A Renovation of an 1820s Cape Puts Every Square Inch to Work By Becky Harris, Houzz In spite of an extensive renovation, this 1820s petite Cape in Vermont still maintains a petite footprint. "The house is quite small by today's standards," says Pi Smith, the project architect. "All of the spaces we designed are working really hard." The client had owned the home for 15 years, dreaming of and planning for a kitchen renovation for every one of them. While she waited, she filled her barn with collections in anticipation of the day they would rebuild, storing vintage plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, cabinet hardware and antique tiles, among other things. "Our client has a big interest in all kinds of design and has a really good eye; the project was a wonderful collaboration." Between creating storage solutions, squeezing as much functionality out of each inch as possible, letting in natural light, creating outdoor rooms, planning around the client's beloved collections, this is one smart and dramatic transformation. Charming old homes come with their own host of maintenance issues, but they make up for it in appeal. This house had a lot of problems typical of an older home, including water in the basement; Smith and her client went to great lengths to preserve the antique home. "The client came to me to help her renovate the kitchen and gain more functional space, like laundry," Smith says. "The project snowballed from there."
Here is the back of the house, which will give you a good feeling for the plan. Here you can see the garage/mudroom with studio overhead on the left, the connecting piece of the house in the middle is the kitchen with the guest suite overhead; on the right is the living room with the master suite overhead (the part most prominently seen in the first image). The footprint of the house stayed very much the same; the biggest difference was the garage wing, which was torn down and rebuilt so that it could contain a one-car garage, a mudroom and office and a studio overhead. "The client lives outside a lot," Smith says. Thus, in the renovation, a major regrading of the land was in order, creating level areas for a series of outdoor rooms. This welcoming covered porch is off the garage. The door leads into the mudroom, and was intended for dog traffic. A new patio contains a new outdoor dining area and a stone walkway to other parts of the yard. This is the space between the single garage stall and the kitchen/dining room in the first volume, or form of the house. In a space approximately the same size as a single garage stall, Smith was able to fit a mudroom, dog shower, laundry room, powder room, pantry and hallway. "Because the owner has two big labs, we needed a sturdy, durable route to the back porch and yard for the dog traffic," Smith says. The floor is a multicolored slate that coordinates with the transferware tile composition in the dog shower.
The tiled area you see on the left is the dog shower. The client's collection of English transferware tiles was composed along with new tiles to adorn this area. "This was a labor of love," Smith says. The Moravian star pendant is from the client's collection, the smaller lights are LDLs. This is a perfect example of vintage and contemporary elements mixing together, as are the futuristic front-loading machines adjacent to the 100+-year-old transferware tiles. The mudroom is a great example of how hardworking the spaces in this house are, as it multitasks in so many ways. Because the client is also an avid gardener, there is a pot filler for watering cans in the dog shower. Overhead, the mahogany countertop can be extended over the dog shower, extending a surface for folding and sorting laundry. A cabinet over the machines offers more storage. Not pictured are a tiny office at the other end of this space and the pantry. There is also a powder room in this small area.
The next part of the house contains the kitchen/dining room on the first floor, and measures 16 feet wide by 20 feet deep. This is perhaps the most dramatic transformation in the home; you will not believe the "Before" shot, next. "We wanted to maximize storage without losing light, so we used very few upper cabinets," Smith says. "We also tried to create storage pieces that looked like furniture." The china cabinet on the left is this kind of piece, and displays more of the client's collections.
The kitchen before: It is really hard to believe that this is the same room. One can see why the homeowner was dreaming of a kitchen renovation for so long. The renovation began with the kitchen, and the kitchen began with this oversized salvaged sink, which had been waiting in the barn for years for its moment in the sun. "We laid out the kitchen and the windows around this huge sink; it was one of those fun constraints that winds up driving a design," Smith says. In addition to the new windows, a carefully planned scheme adds all kinds of lighting options from very bright to a soft glow. It includes a combination of vintage-style glass and brass pendants, small modern LBL lights and a contemporary fabric-covered drum pendant over the table. Another one of the client's collections included cabinet hardware. If you look closely around the kitchen, you'll see that there are different sets of knobs and pulls everywhere. These are fun small details that add big personality to the room and show just how long she was dreaming of this renovation.
The drum pendant fixture from Galbraith and Paul over the table helps add to the dining room feel in this multipurpose room. "This fixture adds beautiful glowing color, texture and introduces a contemporary shape," Smith says. Range: Viking
This is one of the hardest working staircases in America. It leads up to a studio over the garage as well as a guest suite over the kitchen. The bookshelf contains the client's cookbook collection and a small television; the cabinet contains glassware and to the left of it (not seen) is another niche that contains a microwave. The stair's handrail is made from a mast from the client's childhood sailboat; they left the rigging on it. That tool over the barware cabinet is an old timber measurer, which serves as sculptural found object, as does the snowshoe hung in the stairwell. "The whole house is a library," Smith says. "Our client is extremely organized, with each room containing different genres of books. She has just as many design books as we have in our office."
This section contains the living room on the first floor and the master suite above, as well as a staircase connecting the two. "The client had work done on the living room upon moving in, including adding all of the bookshelves, so all that was really required here was refinishing the floors, changing the paint palette and adding lighting to illuminate the books and art," Smith says. This lighting system is composed of monopoint track fixtures.
Slanted walls and dormers made for an already-cozy master bedroom, which received a light makeover. Windows were repaired and walls were repainted, while storage was enhanced with a reconfigured closet and new built-in drawers and shelves contained within a knee wall (not shown; opposite the bed). Knee walls are common on the second floor of Capes. Instead of having the of the room extend all the way to where the roofline meets the floor, they cut off this space at about three to four feet high. "There are little triangles behind knee walls that can be used for shelves or drawers," Smith says.
This is the studio across from the guest room; it sits atop the mudroom/garage portion of the house. The client's hobby is making custom cards, and this studio full of storage and light is a wonderful workspace. The skylights let in natural light, and also open to let in the fresh air. More vintage plumbing fixtures were used here; the shallow sink on the right is made of soapstone and Smith designed a custom base for it. In addition, an antique ribbon rack holds the client's ribbon collection. In contrast to that, George Nelson's midcentury modern pendant lights and a modern fan hang overhead. "This was a really fun project; it's so much fun to collaborate, to have clients who have ideas and help them bring their visions to light," Smith says. "This client had really lovely taste and has become a good friend."