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turning house into home, alla diy ally, architect on demand, advice without strings

Imagine turning a house into a home. House vs home. What is the difference? I conjure up an image of an apparatus programmed to cooperate, even anticipate and inspire. It’s a sophisticated contraption attending to all of my whims — ascertaining that my emotional and physical wellbeing is taken care of. It’s designed with efficiency and adaptability at its core to make life delightful.Thus, 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. Not just a house, the home that is continuously generating sustaining and uplifting energy.

turning house into home, alla diy ally
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. It gave due prominence to the endearing features of the 1934 hunting lodge. Also, as it ushers in light liberally, it celebrates the dramatically rustic exposed brick and vaulted wood-beam ceiling of the living room.

turning house into home, alla diy ally
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.

However, 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 tames the hill, scales 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 drift in.

turning house into home, alla diy ally
3. Repurposing what is already there

Further, 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, I combined front and back. We open or close it depending on what feels right at the moment.

Interestingly, 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 house into home, alla diy ally
4. Eliminating what’s not necessary

Finally, the area where I intervened the most was going to be a family hub. I found it as a collection of several clumsy additions housing a strange oversized yet highly dysfunctional kitchen. A lowered (with carpet on slab) area sporting built-in shelving 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,
  • 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,
  • give choices in its flexibility.
turning house into home, alla diy ally
5. Creating a sense of order

Even though I trimmed the kitchen, it became more practical. Stainless-steel appliances, lit from above granite countertops, limestone flooring, and Italian black oak veneered cabinetry gave it a sharp look. The intent was to include the kitchen as an integral part of the space. Black oak veneered panels on the sides of base cabinets create 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 screens the food prep area from the rest of the space (see #3).

Hence, reflecting on the design process, 11 years later, I see how every decision bolsters 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 is a home that evolves with us — an extension of who we are.

By the way, as architect on demand I advise DIY home improvement enthusiasts online.  To learn about how you can work with Alla DIY ally, click here.


  • August 20, 2015

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

    • August 20, 2015

      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.

  • October 12, 2015

    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.

  • October 28, 2015

    Sooo nice I definitely want a living room like that!

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