Idea Home: At first look, the house didn't exactly sell itself—107 years old, 2,000 usable square feet (divided into two apartments), an unfinished basement and a tiny city lot. But Midwest Living®, and our young urban professional homeowners, saw a chance to create a greener, better-than-the-original, family home. The following slides show how we transformed this home's existing footprint into 2,900 usable square feet with four bedrooms, three and a half baths and a large, standout kitchen.
Your home: Use our lessons to help you reimagine the house you have as the home you've always wanted.
Idea Home: We modernized the original look of this home by accenting front peaks with shingles in a darker green, beefing up window trim and adding decorative grilles over new Jeld-Wen Windows. To reduce upkeep, the home now wears James Hardie fiber-cement lap siding and trim that has the color baked on. Want to see what the house used to look like? Click on "Idea Home: Before the Remodel" below.
Your home: Be a good neighbor; design your exterior to harmonize with the architecture of homes around it. But also consider modern improvements such as no- or low-maintenance siding, plus energy-efficient windows and new insulation.
Jeld-Wen Windows 
Schlage hardware 
Idea Home: The homeowners wanted to open up the first floor to create a single, flexible space. Removing an unneeded stairway between the former living/dining room and kitchen opened up the home's visual proportions and provided more space for socializing with friends and family. Light walls and bright windows create a spacious feel, while dark floors provide contrast and visual continuity. (See the floor plans, beginning on slide 21; you can also download the floor plans at the link below.)
Your home: Get creative with limited space. If you have a long, narrow area, plan traffic flow to one side so the other side can contain key "rooms." Furniture and rug placement can delineate living spaces. A focal point, such as the stone fireplace we installed, helps anchor a long area.
Armstrong Flooring 
Idea Home: A big kitchen for entertaining friends and family was the homeowners' No. 1 priority. To enlarge the kitchen, we removed one wall and a divisive ceiling soffit, and rearranged cabinets and fixtures. The result: a functional cooking and entertaining area that defines the main level.
Your home: Reimagine a kitchen with a view or more counter space. Improved traffic flow. Better function. Room for an island. Connected to other living spaces. Increased storage. More stylish with new finishes.
KraftMaid Cabinetry 
Idea Home: A striking wall-to-wall glass tile treatment by Mandala, asymmetrical upper cabinet placement and a tall stainless-steel backsplash/range hood combine to act as the kitchen's eye-catching centerpiece. The 48-inch KitchenAid professional-style gas range, microwave and nearby warming drawer help with food prep for entertaining.
Your home: Combine practicality with beauty in a redesigned kitchen. Open your kitchen to adjacent rooms, but keep traffic flow out of the cooking area. Consider multiple work zones. Seating areas should offer flexibility for family and friends; in smaller areas, counter stools with low backs and thin, tubular bases take up little actual or visual space.
Mandala Tile 
Idea Home: The new front foyer is a generous, welcoming space with an open staircase and expansive views to the living areas. We set it apart architecturally with a dividing ceiling soffit as a transition to the living room. Once old walls came down, we found space to tuck a coat closet in the stairway turn and add custom ledges that go up the staircase. A Design Within Reach acrylic "Ghost" chair offers extra seating but virtually vanishes in the room.
Your home: Rethink your entry. Does it welcome you home? Can you see into adjacent rooms? Is it a clearly defined transition space? Is there a nearby closet? Is there glass in or around the door to let in daylight? Although small, your foyer makes the important first interior impression of your home.
Idea Home: We planned a private main-floor study to give a dedicated space for bill-paying or listening to music. Just 8 feet wide, our retreat has a built-in bank of office-specific cabinetry and plenty of space for an Oly Studio desk and guest chair. French doors allow views of adjoining rooms but shut out noise.
Your home: Pay just as much attention to smaller, secondary rooms in the house—in terms of placement, function, beauty and impact—as to the rest of the home.
Oly Studio 
Idea Home: A pocket door, instead of a standard swing, conserved square footage, allowing us to carve out space for a main-level powder room adjacent to the study.
