Room to Grow
Sitting in her dining room, Becky says she had heard of HGTV’s Love It or List It but didn’t realize she was living it until after she and her husband looked for a new home, couldn’t find what they wanted and decided to keep their four sloping acres and completely refashion the home at its center.
“We could buy a lot, but then we wouldn’t have any money to buy a house,” she says. “That’s when we seriously considered remodeling. I never expected I would get my dream home.”
Today, Becky says she and her husband, Kyle, have a family home in Silver Spring Township that is “forever.” Their 9-month-old daughter, Gemma, was born a month before they moved back in and is now crawling around the rebuilt home. Their 2-year-old son, Atlas, watches for deer in the yard that seems bigger than most school playgrounds.
This is the story of a sweet Cape Cod on an amazing lot, transformed by architect Allison Ong Shreffler into a flowing home. Here, one young family realized that anyone can buy a new house, but location is priceless.
Becky and Kyle bought their Cape Cod house in Silver Spring Township in 2011. It was the house next door to Kyle’s parents’ home, built in the late 1980s.
In time, the family was growing. Atlas and Gemma came along, plus energetic border collie-Jack Russel terriers Luna and Paisley, who are probably siblings even though they were acquired, by coincidence, a few months apart.
Still, room to grow wasn’t the only issue. The house featured small enclosed rooms, minimal natural light and awkwardly placed doors, including one that opened into the second-floor bathroom directly across from the front-entrance foyer. The personable Kyle and Becky wanted a home that was open and clean, with space for family gatherings and room for the kids to roam.
For about a year, they scoured the real-estate market, but few properties were suitable. They wanted to stay in the Cumberland Valley School District, but at their price point, the right house could never come on a lot that compared to their serene four acres. On these grounds, Atlas watches wildlife, the dogs play Frisbee and trees encircle most of the property line, says Kyle.
“You can’t beat that,” he says. “In summer, you can’t see the road. You can’t see the neighbor’s house. It’s full privacy. For us to buy a house, we’d be getting a quarter of an acre, or a third of an acre. You’d lose the lot. You’d lose the land.”
Even when the couple found a lot they liked, it came with a designated builder, and they already knew their builder would be their brother-in-law, Harry Claypool of Claypool III/Tiday, LLC. When they decided to explore rebuilding, Kyle found Shreffler (harrisburgarchitects.net) via Google.
The first thing the award-winning architect does when considering a renovation is check the home’s basement, looking for structural integrity. Then she draws inspiration from the home’s original architecture, while listening intently to the client’s wishes.
“She listened to all of the changes we wanted and our desire to create a more open floor plan,” says Becky. “We wanted some additional space but not so much that it would be unmanageable. She took the time to understand what styles we liked best and offered lots of choices and her ideas.”
In Shreffler’s eyes, this home had the goods – well-built, with a workable footprint and room to grow in the expansive lot. Her design retained such features as the front porch and the core first-floor layout, but doors were reset, windows added, walls demolished and rooms refashioned for different purposes. The tight confines of the dining room were transformed into Becky’s office, with cabinets custom-built by Claypool.
The family room in what was once the back of the home became the dining room, flowing from the kitchen. The kitchen, once horseshoe-shaped with dark cabinets and “a little cart in the middle,” says Kyle, now gleams in bright white, with a marble-topped, furniture-style island that has become the family gathering space. The home’s back wall was taken out for the addition of a bright, cheery family room.
Shreffler’s open floor plan, so desirable to today’s families, incorporates architectural elements that carve out separate spaces, for a cozy feel.
“You have to be careful with how open you make something,” she says. “You have to break up the space to define it.”
Those architectural touches are on full display in the new family room. A structural beam, remaining from the original home’s rear wall, crosses the open, step-down entrance. Built-in cabinets perpendicular to the wall provide media storage while breaking up the rectangular entrance. Graceful columns reaching to that functional beam actually serve no other purpose than looking pretty and giving shape to the space. The coffered ceiling and transom windows enhance the room’s function as an in-home getaway, for “that New England sun room feel,” says Shreffler.
Which is, of course, a nod to the original home’s design, but here, the signature feature of any Cape Cod – the sharply sloped roof – was essentially obliterated. The raised, redesigned roof line turned the second floor from tight to spacious. An angled-ceiling room that once doubled as storage and Becky’s office is now a dreamy master suite, with windows overlooking trees and the sloping lawn. The master bath features tub, separate shower and a seated vanity defined – once again – by tall cabinets flanking the mirror. On the bathroom floor, white tiles are laid in angles like parquet, for visual interest spanning the long room.
That second-floor bathroom door that once faced the foyer was encased in a wall, and the door was moved to the side, making the bathroom accessible to the children’s rooms. Those two rooms, as clean and bright as the rest of the home, were built over the family-room addition. They open to a unique loft-style space that Becky calls “the get-ready room,” used at bedtime for Atlas and Gemma.
“We wind down. We read books,” she says. “We give them a bath and do the lotion and put on their pajamas there. The dogs love it, too.”
Reconstruction took about six months, ending with “a whole new house,” says Kyle. “Literally, all the electric was redone. Most of the plumbing was removed and redone. There’s all-new insulation. Mechanically, the whole house was upgraded.”
Becky loves white. Trained as an art teacher, she has created a home that’s a warm canvas of crisp white.
“It’s clean. It’s bright. Being in a white house puts me in a good mood.”
In the original home, she tried varying the pallet with off-white shades like “eggshell,” but “it all felt so dark,” she recalls. In this home, she gravitated toward “snowflake” and “Arctic,” even when others tried to discourage her. Here, walls, ceilings, trim and furniture are white.
But – and this may be the key to making it work – touches of color and rich brown pop up throughout. Much of the ground-level flooring is a dark, distressed hardwood that the couple installed in the original home’s former family room (and found just enough from the supplier to extend into other rooms during renovation). Rugs in confetti colors dot the floors. A mirror framed in distressed cream tones was going to get a white coat of paint until Becky stood it on the mantel over the original brick fireplace – now painted white – and realized that it worked as-is.
“When everybody saw it come together, they said, ‘Wow, white is a good choice,’” Becky says. “As seasons change and the kids get bigger, it’s always a perfect blank canvas. I can always have pops of color. The pillows can change, but the white is what holds it all together.”
For Christmas and the family gatherings that come with it, the home will be adorned in “lots of green, on the mantels and maybe on the stairwell,” Becky says. Beyond that, there is a second phase to come – plans for landscaping and outdoor living – but “this is our house forever.”
When they first consulted with Shreffler, the architect advised that homeowners who take on the expense of remodeling do it because they love their location, and “that really resonated with us,” says Becky. But there was more to it than that. Remodeling is worthwhile “for someone who loves their home and property but needs to make it unique for their family.”
“We got engaged in this house, on the kitchen floor,” she says. “We got our first puppy. Our son took his first step in this house. It has always been more than a house to us and more of a memory capsule. What we started with and what we ended up with are two completely different houses, but it is still our same home. Now, it is our dream home.”