Remodeling a Mid-Century Modern Rambler

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What a 55-year-old designer can live with and without

We asked Jolynn Johnson, owner of Crystal Kitchen Center, to share her story about remodeling for her own family which includes her photographer husband, two dogs and a cat. You can tour her newly remodeled mid-century modern home during the Fall 2017 Remodelers Showcase. It's such an amazing project that the BATC Foundation selected it as one of their Artisan Dream Remodeled Homes, so you will be asked to donate $5 to help them continue their work helping area families. Hope to see you there!

How it all started

It’s not that I was truly looking for a new house.  In the spring of 2016 I realized I was turning 55 in a few months and thought about how much longer I was going to be working and owning Crystal Kitchen + Bath.  You have to start coming to grips with life and retirement when you own a business and want to sell at some point in the future.  I love what I do and could not imagine doing anything else (maybe just not so much to make it possible to take a vacation once in awhile).

I built my then-current house in St Michael 18 years ago. I love that house; it sits on a lake with a 280-degree view. It was so peaceful and quite, the whole family loved it-including two dogs and cat.  I didn’t want to leave on weekends but I was also missing out on what was happening in the city.

Then one day when I was driving to a client’s home, I noticed a house for sale a short three blocks from the office. My head whipped around and I thought “I could live there.” 

Shortly thereafter I was sitting in traffic on my way home (my original half-hour commute had grown to 45-60 minutes each way).  I thought “can I do this drive for 10 more years? What would I do with an extra one or two hours per day?”

That’s when I called the realtor and had my first walk through.  While the ad said move-in ready, I was’t prepared to live in the 80’s. But I knew I could make this house into what would work for me, after all it’s what I do for a living.  I talked to my husband and the deal was done. I started drawing up plans to remodel it for the next phase of my life. My thought was this would be my last house-the next address would be a nursing home.

The Remodel

I liked the fact that it was a rambler and built in 1961.  Structurally it was sound. It had three tiny bedrooms and one bath on the main level. A family room and bath on the lower level, however with tiny basement windows so there wasn’t a lot of light.

So, the new layout retained only one room in the same location — the master bedroom. And with few updates over the years, it became apparent that everything needed to be touched. Step one was to gut the house down to the 2x4’s and start fresh.

  1. The step-down family room became the kitchen
  2. A supporting wall between the kitchen, dining, and living room was removed and that space became a large great room for dining, TV watching and conversation.
  3. One bedroom became the bathroom (we decided we only needed one bathroom on this level so made it enter from both the master bedroom and the main-floor hallway.
  4. The bathroom became the laundry room.
  5. The third bedroom became a master closet.
  6. In the basement, I added three egress windows, two bedrooms (although we use one for exercise and the for guests) plus a large office/train and dark room for my photographer husband.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled kitchen image

Having four designers on staff really did help in making selections. They also helped calm my nerves and move me past my original “I like what I have now why can’t I just do that again” mindset. Once I came to grips with it all, I found I wanted everything in the New Hope home to be different then the St Michael home.

Designing for yourself is much harder than designing for a client; it has to be a showplace. Like any client, I found a few materials that I liked and worked around them.  My choices included wood stone white marble tile and white gloss/natural walnut cabinets. I decided there would be NO grey, cream or beige in this house, which actually made it more difficult, since those are the most popular colors right now. My color scheme became chocolate brown and white.

The original home had a covered concrete patio that was enclosed in the 70’s to become the family room.  It was a step down from the dining room.  And the original kitchen was at the front of the house and quit small.  The solution was to move the kitchen into the family room area, creating a larger space set just off the deck/back yard. 

The original fireplace and bay window in this room was removed and replaced with a new larger sliding glass door.  Since the view from my kitchen sink looked into my neighbor’s backyard, I opted for backsplash awing windows (I get the light, but not the view) that provided more upper cabinet storage.  The floor was raised to the same height as the great room. The original home’s 1.5” red oak floors were in good shape, so I just needed to lace in and add on to complete the entire main level (except the laundry and bath). 

In the kitchen, choosing appliances was easy. I knew I wanted a 42” Sub Zero refrigerator because it had ice and water in the door.  I also wanted a Wolf steam oven. I really didn’t want a range hood because we rarely turned it on in the St. Michael home, but felt I need something for cabinet protection. So, I went with a minimal hood, which led me to choose an induction cooktop. Being the cooktop was black and I wanted a flush mount install, I went with black honed granite counters so the cooktop just blended in.

Being tall I wanted my counter top at 38” in height which was accomplished by adding a 3.5” mitered drop edge to the granite.  I also wanted a wall of 15” deep panty cabinets to store everything from canned goods and small appliances to brooms and china. I also wanted the island to be 42” high with seating for four; this left only the outside wall for all the appliances.  I wanted white gloss cabinets-but not for the whole kitchen, so it became two-toned.  White gloss cabinets on the bases and horizontal grained walnut cabinets for walls and talls.  The only decision left was what the island top should be. I knew I wanted wood with a live edge. My first choice, walnut, wasn’t available in the length I needed, so ash it was, stained to match the walnut cabinets.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled living room image

Moving on to the living room, I wanted the look of a four-foot horizontal gas fireplace. It’s tiled in both the wood stone white marble and chocolate marble on the hearth and below. Walnut cabinets flank both sides of the fireplace for storage of media equipment and floating shelves above.  The TV is in a recess niche above the fireplace.