Your home: Details matter. Even a small space looks sophisticated with touches such as our bath's textured metallic Seabrook wallpaper and sophisticated glass Kohler sink and wood vanity.
Kohler Plumbing 
Seabrook Wallpaper 
Idea Home: We revised the layout of the master bedroom to create a space that is comfortable, relaxing and pampering. By removing an awkwardly placed single window and replacing it with two symmetrically separated taller versions, we could center a king-size bed between the windows. A sitting area emerged from the square footage of a former enclosed but unheated porch. And the former fire escape, no longer needed for a single-family home, could be transformed into an outdoor balcony.
Your home: Rearrange the space you have. Do you really need or use three, four (or more) bedrooms? Could one become extra master bedroom or bath space? Do you have an attic that can become a master suite? Are there closets or hallways that can be turned into bed or bath square footage? Is window placement awkward for furniture arranging? Would your daily routine benefit from a walk-in closet or a larger bath? If so, maybe a master suite remodel is right for you.
Harden Furniture 
Idea Home: In the master bedroom and sitting area, Roman shades by Levolor have room-darkening fabric. In other rooms, we used wood blinds and shade treatments that can open from the top or the bottom for privacy control. In the bathrooms, frosted glass made sense.
Your home: Uncovered windows visually expand small spaces, but night demands more coverage, especially in the city, where older houses are close together. Flexible window treatments work best.
Idea Home: The homeowners made a list of must-haves for their new master bath, but as they fine-tuned floor plans, they realized there wasn't room for both a shower and a bathtub without giving up the separated double vanity areas and roomy shower that they really wanted. The compromise: We built a large, luxurious shower here, and installed a whirlpool tub in the upstairs guest bathroom.
Your home: Reconsider your budget. One of the most expensive parts of a remodel can be moving plumbing. Weigh necessities. Can you keep existing fixtures or faucets where they are? Can you incorporate existing tile? Do you shower more than bathe, or vice versa? Would a second sink solve traffic problems? Is a separate water closet a priority?
Idea Home: The master bath has a multitude of cabinets, drawers, pullouts and cubbies from KraftMaid. Deep countertop vessel sinks from Kohler and a mix of white, iridescent and clear glass tiles from Oceanside Glasstile lighten up the deep coffee-color cabinets.
Your home: Reduce bathroom clutter by creating two individual vanity areas. Solve storage dilemmas with good cabinet design. In our house, for instance, we couldn't find space for a linen cabinet upstairs, so we put in a tall bathroom cabinet (reflected in mirror) that serves as a linen closet.
Kohler Plumbing 
KraftMaid Cabinetry 
Oceanside Glasstile 
Idea Home: Most old homes have second-floor challenges like the pitched and low ceiling in this bedroom. To maximize usable floor space, we tucked a low platform bed from Charles P. Rogers under the slant. A wall-hung shelf acts as a nightstand. All through the home we chose tiny side tables to avoid "filling up" rooms.
Your home: Choose low-to-the-ground furniture profiles to mitigate the impact of low ceilings. Hang art low and place other pieces on the floor to create the illusion of higher ceilings. Limit colors to one or two, enhancing the feeling of space in a room.
Charles P. Rogers 
Idea Home: In the former front bedroom, we did away with an unneeded walk-in closet and found room for a smaller closet over the stairwell. This almost doubled the room's square footage, to create a guest bedroom with a comfy sitting area. We also eliminated a small window under the eaves for better bed placement and exterior symmetry.
Your home: Revive rooms that just need a little help to look and function better. Repurposing a closet's square footage, changing the location of a window or doorway, or just rethinking furniture arrangements can make a startling difference in a room -- without a lot of cash investment.
Idea Home: The third second-floor bedroom, comfortably outfitted for snuggling up with a book, serves as a "place of her own" for the homeowner, but offers design flexibility as a future nursery. The second bath upstairs (next slide) will accommodate guests, but it also has the whirlpool tub the homeowners wanted.
Your home: Focus on what you would like now, but adapt your furniture choices, placement and decor as your family and needs change.
Idea Home: The guest bath upstairs has a whirlpool tub plus stylish KraftMaid cabinets, a marble countertop and a Kohler sink.
