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Sometimes it’s not limited square footage that makes a house feel inadequate — it’s how that square footage is configured.
Take, for example, the circa 1970s Vienna split-level Andre and Katy Hollis purchased in 2005. With more than 3,200 square feet of living space that included four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large family room, most would consider the house sufficient — even enviable — as the primary home for a family of four.
True, the previous owners had been empty-nesters, which partly explained why there was a soaking tub instead of a shower in an upstairs bathroom allocated to two pre-teen boys.
Still, the structure’s two-level main block seemed to have capacity to spare. There was a guest room; a full bathroom on the first floor; a home office.
In fact, it was the lack of need for changes that had prompted the Hollis' to buy the house in the first place.
But while recuperating from an accident a few years ago, Katy Hollis began to reassess. “I decided that I really like our neighborhood and that we could stay in the house indefinitely. But I also saw that I had been ignoring a lot of things that didn't work for us. And the shortcomings were even more obvious when I looked ahead.”
All of this sounded familiar to Mindy Mitchell, the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist at Sun Design Remodeling Katy Hollis called in to talk over some ideas.
“In the last two decades, designers have learned a lot about how to customize a traditional production house floorplan for longterm use,” Mitchell said. “Size is less important than how rooms are purposed and configured. The goal is to create a plan that will logically support priorities.”
As discussions with Mitchell evolved, Katy Hollis unveiled her larger agenda. To make the house more functional for both current and foreseeable needs, the homeowner envisioned a series of focused revisions: a spacious first floor bedroom; a gourmet kitchen; television-viewing that’s not in the midst of other entertainment zones; a guest suite with dedicated bath; an indoor-outdoor segue to the beautifully wooded backyard.
The new plan had to serve a variety of concurrent scenarios. There should be beautifully articulated front-facing rooms that would support the occasional dinner party. They needed a family gathering area for daily meals and everyday interaction. The new kitchen should be equipped with a gas range, a wine refrigerator and generous food preparation surfaces.
“I found it reassuring to talk about the house as a place we might occupy 30 years from now,” Katy Hollis said. “I thought that we probably had the necessary square footage to make the changes I had in mind, but there were many space planning considerations we needed to work out carefully.”
Certainly, the current plan was problematic.
The entryway foyer was flanked by an L-shaped galley kitchen to the left and a family room four steps down on the right.
One could proceed to the back of the house from the galley kitchen to a rear dining room, or from the parellel foyer directly to a small sitting room adjacent to the dining room.
The arrangement often led to bottlenecks. At parties, guests would circulate back to the family room after dinner creating traffic jams in the foyer.
Moreover, a promising view of the pretty backyard was hampered by undersized windows — which made the back of the house too dark.
SUCH PROBLEMS were equally apparent upstairs. The front-facing master bedroom suite was large enough — but the master bathroom could only be accessed through a closet/changing area, and the plan lacked a walk-in closet and privacy. Adding to the inconvenience, the only shower available for second floor guest room was one flight down, on the first floor.
“Our challenge was comprehensively re-imaging how space could be allocated while staying inside the envelope of the house,” Mitchell said.
Interestingly, a decision to move TV-watching away from the front-facing family room set the reconfiguration process in motion.
“We saw the rooms in the front of the house as a suite that would better serve all formal entertainment needs,” Mitchell said. “Situating the TV in the newly remodeled basement allowed us to fully convert the family room into a more formal living room and eliminate the marginally useful sitting room.
Freeing-up the 17-foot-by-8-foot sitting area in the back of the house, Mitchell and team next shifted the dining room to the front (across the foyer from the new living room), allocating 170 square feet in the rear for a gourmet kitchen and family dining area.
A course of large back windows now dramatically improves natural light availability and visual continuum.
THE CENTERPIECE of the new kitchen is an L-shaped food preparation and dining counter. The custom built-in provides seating for four, easy access to the butler’s pantry en route to the new dining room, and a critical leg in a work triangle that facilitates essential cooking and clean up tasks. “It’s much easier to both cook and tend to guests,” Katy Hollis said. “The dining room, foyer and new living room are well-unified aesthetically; guests don’t even need to see the kitchen.”
Re-purposing bedrooms and bathrooms also figured prominently in the makeover. Katy Hollis wanted both a guest room with dedicated bath and a larger, more private master bedroom suite.
“We had to scrutinize the footprint closely,” Mitchell said. “Fortunately, there were first level utility rooms adjacent to the family room we could either delete or re-assign in our search for space to accommodate a first level master suite.” Relocating an upstairs hall bath, thus, gave Mitchell the option to move the laundry to the second floor. The former master bedroom suite now becomes the coveted guest quarters. A second floor corner bedroom has been transformed into a bathroom for the two boys complete with a double sink vanity.
With the laundry now out of the way, Mitchell and team re-deployed 300 square feet on the rear of the first level for a spacious and very private master bedroom suite that includes a master bath and generous walk-in closets.
A home office behind glass-facing French doors opens directly into the redecorated living room. The first level bath has been re-fashioned as a handsomely appointed guest powder room.
“It’s a terriffic solution in every detail,” Katy Hollis said. “And knowing we’ve already made some solid decisions about the future is really quite satisfying.”