Crystal Kitchen Center built-in image

I love decorating for Christmas and I have hundreds of Santa’s and a large village.  My husband made Styrofoam scenes for each shelf in my bookcase in St Michael, which made setting up the houses and lighting so much easier.  I wanted to replicate the bookshelves so he didn’t need to remake the entire scene, but again I didn’t want the same look, going for a more contemporary feel.  The solution was to go with floating shelves of walnut. Each shelf has its own outlet and puck light to a switch (a lesson learned about how to get everything plugged in without cords between the shelves). The electrician spent over a day wiring those shelves and everyone working on the house wanted to know what all those wires sticking out from the wall were about. Now that the shelves are in place, everyone can see my vision and it makes sense.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled bath image

I vowed in my next house I would not have rooms that we didn't use every day, thus stuck with one main-level bedroom with one bath accessible from the bedroom and hallway.  With a hot tub on the deck, I decided to skip a tub. That left room for a large shower which could be curbless (to roll right in with a wheelchair or walker) and added a trench drain, bench and grab bars.  The heated floor also extends into the shower.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled bath image

I definitely needed a heated toilet seat (once you sit on one you can’t go back), and I was always interested in a European bidet. Since I didn’t want to give up the room for a standard bidet, so I added a Toto washlet (heated seats and warm water-what more could you ask for).  I like lots of storage, so the vanity’s three large drawers are divided inside for better organization.  There are wall cabinets to the side of each sink, three recessed medicine cabinets with outlets and lights, and surrounded by the same deco tile as the shower. The linen cabinet next to the toilet has open shelves below (doors would hit the toilet) and even a space for the scale. I had a ceiling fan in the bathroom of my St Michael home and found it was greatly needed in the summer- so that was a must in this house. And why not add a heated towel bar?

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled bath image

The master bedroom is large enough for a king bed, night stands, bench and dresser; I didn’t need more space (if I was going to read or sit, the living room works just fine) so Instead added a large walk in closet with built-in dressers, shoe shelves, ironing board and hanging space (honestly I think it is my favorite room in the house).

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled laundry image

Remodeling is all about taking stock of what you have and deciding what you could live without. With that in mind, the laundry room was easy. In my St Michael house I had a washer and dryer underneath a long counter top, but never folded the clothes there; I always dump the clothes on the bed and fold/hang up from there.  That let me stack the washer and dryer, add a laundry sink plus a desk and tall storage.  Now there’s room for the dog dishes and robot vacuum under the desk to keep the mess out of my kitchen or bathroom.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled laundry image

My realtor almost choked when I eliminated two bedrooms on the main level. But, by adding egress windows down the basement I added two bedrooms and my husband’s office which faces south to the natural light is really great.  It was very important to me that we did not share an office/desk in the new house.  In St. Michael, my husband claimed the desk and we have different views of clean and tidy. Being a professional photographer he needed lots of storage for 40 years of slides and pictures and wanted a dark room again. He has a train collection and wanted space for that as well. The basement accommodates all perfectly.

Another area I was looking to change in the new house was where to keep the kitty litter and food. The mechanical room was perfect as I didn’t have to smell it or look at it.  I added a kitty hole in the door to the basement so the cat always has access to his space.  And, since this is one very spoiled cat, the ultimate add on was an electronic faucet in the bath sink for fresh water whenever he wanted — we just had to teach him to put his paw in front of the sensor.

My husband is very cold sensitive (and I wanted to make sure he stayed down the basement), so Dricore was laid directly over the concrete floor. This product has a plastic bottom with cups so it adds an air space between the concrete floor and helps with dampness; instantly the basement was warmer. Carpet (the color of cat vomit just in case) was then added.

Crystal Kitchen Center remodeled bath image

I have always wanted a sauna or steam shower, and got a chance to try both when I attended a Kohler training event. I found a steam shower was better for me so the basement bathroom perfectly houses a large steam shower for two. The original garage was 20’x20’. I couldn’t imagine parking two cars and a lawn mower in that space, so added an addition to become 28’ x 20’ and replaced a double garage door with two singles. I’ve always wanted a covered front porch with places to sit and wave at your neighbors (becoming a part of the community instead of sitting on the back deck alone). With these two changes to the front of the house, the simple rambler gained a ton of interest and curb appeal, too.

The deck off the kitchen grew to accommodate a hot tub, fire pit, sofa, table/chairs and built in gas grill. And we added some new landscaping. The one thing that was retaiend was the fenced in back yard for the dogs.

Since move-in day I’ve discovered my day just got longer, and I’m home more to enjoy what city life has to offer.

Here are a few tips from Jolynn that you should consider when you're planning a remodel:

Aging in place ideas

  1. One level living
  2. Hard surface floors the same height with no thresholds (to help with a wheelchair or walker)
  3. 36” wide doors (pocket doors where used as much as possible to eliminate having to open a swing door)
  4. Large shower with no curb for entry, bench, grab bars and hand held shower head
  5. Right height kitchen and vanity cabinets with lots of storage
  6. As much hand less and Wi-Fi technology as possible

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