INTERVIEW WITH CLAIRE PAQUIN, CLEAN DESIGN
What is the back story on this house? The clients are a young family with two young daughters, and they had been living in this home for a few years and wanted to modernize it. It was very dated, tired and kind of sad-looking. It was stucco with shutters and a little roof over the front door, and it had no street presence. It’s a foursquare, and the kitchen and foyer were in the two smallest squares, and the living room and dining room were in the two larger squares. The area off the kitchen was like a rabbit warren, with a closet, pantry and a full bath, with a very odd shape. The clients are really a fun, young family, and I just didn’t see them living with this layout.
What was your vision for updating it? I really advocated for taking down the entire load-bearing wall between the living room and dining room and switching the layout around. I wanted to keep the living room where it was (and where it currently is), but I wanted to move the kitchen to where the dining room was because that area is much bigger and brighter. I then wanted to put an eating area, pantry and powder room where the old kitchen was.
What did the clients think of this plan? They were worried about taking down the wall and losing the fireplace in favor of the open concept. But I think they realized that given the way they live, and the fact that they’re casual, easy-going people, they didn’t want the layout chopped up. The other thing the clients really prioritized was natural light—they wanted as many windows and as much light as possible. I think once they saw how much light would pass through the house, that pushed them over the edge to do it.
Did you work with any design professionals to make these changes? We worked with a builder and a cabinetmaker, and in the end, I think we struck a nice balance between maintaining the integrity of the home while modernizing it for a young family. We didn’t expand the footprint of the first floor, and we worked within the confines of the historical structure; we just updated it for today’s living.
After removing the wall and changing the layout, how else did you maximize the amount of natural light? We put in a complete bank of windows in the new kitchen. You’ll notice there’s no upper cabinetry; it’s all windows. I desperately wanted the sashes to be black—I feel you can see the view out of black windows better than white ones. The husband was initially against it, but now they love it; I think it makes the space pop. It’s a very simple kitchen with nothing really pizzazz-y about it except for those black windows. They’re stunning. The flooring was a big debate as well, but given their propensity for natural light, we went with a natural white oak throughout the house.
Any layout changes upstairs? We put an addition on the second floor—we bumped it out and moved the master bedroom into this new space. This addition also changed the roofline over the powder room and kitchen area, and we were able to add more windows in the back. Before, there was only one bathroom upstairs in the hallway, so we created a proper master suite with a decent-sized bedroom, a walk-in closet and a really nice bath—that’s a huge improvement in the house. The kids’ bathroom was where the new master bedroom is now, so we relocated it. By removing the living room fireplace, we gained space on the second floor as well.
Did you also revamp the lower level? There was originally just a laundry and two rec rooms down there. We created two good-sized rec rooms, a laundry, a mudroom and a full bath. We enclosed an exterior storage area and turned that into the bath, reconfigured the layout of the laundry, put in an entryway and made a really nice mudroom. We also put a stone veneer on the outside.
The home’s exterior received quite a facelift. The interesting thing was that there were originally no plans to change it. After I started the project, I thought, “The wife is really modern and wants things simple and clean, and this exterior is just terrible.” So I suggested we re-clad the exterior and change it from a stucco home to a modern farmhouse. It was more money, but I think it was some of the best-spent money. We got rid of the shutters, beefed up the casing on the exterior windows and added modern lighting, a fresh, electric-blue front door and a copper roof over the front door and the porch. That porch was an enclosed three-season room, and it felt like an eyesore. We opened it up and did cable railings, and it feels so much better. Looking at the exterior before and after, it’s a huge difference. It really makes me happy because it reflects the wife’s personality, and that bright pop of neon blue is so her.
What made the biggest difference in this renovation? Taking down the living room wall and moving the kitchen. We could have kept the kitchen where it was and made it beautiful, but it would have been tiny and awkward. Moving it was the single most important thing we did.
What was your favorite part of this project? I love the exterior, and I didn’t think that was going to happen. Now, the home makes sense, and it’s cohesive. You see the outside and think, “I know what I’m going to get inside.” What was so great about this renovation is that this is small living, but it’s really well-designed small living. None of the rooms are huge, but the important ones are big—the kitchen and living area—and the master bedroom is broken up into the important zones of sleeping, closet and storage, and bathroom. This house has everything the clients need, but it’s compact in a really nice way.
Interior designer: Clean Design, Scarsdale; 914-725-0995; cleandesignpartners.com
General contractor: Bill Mezzano, Mezzano’s Shoreline Construction, North Haven; 203-214-9886; mezzanosshorelineconstructionllc.com
Millwork: Henry Agudelo Architectural Woodworking; 914-804-1920