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Starter Home Feeling Gone with Clever Planning

Starter Home Feeling Gone with Clever Planning
June 6, 2011
By: Alex Newman

I love stories like this one, where creativity trumps wads of money and choices about living overcome fears about resale value.

When designer Jennifer Brouwer first met John and Jane, a professional couple in their late 30s with two pre-teen children, they were intent on “upsizing” to a larger home, partly because of the “starter home” stigma of living in a townhouse. Problem was they couldn’t find anything they liked in the area.

“Both are successful, so the budget to upgrade wasn’t an issue,” Brouwer says. “But they simply couldn’t find what they were looking for. They loved their area, the schools and didn’t really need any more square footage. They just wanted a home that was more reflective of their lifestyle and personalities.”

Brouwer began by helping John and Jane outline their priorities, drawing up columns of must haves and want to haves, which included improved use of space; updated decor and furnishings; a more cohesive decor scheme; a new kitchen; and an additional bathroom/ensuite. They also wanted to “feel good” the minute they got home.

From that list, Brouwer and the couple arrived at the same conclusion pretty fast: “A bigger home wasn’t the answer. Changing what they had was, and with good planning, we were able to get everything they wanted and needed within the existing footprint.”

All too often, Brouwer sees people who have stretched themselves for the big home and they have no money left to enjoy it.

“Bigger in that case is not always better. Better instead to focus on what’s fundamental to your happiness. Upgrading to more space equals increased maintenance and, in turn, costs. Stick with something more manageable, you’ll have budget to decorate, no anxiety over huge bills, and it’s more easily maintained.”

How she did it:

She started with the kitchen. Because the main floor is small — just 500 square feet — there had to be some openness for flow, but contained enough to corral unsightly kitchen views. Because it is seen from the living room, it had to be beautiful and really well designed to maximize storage. What was there was L-shaped with a pass-through to the living area, but Brouwer said the pass-through had such a “horrific peek-a-boo” effect, she decided to close it off. Doing this also provided an entire cabinetry wall on the kitchen side, plus wall space for family photos on the living room side.

Brouwer also extended the cabinets all the way to the breakfast nook windows, with shallow-depth floor to ceiling cupboards behind the dining table for vertical storage for china, kitchen extras and bar equipment.

The kitchen was custom designed by Brouwer’s favourite millwork company, Misani, with shaker-style cabinets that emphasize the height of the space, and glass-fronted uppers lit from within that gives the illusion they might be doors to elsewhere.

To complement the creamy Misani cabinetry, Brouwer selected slightly veined marble/granite counters, and an interesting mosaic backsplash. A simple wood dining table with elegant tapered legs and four parson’s chairs — part of the homeowner’s existing furnishings — create an elegant dining space. At either end of the table, Brouwer added Lucite Ghost chairs for their transparency and to inject a little eclecticism.

For the glass doors at the end of the kitchen space, simple striped drapery that is soft and luxurious enhances the cabinetry and elegant table and chairs. But right next to it in the living area, Brouwer opted for a bolder plaid, which makes a statement from the front door, clearly identifying the “great room” as a comfortable, relaxed space.

She also selected carpets that were plain and simple — the area rug is in the same wool broadloom as the stair runner. “I chose them to eliminate any pattern on those beautiful dark hardwood floors so the eye isn’t distracted.”

Brouwer also went large with the rug because it expands the space visually and feels as though you can manage more furniture in there, without being “crammed.” The proper rug size, she adds, is whatever leaves an 18- to 24-inch perimeter of the floor exposed.

In such an intimate space as this main floor, it’s best to keep colours low key and calm, with visual interest coming from pattern or bolder colours in the drapes, accessories, cushions and so on.

The choice of sectional was purely practical. “Seating as many people as possible was important, plus a sectional, no matter how large, is a cohesive look, which is very important in a small space. The two occasional chairs, though apartment size, are plush and comfy and the different fabrics front and back add visual interest.”

For a little extra seating “in a pinch,” Brouwer positioned two ottomans in the front hall.

As for artwork, she made a selection of black and white photos of the children. Since they were natural poses, framing them simply with large white mats made them feel like photographic art. As Brouwer says, “why buy art when your kids are so lovely?”

As for the starter home stigma? All gone, especially when friends come over, agog with the new space.