunken formal living room, separate formal dining room, galley kitchen, and wood paneled den are just not well suited to a gathering space, particularly for a large family. The walls dividing the living from the dining and the kitchen from the living had to go.
But hold on. If you’ve ever walked through a flipped house that is essentially one giant rectangle, you’ve noticed there’s a problem when you take down ALL the walls in an older home. It just doesn’t feel right. Too much open space can be problematic, both in terms of looks and sound. Some separation is good – so we had to strike the right balance between open and Olympic-sized-swimming-pool-with-a-kitchen-island.
Aesthetically we had work to do as well. In addition to unifying the flooring, we needed to brighten things up. Less dark wood, less brick, lighter finishes (but still some contrast), and better lighting. Things were feeling DIM.
Our clients were craving simplicity and lean on the minimalist side of things. You sort of have to with 6 people in 1600 square feet! But they didn’t want anything sterile or boring. Layering of light and dark, neutral tones, and cozy modern elements would be the ticket.
Plus, we needed a pantry. 4 growing boys + no pantry = not sustainable.
THE RENOVATION PLAN
By strategically removing the walls between the kitchen and living rooms, we succeeded in opening things up. But we kept a portion of the walls between the kitchen and dining for a couple of reasons. 1) to give some separation visually and acoustically. This is a homeschooling family, so it’s helpful to have a couple of horizontal surfaces apart from each other so that two kids can be working and concentrating without sibling interruption (intentional or non-intentional). And 2) when you open up a kitchen, you can lose serious cabinet space.
We all see these open kitchens and think “oh my gosh it feels so big!” but if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up with quite a bit less storage than you did when you had 3 or 4 walls to work with. By keeping that little bit of wall, we were able to locate the refrigerator and beverage station (caffeine is critical) to maximize storage in the kitchen.
We also replaced the eat-in-bar-shelf in the kitchen with a full height pantry, providing much needed food storage. The island replaces the eat in area in a much more inviting way.
The TV was relocated above the fireplace to free up the side wall for more seating. The furniture was extremely strategically scaled to fit the space and give us enough seats for the whole family.
Extra built ins were added to the dining room for more storage of kitchen goods as well as homeschool supplies. Plus there was now room for the piano!
Starting at the front door, a small shelf is the condensed version of a drop station, giving a spot for keys, sunglasses, and mail.
From the entryway, the view opens up into the living room.
The long, low leather sofa is perfect for lounging. A round coffee table allows for traffic flow through the room.
A pair of upholstered chairs sit beneath a photo ledge. We kept the existing paneling on this wall and painted it a deep moody blue-gray or contrast and visual impact.
The sofa sits opposite the TV and fireplace. By removing the wall to the kitchen, we were able to add in a loveseat to get the two additional spots we needed in the living room.
We opted for a blue-gray upholstered loveseat and cognac leather sofa to keep the furniture from feeling matchy-matchy and create a layered look.
A view of the living room opening up to the dining beyond.
The little bit of wall remaining in the kitchen creates separation from the dining room, without things feeling disconnected.
Just beyond the loveseat, the kitchen.
We carved out a bookcase next to the fireplace for books and a turntable. The fireplace before was overpowering the scale of the living room; shortening it and painting it white made it less of a focal point. The ROYGBIV book arrangement was a nice touch.
Let’s explore the kitchen! A pair of smaller scale pendants (remember, low ceilings) in black compliment the black quartz countertops and add some mood. Light and airy spaces often need a bit of black to anchor them.
The island is a light oak tone, setting it apart from the white cabinets (again, layering of neutrals). This is also a functional decision – we didn’t want little feet constantly scuffing up a white island while sitting at the counter.
Beyond the island you’ll spot the fridge and enclosed beverage station.
Before there was a wide sliding glass double door with the tiny bar counter. We removed that door and went back with a single glass door, which gave us 3 extra glorious feet for cabinetry.
That allowed us to add full height pantry cabinets along the side wall of the kitchen. GAME CHANGER. Behind those doors are drawers that allow you to access everything in the back of the pantry, taking full advantage of that space.
I want to be served tacos outside of that sliding window.
On the back wall, the sink remains under the sunny window. We added a pair of sconces in black for functionality and a bit of charm.
We selected white appliances to create a seamless look between cabinets and appliances. A double oven fits in the space of a standard single oven to be able to cook food at multiple temperatures all at once.
It’s not a requirement as a designer that you dress to match your project and pretend to wash dishes in the sink for a photo, but it’s encouraged.
The vent hood was custom, echoing the wood from the island (and the mantle, and the floors, and the furniture) with a black band for a bit of drama. Layering neutrals is always a delicate balance between keeping things harmonious (white cabinets + appliances) and creating focal points with drama (vent hood).
Let’s move into the dining room.
We added a window in the dining room (it was just a wall before) for more daylight, and to repeat the window we have in the kitchen. You’re going to see some more repeating elements here, like wood in black, but used in a different way than the kitchen.
Built ins were added around the new window for extra storage. On either end, a black tower with glass upper cabinets for display (and dramaaaaaa), flanking a central set of drawers in the same wood as our island. Did you spy the same pair of sconces that we used at the kitchen window? Of course you did; you’re a clever one.
The back of the remaining kitchen wall was begging for a dramatic art moment. A large abstracted landscape pulling together our color palette is highlighted with a brass art light.
Now a new longer wood table with bench and black chairs has enough room for the entire family.
Beyond, the piano which (happily) was the exact right tone of wood we needed! Curtains in a deep blue-gray-green add some depth and texture to this wall.
The table needed a long chandelier for scale, but the low ceilings meant we couldn’t do anything bulky or heavy. This modern spindle and globe number was the right amount of interest + negative space we needed.
C. S. Lewis proudly oversees the piano lessons.
Let’s not forget the hall bath! This bath doubles as the kid’s bathroom AND the only guest bathroom in the house.
A patterned wall tile provides some visual interest without being overwhelming. All of the grout is dark for obvious reasons! The finishes echo all the choices in the main area of the house – white, black, and warm light wood. This room gets a slight masculine feel, because boys.
Thanks for joining us on the tour of Project Doral! For making it all the way to the end, you get a bonus story!
If the finishes in this house feel familiar to you, it may be because they are very similar to my house. We actually designed this project a couple of months before we decided to build our own house! Our clients have a similar Foundational Style to mine (Casual Modern), so I basically designed my house for them, not knowing that a few months later I’d have the opportunity to do it for myself! Now, our paths diverge at our Creative Edge (Feminine) with my pink bathroom and laundry room, but there is quite a bit of overlap in our Foundational Styles.
Don’t know what Foundational Style or Creative Edge means? Maybe you need to take our free Discover Your Signature Style mini course, my friend! In 30 minutes, I will walk you through 3 easy steps to determine once and for all what your Signature Style is so that you can start to apply it in your home (and, bonus, your wardrobe). Grab your seat below!
Thanks again for reading. Hopefully this gives you some inspiration for your small (or not so small) home!