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Think Outside the Box: 3 Suburban Remodels, from Ranch House to McMansion

7/28/2011 4:25:33 PM

Tags: ranch remodel, McMansion remodel, suburban housing remodels, home renovation, green home remodels, green ranch remodel, how to green a McMansion, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailWhen my former husband and I renovated our 1955 ranch house, which looked exactly like all the other houses in our block and in our neighborhood, we discovered the beauty of its plain-Jane bones. That simple box can serve as the basis for all sorts of design iterations, as these three renovations featured in Natural Home & Garden so beautifully demonstrate. It’s hard to believe that all three of these houses began as nondescript housing for the masses, but it proves that, with a commitment to thinking outside the box, anything is possible!


Ranch House Revival 

Northern California 

 california exterior 

When Suzanne Jones and Rob Elia bought this 1970 ranch house, it had plywood siding, single-pane plate-glass windows with rotted-out frames, shag carpet, sheet vinyl, poor insulation and original appliances. Cate Leger and Karl Wanaselja of Leger Wanaselja Architecture, a Berkeley firm that specializes in ecological design, used an energy-modeling program to help design the environmentally friendly remodel. The crew pulled nails from the framing lumber they tore down so they could reuse it. The decking, trellis and most of the wood—about 5,000 board feet—were salvaged or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified. Siding was salvaged from a nearby naval base, flooring from a Los Angeles post office and a pathway made of brick from the original chimney. “Suzanne even found a plumber willing to work with salvaged plumbing,” Wanaselja says. “Nobody does that!”  Photo by Barbara Bourne 

california kitchen ranch revival 

Two massive, fallen oak trees on the property were used as support columns in the kitchen, living and dining rooms; the milled wood became the kitchen-island countertop and bar, breakfast nook and benches, stair treads, and even closet shelves. “It’s a beautiful way of tying project to place,” Leger says. Photo by Barbara Bourne 

california ranch living room 

 In a nod to the home’s history, Suzanne and Rob preserved the original stone centerpiece, now the living room’s focus. Photo by Barbara Bourne  

“Standing Tall” 

Seattle, Washington 

seattle remodel exterior 

Architect David Vandervort has lived in Seattle’s historic Magnolia neighborhood for 22 years, and he’s watched with some trepidation as massive homes have gone up on lots where much smaller houses once stood, shifting the neighborhood’s character and scale. So when the generic post-war house next door went on the market, Vandervort saw an opportunity to showcase sustainable design and help preserve his neighborhood’s integrity. Vandervort took the home down to its concrete foundation and main floor joists, letting a few of the original walls stand and recycling much of the wood back into the new construction. He added a wing with a living room and family room, a master bedroom suite, and a stair tower that pulls in light and ventilates the home. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

seattle remodel living room 

In the living room high clerestory windows bring the low, flat Seattle light deep into the house while protecting the residents’ privacy. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

seattle remodel kitchen 

Vandervort opened up the kitchen and kept a sense of spaciousness by installing open shelving instead of cabinets. The home is partially powered by photovoltaic panels. Photo by Michael Shopenn 

“Greening the McMansion” 

Boulder, Colorado 

 stephanie mcmansion exterior 

Stephanie Bordes bought her home in Boulder, Colorado, because of its location. The backyard opened directly onto city-owned open space and nestled against foothills that rise above the home. Unfortunately, the house—squashed in between neighbors, with imposing but unnecessary pillars and odd angles—wasn’t quite as spectacular. She asked architect Chuck Koshi and interior designers Carolyn Baker and Kristina Baker de Atucha to turn it from suburban nightmare into a “natural, peaceful, serene, happy setting” for her and her son. Photo by Joe Coca 

stephanie mcmansion living room 

Wherever possible, carpet, melamine, painted surfaces and ornamental dreck were replaced with natural wood. In the study, local stone was used to rework the fireplace. Simple alder bookshelves and a terra-cotta tile floor replaced the cold gray surfaces, making it more inviting. “I wanted to make use of raw colors from nature that are a bit more muted,” Stephanie explains. Photo by Joe Coca 

 stephanie mcmansion kitchen  

The home’s overall look is minimalist, with nothing included that doesn’t have a purpose. Stephanie incorporated the work of local tile masters, fabric artists, woodworkers, fine furniture makers and lighting designers into the once-generic home. High-efficiency, low-water appliances supplanted older models, and all the walls and surfaces were redone with low-toxicity, water-based finishes. Photo by Joe Coca  

stephanie mcmansion door 

An intricately carved door from the Dogon in Mali was bolted to a sturdy, handcrafted door to Stephanie’s bedroom. (Neat idea--if Stephanie ever leaves this home, she can take the door with her.) Photo by Joe Coca 

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