With some houses, it's easy to see potential. With others, however, the potential isn't just slightly hidden--it's buried under layers of unfortunate design and benign neglect. Although located in a desirable in-town Atlanta neighborhood, this house languished on the market for a long time. Many prospective buyers couldn't get past the fact that it hadn't been updated since the 1930's, had no central air-conditioning, and felt cramped at every turn.
But future owners Chris Wilson and John Culbertson saw what many did not--a great basic structure, huge front and back yards, and unused space upstairs. They gambled with a low-ball offer, and when it was accepted, it was time to start digging out from those layers.
Reconfiguring the Downstairs
Frustrated with the cramped feel, John ripped apart the lower level before the renovations even started. "It was therapeutic, even though none of my 'improvements' amounted to much," he says. "The rooms were so broken up. I knew that with some smart changes, the house could live much better."
So an unused front bedroom was turned into a study and office. French doors open it up to the living room and make both rooms airier. The renovated room includes built-in bookcases and two closets that are used to store coats and games. The old bedroom's door to a bath was closed in, providing a more private feel.
The existing kitchen was expanded by incorporating the breakfast room. A farm sink and old stove rescued from an upstairs kitchenette give the space an authentic feel and contrast nicely with the other stainless steel appliances. Fortunately, the stove was in working condition and just needed a little steel wool to make it shine.
The renovation also created room for storage in a stylish built-in butler's pantry, which is convenient to the adjoining dining room. "The hall used to end in several doors to various rooms, so we reconfigured the space to make it much more functional," says Tiffany Barcik, the architect who worked with Chris and John on the renovation. Now the other downstairs bedroom on the back of the house is a family room that opens up to the kitchen.
Finding Space Upstairs
Tiffany and the owners found renovating the cramped rooms upstairs to be the biggest challenge. "The layout was really odd," says Tiffany. The kitchenette took up a lot of valuable space, and some rooms weren't finished out. Chris adds, "It seemed like the upstairs hadn't been used in decades. We found newspapers from the 1930s serving as insulation."
After the renovation, the upstairs is expanded and open. A reconfigured landing created two walkways on either side of the stairs for easy access to the master bedroom and other rooms. The two enlarged dormers accommodate a bigger master bath and a guest bath.
Unused attic space became a convenient laundry room, allowing the washer and dryer to be brought up from the basement and put near the bedrooms.
The Front Updates
The home's facade wasn't bad; it just had a little too much going on. An awkward gable on the left was removed, giving the front a more streamlined look. A new door with an upper portion made of glass lets more light into the interiors. These minimal changes made for a more inviting entrance.
The Back Updates
The rear exterior involved more extensive changes designed to open uyp the home and make the upstairs interior spaces more usable. A small one-window dormer was replaced with a larger three-window dormer. Asbestos shingles were removed; white oak shingles took their place. A small dormer on the side of the house was removed and replaced with a larger dormer; a matching one was added to the opposite side of the house.
Other improvements included a new deck with a side entrance to a renovated garage and deck terracing down to the back garden. The back door was also moved so that it aligned with the front door, giving an uninterrupted view all the way through the house.
The renovations were extensive but well worth it. Both the interior and exterior feel fresh. In fact, the whole house is living up to its potential, perhaps more than anyone could have imagined.
WATCH OUT FOR HIDDEN COSTS
TIPS FOR WORKING WITH A CONTRACTOR
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE ADDING ON
LIVING THROUGH REMODELING
If living elsewhere during your remodeling isn't an option, use these tips--along with a sense of humor--to help you make it through.
This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living.