In a 1920s hillside upside-down house — where the living area is below the entry level — walking downstairs to get to the living room wasn’t the only aspect that was awkward.
When you arrived at the living floor you were unceremoniously dumped into a tight vestibule measuring just six feet by four feet (1.8m by 1.2m) with three three-foot-wide (90cm-wide) doorways providing access into each space.
If you walk through a room to get to a room, something is probably wrong. Many times, additions layer onto homes, so you have to walk through the archaeological history of the house to get to a new space.
Investigate the cost of simply removing walls and doing a smaller addition rather than a larger addition that bypasses an existing space. That bypassed space is bigger than a hallway but functions as one and betrays the capacity of your home to be renewed with enhanced efficiency.
By removing one non-bearing wall between the stairs and the dining room and kitchen, and opening up the bearing wall between the dining room and the living area, all three spaces were able to flow.
It would have been easy enough just to remove walls and let the space speak for itself, but instead, a carefully crafted frame was used to make an event out of the opening from the rest of the floor to the living room.
The same playful trim-out also announces a level change (two steps down) that gives the living space a heightened sense of stature. By integrating a new fireplace front with the new trim and carefully harvesting tiles from other parts of the remodeled house, continuity was achieved without blowing the budget.
There are over 80 million single family homes in America, and it's estimated that in 2011, 18 million of these were underwater, meaning with a mortgage larger than the value of the house.
Millions of families feel trapped, living a life of domestic frustration in homes that do not work for them, while being unable to move to solve the problems they confront on a daily basis.
The benefits of concise, appropriate remodeling where you live now, independent of market conditions, can include improved convenience and lifestyle satisfaction, better looks, and a reduced environment impact, since improving an existing house is almost always greener than building new from scratch.
This series in ArchitectureWeek, and the book Staying Put that it's drawn from, offer tangible hope for getting the home you want from the house you have right now.
Each of these projects is a select example of the great and affordable outcomes that can be created, when a good architect and a good client team up together.
Architect Duo Dickinson runs his own practice in Madison, Connecticut. In over 30 years of professional practice, he has built more than 600 projects across the United States, with budgets ranging from $3,000 to $5 million. Dickinson has written seven books, including The Small House, Expressive Details, and The House You Build. He is a contributing writer for Money magazine, the architecture critic for the New Haven Register, and a contributing writer for New Haven magazine. He has also taught at Yale University, Roger Williams College, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design summer program.
This free-flowing living area resulted from the careful removal of a redundant and cramped hallway space that originally enclosed the bottom of an entry stair. Photo: Mick HalesExtra Large Image
Seen here before the remodel, the small hallway isolated the adjacent kitchen and dining room from the living room. Photo: Duo DickinsonExtra Large Image
Along with the removal of two non-bearing hallway walls to increase the area of the dining room, the opening between living and dining spaces was significantly widened. Photo: Mick HalesExtra Large Image
The width of the new opening between the dining and living rooms was limited on one side by a waste line that would have been too costly to move. Photo: Mick HalesExtra Large Image