Your home: Even if you're not ready for a full bathroom re-do, some simple changes can bring a new vibe to your bath. Consider a fresh coat of paint (our bathroom has Benjamin Moore #AF-125 Morrel), new framed prints or a wood-framed mirror.
Kohler Plumbing 
KraftMaid Cabinetry 
Benjamin Moore 
Idea Home: We added 900 usable square feet to the home by finishing the raw basement. We found space for a family/TV room, a fourth bedroom/hobby room and a third full bath, not to mention understairs storage, a laundry room and a back entry hall big enough to stow the homeowners' bikes.
Your home: Rediscover unused square footage. Think creatively to solve minor basement issues like support posts, small windows and utility meters. After all, the net investment for so much useful space is a relative bargain.
Idea Home: The homeowners initially were leery of a basement remodel because they thought the finished space would be cold and dreary. We altered that perception with warm Benjamin Moore paint colors (Affinity #AF-295 Pomegranate and Classic Color #1060 Blanched Almond). To coordinate, we revived a bargain plastic mirror with Colonial Red color from Rust-Oleum's new Painters Touch Ultra Cover 2x spray paint.
Your home: Don't be afraid to try new, rich colors to brighten a basement. Make basement ceilings feel taller by hanging your framed pieces relatively low. Camouflage piping with cabinets such as the ones pictured, and enjoy the extra storage you'll get, too.
Benjamin Moore 
Idea Home: In addition to its new James Hardie fiber-cement lap siding, our home has TimberTech PVC stairs, railings, porches and privacy fencing that won't need maintenance or painting.
Your home: No- or low-maintenance improvements give you time to enjoy your outside space.
TimberTech Decking 
Idea Home: Mariani Landscaping designed a backyard that includes four pear trees for privacy from adjacent apartment buildings, along with an assortment of colorful-foliage perennials that take the place of annual flowers. Belgard pavers form a central patio, allowing water to drain into the ground and reduce runoff. Gloster outdoor furniture provides plenty of stylish seating for gatherings.
Your home: Redefine outdoor living spaces. Whether you host parties, want a private getaway, or love to putter in a vegetable garden, replotting yard space can make your home feel twice as big.
Belgard Pavers 
Gloster Furniture 
Mariani Landscaping 
We redesigned two apartments back into a single-family home better than it was originally. Within the confines of a narrow lot and footprint, we maximized space and redefined indoor and outdoor areas into a functional, contemporary living plan.
Before we started renovations, the main floor had a staircase isolating the kitchen from the dining/living room, a walk-in closet that narrowed the entry and a bedroom that we would no longer need on this floor.
To see all the before-and-after floor plans on a single page, click on "Download the floor plans" below. You'll need free Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view the page.
We removed the unneeded stairway between the dining/living room and the kitchen. We also reconfigured the space on the right to have a more spacious entry, a study, a bath and a pantry rather than the former small entry, walk-in closet, bedroom and full bath.
Before we remodeled, the upper level had two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, porch and bath.
Our new design created a master bedroom and sitting area where the kitchen and porch had been, a bedroom in the former living room, and a front bedroom that widened to include a former walk-in closet.
The basement was unfinished, opening up possibilities for a significant expansion of living space.
The basement level became a family room, bedroom, bath and laundry area.
Builder Jim Vaughn offers some valuable tips.
-- Be flexible. Structural repairs and on-site revisions will invariably occur once demolition starts. Budget at least a 20-percent contingency for unavoidable problems. We found both insect and water damage under the original asbestos siding.
-- Choose experience. A contractor familiar with the type of project you are undertaking is more likely to give a realistic time frame and budget.
-- Communicate. Choose a contractor who shows diligence in responding to you from day one. If it's hard communicating at the start, imagine how hard it will be during the construction process. Then plan time for almost daily contact to manage the sheer volume of decisions that will pop up.
-- Design creatively. Work with an experienced architect to find the inherent assets of your home, and use them to save money and maximize the final result. Anticipate future needs to validate investment.
-- Get away. If possible, live off-site during construction. Remodeling can be difficult. No use adding stress.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2009.)