House Tour: Split the Difference
A St. Louis couple perfects the art of compromise with a house that’s classic on the front, modern on the back, and a creative balance of everything else on the inside.
With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Patrick Knobloch compares his newly remodeled 1921 home to a mullet: business in the front, party in the back. It's easy to laugh now, from a perch by the firepit with the new family room's windows glowing-but finding a solution to the very real challenge of modernizing a small historical property in a neighborhood with strict architectural covenants was no joke.
That Patrick and his wife, Lauren, would even purchase a quaint Dutch Colonial was a bit of a surprise. He is a licensed architect with a taste for refined minimalism. She heads a small branding and design firm and favors clean, midcentury modern pieces (with a little flea market flair thrown in). But they wanted to buy in the inner-ring St. Louis suburb where they already lived. "We had a condo in the heart of downtown Kirkwood and loved the area so much for the pedestrian-friendly amenities," Patrick says. "Even though this house was only 1,100 square feet, it was our only way into the neighborhood."
At first glance, you might think this is a before-and-after pairing. But look again: It's the facade and new rear addition of the same house.
They lived in the small house for seven years (and had a daughter, Jacquelyn) before starting the renovation. That whole time, they were puzzling about how to pull it off and create more space to gather with family and friends. The solution they presented to architectural review boards: Stretch the home backward like an accordion, maintaining its distinct silhouette, known as a gambrel roof. The front rooms would stay largely untouched, but the galley kitchen where the home once stopped would now be the passage to an airy den with a high ceiling, open staircase to the second floor and sliding doors to a new deck. The rear facade is a modern interpretation of the original architecture, with clean lines, dark trim and exposed wood. As you walk through the home, the transition is seamless: Storybook charm eases into streamlined forms; intimacy into expansiveness; wood floors into concrete ones; mullioned windows into those without.
A sense of thoughtful harmony defines the interior, too, where old meets new, clean meets collected, and budget meets luxe. Take the living room bookcase: A partner in a boutique architectural firm called Mademan Design, Patrick is a master of the Ikea hack. He combined five Billy bookshelves, wrapped them in walnut and floated the whole unit on the wall. Like a contemporary diorama, the cubbies house collected treasures, books, a TV and even a portable fireplace. The solution preserves the front room's original architecture, while foreshadowing the more modern style of the addition. "Patrick likes to say he builds beautiful forms for me to fill with tchotchkes," Lauren wisecracks, pointing to a vintage globe.
They also find common ground in their new backyard, where Jac plays in a tree house she designed with her dad, and the family recently hosted a yoga workshop for her class on the sprawling back deck. You'd never think there'd be room for a party like that if you walked by on the sidewalk-which was exactly the idea.
Clean/Busy The way Patrick puts it, Lauren adds softness and character to his clean lines. She displays fun eye candy on every sleek surface, yet nothing feels overstuffed. The key is moderation. In the powder room, bloomy wallpaper and charming hex tile deliver a punch of personality, but the mod floating sink echoes the tidy, linear cabinetry and shelves elsewhere in the home.
Old/New Patrick and Lauren chose to preserve the original architecture of the front rooms, but they gave everything a contemporary wash with bright white paint, airy light fixtures and midcentury-esque furniture. That style allows the historical rooms to dialogue with the modern addition, where Patrick capitalized on sustainable design features. Natural light pours through glass doors and skylights. Concrete floors keep the space cool in summer, and during winter, are warmed by hydronic radiant heating, minimizing the demand for forced air. The skylights also act as passive ventilation to cut back on AC: "We can open the skylights to suck warm air up and out of the house," Patrick says.
High/Low Patrick and Lauren definitely splurged in some areas of the home: His firm designed the family room's custom steel-and-red oak staircase, and the bathroom sinks are luxurious marble-topped walnut. But the Scandi style (and affordable prices) of Ikea's cabinetry and shelves appeals to Patrick's minimalism. He uses them as the base for custom pieces (like the walnut-topped family room buffet), or mixes them in rooms with higher-end materials. In the kitchen, for example, inexpensive Ikea wardrobe doors on the pantry face custom cabinetry and marble countertops.
Adult/Youthful In the new second-floor master suite, wall-mounted doors conceal closets on each side of the bed. In the bath, matte black fixtures and slate floors give the room a little bite, but walnut accents and a dandelion print by Iowa artist Molly Wood soften the look.
For all the care they've taken over the home's cohesive look, Lauren and Patrick wanted Jac's space to reflect her personality. The textiles are more lively, the window is trimmed with a playful starry garland and Jac voted for aqua walls. She also helped her dad design the weathered-cedar tree house in back. Turns out the first-grader is awfully comfortable with a power drill, Lauren says.
Playful touches like a starry garland highlight Jac's bedroom.
Indoor/Outdoor Two pairs of sliding doors invite movement and interaction between the new family room and the revamped backyard. Built-ins flank either side of the Brazilian wood deck: One is a planter; the other holds the grill. "When we have people over, the steps become informal seating where friends can perch to watch the kids play," Patrick says. He brought the outdoors in on the tree house, too, swapping an enclosed roof for an open steel frame that lets in light and makes the play space feel integrated with the house and deck. "The best view in the tree house is straight up," he says.