A Townhouse Update

Not surprisingly a 19th century home often has had numerous kitchen and bath incarnations during its life. It’s not unusual to update a kitchen or bath every 20 years or so. The technology and fashions surrounding kitchens and baths change the quickest. Most homeowners remodel their kitchen or bath because the equipment and materials wear out, or the new modern products are so tempting that they choose to upgrade.

Our example home, a four level townhouse built in the 1890’s, was remodeled in the 1970’s in a way that was, then, considered up to date. Although the 1970’s design was not ideal, the concept was good because the lower two floors were set up as an income rental unit, and the upper two floors were dedicated to the owner’s residence. For 15 years this served well. Fast-forward to 2004, and the desire for a more stylish and modern home sent the homeowner hunting for a design/build team to make a transformation.

Like many townhouses remodeled in the 1970s the living space was compartmentalized. The living room was at the front, kitchen was in the middle, and a dining room at the rear. It was not well suited for entertaining. The small kitchen was placed within a walled off cube (about 11’x 8’) not suitable for entertaining, and required carrying food around to the sole dining area; so small it could only seat six.

On the upper floor, the front space, designed as a bedroom, was used as a home office. A rear master bedroom with insufficient closet space, opened onto a rear roof deck. Wedged in between the front and back bedrooms were a compartmentalized bathroom and several closets all inefficiently arranged and unattractive.

The goal for the overall design was to create a functional and stylishly modern living space for a work-from-home woman. The homeowner was open minded about having a design that was a bit ‘edgy’ as a way to express her desire for a more hip urban look. We also discussed her willingness to explore designs that were open and loft-like.

The living space was gutted and opened up. The old partitions came down. Instead of walls defining space, the new kitchen space is zoned by the placement of cherry cabinets and a lowered ceiling. The new kitchen is larger than the old, and is the visual and working hub of the living space. A new island accommodates the sink, dishwasher, ample cabinets and seating for four, and creates a visual working centerpiece. Honed black granite countertops provide a sculptural statement and pendant lighting highlights the stone. The dining room, no longer limited by walls, ebbs and flows to accommodate entertaining and the new island is often used as a central buffet. Oak floors flow uninterrupted from front to back to unify and visually expand the space. Nifty features like a stainless steel backsplash, frosted glass cabinet doors, and a column painted red give pizzazz to the design.

The upper floor bath and bedroom complex make a strong departure from the 1970’s design, toward a loft-like solution. Again, the entire floor was gutted and reconfigured. The design concept treats the new bathroom as a sculptural element placed within the larger space. Or, as some designers would say, “A room within a room.” The design scheme has two walls forming a point where they meet which is located at the top of the stairs. The pointed wall is further embellished by a vertical glass panel that admits natural light into a circular shower stall. The angled walls visually direct people toward the rear sleeping area or toward the front space used as a home office. The new design flows beautifully while having defined functional spaces for work, sleeping and bathing.

The new bathroom was cleverly laid out with a cylindrical shower stall tiled in a mosaic glass to enhance the sculptural form. Symmetrically opposite the shower stall was placed a large granite vanity flanked by cherry storage cabinets. A large wall mirror, framed in glass mosaic, visually enlarges the space and reflects the unique shower. A unifying feature is the large-scale porcelain floor tile chosen to complement the other finishes and minimize maintenance. For visual privacy a full height sliding barn door was custom detailed to screen the office space on those rare occasions when needed. However, from the master bedroom side it was agreed that no door was required to screen the bathroom.

With the many custom features, beautiful materials, and thoughtful planning the new open and loft-like spaces met the goals for the town home. The homeowner was so thrilled with the result that she hosted a party in her newly remodeled home to thank all involved.

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