Turning a House Into a Home

Turning a House Into a Home: 5 ways to mix old and new

Imagine turning a house into a home, an apparatus programmed to cooperate, even anticipate and inspire, a sophisticated contraption attending to all of your whims — ascertaining that your emotional and physical wellbeing are taken care of — designed with efficiency and adaptability at its core to make life delightful.

Eleven years ago, I took a lifeless fixer as my canvas and worked diligently to infuse it with vitality. Now, looking back, I can list five makeover strategies that helped turn a house into a home tuned for enjoyment, continuously generating sustaining and uplifting energy.

Turning a House Into a Home

1. Focusing on continuity

While renovating the interior, threading spaces together became the overarching goal. I treated all of the communal spaces, both indoor and outdoor, as a singular flowing entity, dealing with obstacles one at a time.

For instance, a physical barrier between the entry garden and the living room was visually minimized with a front door conceived as a framed piece of glass. Ushering in light liberally into the dramatically rustic exposed brick and vaulted wood-beam ceiling living room, it gave due prominence to the endearing features of the 1934 hunting lodge.

Turning a House Into a Home

2. Bringing outdoors in

I aspired to turn our home into a personal sanctuary, a place where time was savored. The minute I crossed “the moat,” I wanted to be in my own world, safe and contained, feeling abundant and grateful.

When I started with it, the back of the house was overshadowed, dwarfed by the hill of decomposed granite. To create breathing room, 35 lowboys of soil—420 tons—were removed. I designed a tubular steel outdoor light fixture to act as a visual retaining wall. It appeared to tame the hill, to scale it back.

Next, I brought the outdoors in by installing 18 feet of almost frameless sliding glass doors; when open, the sounds and aromas of the canyon were allowed to drift in.

Turning a House Into a Home

3. Repurposing what is already there

An obsolete window frame with wooden shutters lingered as a back room had been added onto to the exterior of the original structure. No problem, I repurposed the opening in the brick wall by stripping it raw and then inserting a minimal steel frame with a set of translucent pivoting screens, thus combining front and back. It could be opened or closed depending on what felt right at the moment.

While remodeling the house, I sensed a spirit of collaboration. It seemed that the old structure was “suggesting” most harmonious solutions, as if knowing and supporting my vision. I did not hesitate to follow its lead in order to revive and enhance the energy hidden within.

Turning a House Into a Home

4. Eliminating what’s not necessary

The area where I intervened the most was envisioned as a family hub. I found it as a collection of several clumsy additions housing a strange oversized yet highly dysfunctional kitchen and a lowered (with carpet on slab) area sporting built-in shelving that had seen better days. The wall in between chopped it all up even more.

The plan was to add a powder room, reconcile level changes, create a sitting area next to the fireplace, and to carve out a dining room by reducing the kitchen.

Philip Johnson asserted that architecture could only be considered “great” if it gives us psychological support. Hmm… It has to be designed for the way we live. It has to help us feel in control, expose to beauty of natural materials, make the most of natural light, and give choices in its flexibility.

Turning a House Into a Home

5. Creating a sense of order

Although I trimmed the kitchen, stainless-steel appliances, lit from above granite countertops, limestone flooring, and Italian black oak veneered cabinetry gave it not only a sharp look, but made it much more practical. To include the kitchen as an integral part of the space, black oak veneered panels were added to the sides of base cabinets creating the appearance of free-standing furniture (see #1).

Instead of a backsplash behind the sink, a long window with the view of the redesigned and expanded (claimed from the hill) terrace outside was installed (see #2). A translucent-glass-and-aluminum pocket door at the kitchen’s entrance could screen the food prep area from the rest of the space, as required (see #3).

Reflecting on the design process, 11 years later, I see how every decision was aimed at bolstering a sense of order by blurring the boundaries between spaces both inside and outside, both physical and virtual, both internal and external, both old and new. The end result was a home that evolved with us — an extension of who we were as a family and as individuals.

Alla is an architect on demand advising DIY home improvement enthusiasts online.  To learn about how you can work with her, click here.


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  1. Abby says:

    The rooms are so well-lit! Is it because of natural light?

    1. Abby, in the living room, natural light comes through windows, door, and skylights. The family room, of course, has huge windows. They make a difference even in the dark canyon.

  2. Di says:

    I love looking at design sites. This blog is great because it talks about the way design ideas emerge and how they materialize. I am living vicariously.

    1. Di! What a nice thing to say! Thank you for your kind review!

  3. Kris says:

    Sooo nice I definitely want a living room like that!

    1. Glad you like it, Kris!