Streamlined aesthetics help lower building costs in a traditional town.
When residential designer David Kenoyer began assembling the parts for his own house on a quarter acre lot in the suburbs outside Raleigh, N.C., he envisioned a residence that was clearly custom, but not radical to the point of offending the neighbors or hindering resale potential. He also had a budget to contend with. So he set tradition as his baseline and looked for subtle aesthetic and cost trade-offs, staging a quiet revolution rather than an overt one.
Crown and shoe molding were among the first things to go. “I wanted clean lines anyway; and when I eliminated shoe mold from the baseboards, I got a credit of 15 cents per foot from the flooring subcontractors,” Kenoyer says. Funds he would have spent on molding were then reallocated to cover three strategically placed 1x6 pine “art walls” painted bold accent colors in the home’s communal living areas.
Custom interior door and window casings proved cost neutral (equivalent in price to standard Howe casings) but offered an alternative accent to solid MDF doors with routed profiles. “My design required three pieces instead of two, but the trim guy didn’t charge more because my version didn’t have mitered corners, so it was easier to install,” he says. “It’s funny … you get in this mindset that more pieces will automatically mean higher prices, but in actuality, the three pieces I bought cost less because they were standard stock.”
Outside, the home’s classic four-square, “five-over-four and a door” façade complements the rest of the street while keeping framing costs to a minimum. In lieu of a big porch, Kenoyer went with a compact front entry that puts fine touches at eye level, including chunky 18-inch diameter columns, fine cornice detailing, a bluestone stoop, an 8-foot Spanish cedar door with a cedar surround of 1x6 flush shiplap siding, and custom wall brackets instead of pilasters. “I could have used the smaller porch with the same level of detail you normally see in a market house and it would have cost half as much, but instead I ended up with a very custom porch for the same price as a spec home porch,” he says.
Built for roughly $100 per square foot (total price tag $400,000, including land), the 3,400-square-foot home is no different from the neighbors in price, but different enough in its homespun details to turn a few heads. “There is something about a house that’s too perfect that I don’t like,” Kenoyer says. “It just doesn’t feel as authentic.”
It wasn’t the existing 1968 tracthouse with its dowdy façade and standard-issue floor plan that sold architects Beth Reader and Chuck Swartz on this property in Winchester, Va. It was the lot’s spectacular rear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains—and the fact that it was a 10-minute walk to town.
The first order of business in the remodel—which purposely stayed within setback requirements so as not to require any easements—was to flip the original plan on its head, putting bedrooms below and open living spaces up top with lots of glass to maximize those views. (A 30-foot drop in grade over the 100-foot depth of the lot allows for panoramic sightlines over the rooftops of homes farther down the ridge.)
“The original house was the worst response to the site,” Reader recalls, noting that initially some of the second-floor bedrooms had ceilings as low as 6 feet 8 inches due to bulkheads. “The best windows were in the garage, while all the others were tiny. It was such a dumb house it made us mad, but there was nothing there to respect, so we didn’t feel guilty about gutting it.”
There was one piece of anatomy, though, the couple creatively salvaged from the home’s former self. Existing studs and gable ends on the south elevation were stripped and repurposed to create the structural framework for a wall of bookshelves in the great room (the upper echelons of which are accessible via a built-in staircase, shown above, and a vintage telephone company ladder). The ghost of the original 4/12 gable roof is still expressed in the shelving, only now the roof rests under scissor trusses that vault the ceiling height to 21 feet. As an accent, the couple hired a local stained glass artist to make cobalt blue corner panes for a boomerang-shaped bank of clerestory windows resting atop that original gable.
But not everything in the makeover is custom-made. In conceiving the design, Reader and Swartz followed the same advice they dispense to clients with limited funds: Put money into the permanent parts (in this case, a standing seam metal roof, steel structural frame, and exterior cedar cladding), and go thriftier on interior finishes, which tend to be more ephemeral anyhow. The kitchen takes this ethos to heart, featuring birch veneer flat slab Ikea cabinets, drawer pulls from Lowe’s, and laminate countertops.
“We were running out of money in a big way, so the kitchen is pretty basic except for the appliances,” says Reader, estimating the cost of the remodel at around $144 per square foot. “We figure we can always replace the countertops or cabinets down the line.”