See how a family in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, exchanged wasted square footage for wall-to-wall livability.
Andy and Michele Topka were happily tucked away in a quiet Charleston-area cul-de-sac, but as their family grew, their traditional
home started feeling claustrophobic. The kitchen was closed off from living spaces, and the home lacked easy access to the
outdoors and cheerful Southern sunshine that Michele, a transplanted Californian, craved. "We debated moving," she says. "But
every house we looked at needed remodeling in one way or another, and we realized we really preferred to stay right here."
The Topkas teamed up with architect Heather Wilson and interior designer Jen Langston to rework their home with a more family-friendly layout and fresh, natural style. Because they didn't want a bigger house— just a smarter one—they focused their remodel mainly on the lower level.
Problem: The kitchen was dark and awkward with its angled island and heavy cabinetry.
Solution: Reconfiguring the layout, forgoing upper cabinets, lightening walls and floors, and designing a refrigerator surround that looks like furniture created an inviting room that blends beautifully with nearby living spaces.
Architect Heather Wilson removed prior mistakes and designed a more open space.
Airy Living Addition: Two previous additions were removed to allow for a new vaulted living area that opens to the kitchen and the bigger backyard.
New Study and Dining Room: The formal living room, with its traditional fireplace, saw little use. To save money, they left the brick chimney outside, removed the mantel, and drywalled over the opening. A wall with pocket doors divides the space into two rooms.
Open Kitchen: The reconfigured kitchen works as an axis point for the whole space. A playroom that was located behind the stove wall was converted into a hardworking pantry/laundry room combo.
Jen tiled the entire stove niche with white ceramic subway tile for a clean look that blends seamlessly with the creamy walls (painted Intense White by Benjamin Moore). A single long, white shelf replaces open cabinetry and keeps dishes right at hand.
Andy had but one request: a Viking range in the Viking Blue custom color. Jen lacquered the surrounding cabinet doors to match the stove. The deep teal sparked the family room's color palette, which includes silvery grays and purples punctuated by pops of green and blue.
Because the island is the hub of the new open layout, it needed to shine. For a sleek look, Jen designed the marble countertop with a waterfall edge—the counter material spills over and goes all the way to the floor. She finished the white-on-white look with burnished brass hardware and fixtures that, like gold jewelry, add a warm glow.
These slender but sturdy shelves keep necessities close at hand. The reclaimed-wood planks match bookshelves in the family
room, visually linking the two spaces.
Problem: The breakfast nook (a previous addition) was made up of awkward angles, had barely any space for a table, and offered no
access to the outside.
Solution: Removing the addition and reorienting the kitchen allowed for a new vaulted family room that is open and filled with light.
Connected Indoors and Out Poorly designed additions to the back of the house blocked both the sun and the yard itself. The rooms were removed to make
way for a single living area, which includes a wall of transom windows and French doors that now lead to a deck and backyard
pool. "What the house needed overall was more transparency," says Heather. "We wanted to open up the home to the outside."
Vaulted the Ceiling To make the new addition feel more spacious, Heather went not out but up with a 17-foot-high vaulted ceiling. Reclaimed-wood beams, salvaged during demolition, ground the airy, white space. A large but delicate chandelier with a burnished brass finish helps anchor the room, while a vertical custom metal-framed mirror emphasizes the room's height.
Clad Walls in Wood "I'll put wood on any wall I can," says Heather. Floor-to-ceiling planks add texture and soften the tall ceiling. "Michele
didn't want anything that looked too cold," Heather says.
Designated a Focal Point Rooms with high ceilings need strong architecture to feel cozy, not cavernous. Heather designed a simple fireplace to grab the eye and hold it low in the room. She kept the details minimal to let materials, such as the steel surround and reclaimed-wood shelves, lend the interest.
Created Symmetry with Sofas Slip-covered in washed linen, the 100-inch-long sofas are scaled to the room's substantial size. They also provide ample seating for entertaining and corralling the Topkas' three children, ages 6, 4, and 2.
Problem: With its heavy hearth and closed-off location, the former living room was too formal and rarely used.
Solution: Removed the fireplace and broke up the large room into two spaces more suited to the family: a quiet study and a dining room with two sides of windows.
Flooded the Room with Light "I always try to create rooms with windows and glass doors on two or three walls," says Heather. "It lets the space breathe."
Dark charcoal paint on the three sets of French doors and window muntins works like eyeliner, highlighting the slender sashes
and subtly framing the view.
Lightened Up the Floor The Topkas saved money by retaining the original floor. "We just stripped down the heart pine to its natural finish and oiled it to get that silvery, driftwood look," says Jen. "It's very forgiving and can be repaired if anything happens to the finish."
Chose Modern Furniture Anchored by a clean-lined Parsons table (left unpolished to stand up to fingerprints), the dining room is both sophisticated
and family friendly. Galvanized-metal French Tolix chairs designed in the 1930s and a long bench (which has been known to
hold as many as six kids) provide some much needed flexibility and style.
Introduced One Bold Color Jen gave the otherwise neutral room a strong burst of energy by adding a pair of grass green velvet host chairs and lamps. The vibrant hue complements the use of blue in the kitchen, proving that carefully placed color can really pack a punch.
Kept the Accents to a Minimum To maintain a more modern aesthetic, Jen skipped traditional window treatments and a rug and edited the accessories for a pared-down look. "In a small space, less is usually more," she says.
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