This is a project that I’ve worked on for almost two years — a major renovation of a 6-storey Tudor style house built in the 1920’s. When my clients bought this house, about a half of it was uninhabitable, with unused storage rooms, 1970’s fake wood paneling and broken windows. The house had a good “bone structure” but was very poorly planned and unattended to for many years. My clients wanted to make their home bright and airy, and to take advantage of the fantastic views overlooking the town from a cliff-side.
We came up with a game plan where we would concentrate on completing the upper three floors (what you see in the pictures below, a view from the street) first so the family could move in, then isolate the bottom levels and build those out. First, the new central A/C system had to be put in, which became a challenge because all exterior walls and the majority of interior partitions are hollow cement block. Normally, you snake the A/C ducts in the cavities of the walls and ceilings, but here we couldn’t do it everywhere, only in select locations where the interior partitions were wood framing. Everywhere else the contractors had to break their way through concrete. Luckily for us, almost every level has its own roof, and we used those attic spaces for all the ducts, wiring and equipment.
It was peculiar that there was no outside access from the street level down to the backyard. You could only go through the house. So, after sliding down the cliff-side a couple of times, we decided we needed a stair. Realizing the potential cost of such stair that would drop almost 50 feet, my clients felt it would add so much to the house, both functionally and aesthetically, and decided to go ahead with the stair. Now it looks like it has always been there, thanks to the masons’ craftsmanship. A pond at the bottom of the stair was cleaned up and a self-containing waterfall feature was added, controllable with a remote.
When I first saw the house I immediately imagined it being brought back to its Tudor beauty that for some reason did not exist anymore. Interior detailing was Federal if anything, very minimal and mostly painted white. The most beautiful feature of the first floor was the pointed arch windows with leaded glass, which we kept and restored. A matching pointed arch window was installed in the new vestibule.
The very first room in the house, the Parlor, had us stumped for a while. The clients and I went back and forth discussing what to do with this room. Too big for a foyer, too close to the entrance to be a proper family room, it was just excruciating! Finally, we decided to keep its original function and just accept the fact that no one will ever sit in this room. We weren’t entirely correct in our dim prognosis. Once the vestibule was built, and this room became much warmer, its comfy swivel chairs got quite a bit of use. We also made the opening from this room to the hallway a lot wider, exposing the main staircase and the door to the Juliette balcony in the back.
The woodwork in this room started out being a dark wood stain, to keep within the Tudor style, but the clients decided later on that it was too dark for them, so everything was painted over and given a glaze finish. This simple fix made the room look so much brighter and more inviting!
The room directly opposite the Parlor was a no-brainer. Close to the Kitchen, to the entrance, somewhat private yet easy to get to, became a Family Room. My clients decided to follow their family lifestyle and not put in a formal dining room. We did end up creating a semi-formal dining area as part of the bigger room downstairs but on the main floor we decided not to waste space on an unnecessary function.
The Kitchen that opens up onto a beautiful terrace overlooking the landscape beyond was severely lacking in functionality. A long counter, a skewed location of the range and no logical place to sit down and eat, all made it a very awkward space. We decided to close up one of the openings into the kitchen, which would expand the wall space to allow for more counter and cabinets, and also, would let us add a Powder Room on the main level. We then added a new stained wood island, a breakfast area with a built-in bench, and reconfigured the existing cabinets, supplementing with new ones, to create a better functioning layout. All cabinets were then finished with a light-brown glaze.
If you walk down half a flight, you will end up in the grandest room in the house — the Great Room (we weren’t sure what to call it so it ended up with this nickname). Boasting 16’ tall ceilings, a Juliette balcony, a fireplace and a 12’x12’ assembly of leaded glass windows, this space was severely lacking in detail. We added new custom-made woodwork, new decorative wood beams and a beautiful gray faux suede finish. The furniture layout changed several times. First, I designed it to look like the picture below. Then, the clients decided to move the dining table into the new room converted from a former open terrace. After that, there were a couple more reconfigurations and finally, the room went back to its original layout.
The fireplace is the only one in the house not converted to gas logs, but it has a gas pipe in it that we decided to put in just in case.
This is the former open terrace intended at some point for a Dining Room but later becoming a Smoking Room for the guests having a party in the Great Room. This proved to be a great idea since two of the room’s walls are windows and a French door onto a small balcony, which makes it very easy to air out.
On this same level there were empty grubby-looking storage rooms. By modifying the floor levels we created a very large room also adjacent to the Great Room, which we’ve made a Game Room for the kids. The clients wanted this room to appeal to teenagers and to slightly younger kids alike. They wanted a table tennis or a pool table, a full-blown entertainment/music center with TV and computer game consoles and a “bar” for the older kids. No alcohol of course!
It was a stroke of genius when I found this graffiti image on one of the royalty-free picture sites. The clients loved it, and we had it printed at a custom shop, on wallcovering type vinyl. This image ended up really pulling the room together and suggesting a ceiling light fixture, which took a while to find. The wall behind the sofa is covered with textured stone tiles, which makes the long wall interesting but doesn’t add a whole lot of color not to battle with the graffiti wallpaper.
If you keep going down, on the lowest level you will find a SPA complete with a hot tub, a sauna, a full-featured shower and a small break room converted from a former Laundry. This space had very tall ceilings and we were able to sink the hot tub into a platform to make it feel more like a SPA hot tub. The stair leading up to the platform is removable, on casters, to provide access to the tub’s motor.
This space also has access to the outside, to the lower terrace and the backyard. The SPA is not entirely finished yet, it’s still waiting for a potential faux-finishing, glazing and maybe even a fresco.
The floors on this entire level are heated. The floor tiles in the wet SPA areas are Sicis glass mosaic with a border of Green Onyx. The shower has a distinct feature besides all the usual body jets, rain shower head, etc. — a cold-water drenching shower head with a chain-pull. This feature was put in to complete a Russian-style sauna experience: one is supposed to drench oneself with ice-cold water after exiting a sauna. I found this piece in a line of products of a company that makes chemical lab and factory safety showers.
Because the house has several split levels, we were able to dedicate a separate level to the Master Suite. We decided to eliminate an elevator stop on this floor and instead, make a spacious Master Bath. The elevator door used to be where the shower stall is now. The clients wanted warm finishes in the Master Bath, so we opted for Honey Onyx with black Marble accents. To help break up the monochromatic look (if Honey Onyx can be referred to as monochromatic!) I played with many different shapes and sizes of tiles: diamonds, octagons, mosaics and larger square tiles.
The Master Bedroom was converted from a former Family Room. We were able to raise the ceiling, which helped bring the proportions of the room closer together. The furniture in this room is Robert Allen, the draperies are custom-made with Robert Allen fabrics.
There are two boys in the family, who were 13 and 8 when we started out with this project. The eldest chose to live up in the attic level, where we created a new terrace right outside his bedroom.
The colors of the Attic rooms are definitely more “grown-up” than the ones of the youngest boy’s suite. He likes bright colors, and lots of light. Because his room has so many windows, providing enough storage was a challenge, so we decided to follow the same suit as the Attic bedroom.
For the Bathroom, we decided to go with opaque glass tiles in white and accent them with bright red and blue glass mosaics. The clients requested that all tubs be extra deep, so I designed this assembly for both Kids’ bathrooms where a tub surround continues to become a vanity top.
This project turned out to be one of the most emotionally rewarding I’ve done over the years. The house has abandoned its dungeon-like look and feel and became cozy, warm and inviting.