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Me vs. the House

How My Old House Wins (Almost) Every Time: Part 1

When we went house-hunting back at the turn of the Millenium (remember those days?) our budget kept steering us toward that one “end unit at Casagmo” that always popped up on the MLS search (you FFC house hunters know what I am talking about). Condo-living was not in the cards however. I needed a house with personality. What I didn’t bargain for was a house with the personality of a cranky old man. 

We didn’t end up with any of the Col. Washington Slept Here type homes that dot the area, but we did end up with a charming farm-style house built by Swedish immigrants who worked down at the local wire mill at the turn of the century-before-last.  Charm-filled it is, but it also lacks a lot of things. Space for instance. A fireplace. A realtor I know calls it an “emotional house” meaning people have an emotional reaction to its charm.  I certainly did.  It also means that you don’t notice the lack of closets until after all the papers are signed. I did notice the wavy-glass windows, the old panel doors, the original wood trim, the wrap-around porch and the tremendous view. On the day I visited, you could hear the train whistle blowing faintly in the valley below.  Sold. 

The floor plan is small but those Swedes knew what they were doing. Circulation is minimal and you are always near a window. These factors result in a really nice flow between rooms and great light—things I often notice are lacking when I venture out to look at other, larger homes I might dream of purchasing.

I’m an architect, though, so I ought to be able to think creatively about what we have, right? I have found that when I try to push this house, however, it usually pushes back. 

Take the Kitchen with Six Doors. 

That’s right. Six. The front door enters onto the kitchen. This was not always the case as the house was built before the road. The “front” door is on the wrap-around porch side and faces the beautiful view. The road came later and  with it, the garage, and now everyone enters at the old “back” door. Going around, next is the door to the pantry, the cased opening to the dining room, the opening to the stair hall and front foyer, then the door to the basement and last the door to the tail end of the porch. The room itself is barley 12x12 so the number of doors eats immensely into the amount of counter space.  Each door serves a purpose, however, and we were loathe to get rid of any of them. 

ellen malom before

I wasn’t giving up. When it came time to renovate I managed to eke out as much counter space as possible with a few tricks. I parked the fridge in a corner and chose a free-standing range to be placed on a wall near the front door (this also gave me enough room for a 6-burner stove—joy!). I also had my contractor raise the sill of the one window in the room high enough to run the counter past it, which also enabled the sink to go underneath where it should be. I also had him construct a narrower counter and shelves that ran over the enormous radiator that heated the room.  Where before I had perhaps 24” of free counter space, now I had almost 7 feet!  I also gained 2 more feet on the opposite side when I moved the stove. Add to that the narrowest kitchen island cart known to man and we have a reasonably functional kitchen. 

Now if I could just figure out how to make room for a fireplace.

Ellen MalmonEllen Malmon AIA is an architect who writes and draws.

To contact Ellen visit her website: www.ellenmalmon.com or call 203.417.0855