Give an old house a young heart

Liz and Rob Davies’ house is just the way they want it: traditional on the outside and modernized on the inside. But it wasn’t always that way.

On house hunting, the couple found a Colonial Cottage-style house in their desired neighborhood of Brookwood Hills. Liz, a general contractor and managing director of ESD Homes in Atlanta, knew the two-story house, build in the late 1950s, needed some smart renovations to suit her family of four.

For help, Liz hired Ross Piper of Atlanta-based Ross Piper Architect to design and do extensive drawings for the renovation and addition of the four-bedroom house.

Liz wanted to keep the separate dining and living room but add an updated kitchen that opened into a large family room. Her wish list also included a mudroom, butler’s pantry and screened porch.

Piper suggested adding a master suite with a walk-in closet and turning a small, awkward stairway into a much-appreciated china closet.

To open up the space and bring in more natural light, Piper proposed incorporating strikingly modern, floor-to-ceiling iron windows in the porch-turned-family room.

“We like that the house looks traditional and charming on the outside, but has new, more contemporary elements and details on the inside,” said Liz.

Like many of today’s families, Liz wasn’t trying to create a show piece, but a more livable house that her young family could enjoy.

These so-called “hybrid homes,” with traditional exteriors and modernized interiors, are increasingly popular in older, desirable neighborhoods in Atlanta and around the country.

“Combining past and present is what most people want these days,” said Piper. “The traditional front fits in best with this part of the country. But the inside is changing.

“There used to be claustrophobic, closed-off relationship between the family room and kitchen (and other living spaces),” said Piper. “In the 1990s, the concept of a wide open (one room) space became popular. Now there is more of mix, a sort of middle ground with defined spaces, but a good open flow.”

Surveys by trade groups, like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and the National Association of Home Builders, also support Piper’s view: New home buyers as well as home remodelers want many of the same (and latest) features, ranging from a more open kitchen to high-tech and energy-saving amenities. And more.

There are many ways to peel back the years of an older home to make it more livable for modern household. For help, consider these suggestions from Piper, and NARI.

What to consider

- Create large openings that connect rooms and improve circulation and movement. Piper says large openings (eight feet wide or more between rooms) are more popular now than one wide open space.

- Emphasize function and flow between spaces. “Many of our builders say families want the walls between kitchen and dining room taken down so they can incorporate an eating area into the kitchen island,” said Susan Swartz of NARI.

- Keep lines clean. Avoid clutter and unnecessary design details.

- Connect the inside to the outside. Multiple rooms with large windows or doors that open onto a patio or porch, courtyard or terrace can make a smaller house feel larger.

Fresh features

- Updated, open-plan kitchen with a large, eat-in kitchen island.

- High-style kitchen cabinetry, counters and backsplashes.

- High-quality finishes and bathroom updates, including a master bath with two sinks.

- Multifunctional spaces on first floor for eating and entertaining.

- A variety of outdoor living spaces, including some covered areas.

- Updated windows, doors and energy systems.

- More windows and recessed lighting.

- Use of understated colors or tone-on-tone palettes

- Walk-in closet in the master bedroom

- Separate laundry room or laundry-room/mudroom combination.

- High-tech, automated features — from temperature and lighting to music, internet and security.

- First-floor ceilings at least nine-feet high. In older home with lower ceilings, one option is to paint the walls, ceilings and moldings with the same color so that the room looks elongated.

- Seamless connection between an addition and the original house. For example, match the brick (or paint it) or replicate a header.