How to Rearrange Your Home's Flaws

Want to improve the space you have? More windows, fewer walls, and new uses for existing rooms gave this single-story home a totally fresh look.

Rearranged and Renewed
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn / Styling: Alan Henderson

There are times when you have to accept your home's flaws and work around them. "But," says homeowner and architect Robert Thompson, "sometimes you should just move them." That's exactly what Robert and wife Ashley did in their house. They opened their minds to new possibilities and didn't let the past determine the future.

Interior Moves
When the Thompsons decided to remodel their kitchen, Robert first tried to work with the existing one that was located at the front of the home. The windows over the sink provided the perfect nosy-neighbor view of the street, jokes Ashley.

The problem was that nothing seemed to flow. The kitchen opened into the formal living room instead of the casual family room. The space was small and closed in.

Instead of being tied to the room's previous purpose, Robert and Ashley designed a kitchen in the home's existing dining room, a space that opens into both the family room at the back of the house and the living room. Its central location was perfect for the traffic and activity of the Thompson family, which includes three young boys.

While the location was great, there were a few problems to address before work could begin. First an HVAC unit, hidden in a closet in the old dining room, was moved to the other side of the house. The closet, which jutted out into the room, was torn out to make room for cabinets and appliances. In addition, a window was installed above the sink to bring more natural light into the new kitchen.

The dining room was relocated to the space occupied by the former kitchen. New, larger windows in an Arts and Crafts design bring light and architectural interest to the revamped space. New hardwood floors match those in the adjacent living room and the kitchen.

Dollars and Sense

The Thompsons spent their money wisely, cutting costs on some things so they could splurge on others. Consider these ways to save money without compromising quality.

  • Finger-jointed (also called paint-grade) molding consists of short pieces of wood joined together to make a long section. It is usually less expensive than molding made from a single piece of wood. If it's thoroughly primed and painted, you can't tell the difference.
  • MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is a less expensive alternative to birch plywood for built-ins that will be painted. Don't use MDF for bookshelves, though, because it isn't as strong as plywood and may bend.
  • Recessed lights are less expensive than ornate chandeliers and usually provide better illumination.
  • In the kitchen, install an expensive countertop only on some surfaces, such as the island, and use a less expensive material everywhere else.
  • If you want granite without the hefty price, cover surfaces with 12-inch-square granite tiles, and edge with wood trim. It gives the look of solid granite at a fraction of the cost, especially if you install it yourself.
  • Remember, paint is almost always less expensive than wallpaper.

Organized Entry
In addition to flipping the kitchen and dining room, Robert used space from the old kitchen to create a new mudroom/friends' entry. The area includes a full-size freezer in a closet for extra food storage and a nook near the door for hanging keys, coats, and backpacks. The Thompsons cut costs by using the existing ceramic tile in the new mudroom.

Design Wise
Robert calls the new kitchen "the centerpiece of the home." Rich tones and sleek lines pair for a contemporary feel that is warm and friendly. The look relates well to the adjacent family room and living room.

Granite countertops add warmth to the space and a surprising hint of color. In the light, bits of blue show up in the deep brown stone. Overhead, three pendant lights pick up the iridescent blue in the countertops. The Thompsons saved money by keeping three can lights that were already in the room.

They also saved money by using factory cabinets where possible and customizing only a couple of pieces. Another budget-friendly device: Robert and Ashley chose maple with a cherry stain instead of more expensive cherry cabinets. It gives the same look without the big price tag. A few upper cabinets were fitted with ribbed glass that is slightly transparent but doesn't put dishes and glasses on full display.

The glass mosaic tile backsplash was a splurge but well worth it. The material pulls the room's varying elements together--stainless steel hardware, brown cabinetry, and granite with hints of blue. It's a great example of this couple's remodeling savvy. Search for great bargains when you can, but splurge on the things you love. You'll end up with a house that is truly a home.

Window Shopping

New windows can improve any view. They instantly upgrade the appearance of your home. Here are a few things to know before you browse.

  • If you are replacing the entire window unit, look for stock windows in sizes that fit existing window openings (called rough openings). Windows can be custom-made to fit any opening, but this will increase the cost.
  • Window openings can be enlarged easily and inexpensively if the house has siding. Windows in a brick home will require more work and be more costly because existing brick and mortar will have to be matched.
  • Insulated windows (double-glazed or storm windows) help reduce outside noise and are more energy efficient. Aluminum windows are durable alternatives to wood windows because they will not rot.
  • If your window frames are in good shape, you can cut costs by replacing only the sashes (the movable part of the window).

This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living.

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