It wasn't the size of the 1950s ranch house that proved to be the problem for the new owners. The couple bought the property in the older Milwaukee suburb of Elm Grove, Wis., for its prime location and large lot, wanting the space for their two young children. But the home's dated, dark, cramped layout meant an imminent — and substantial — remodel of the house, says Bob Prindiville, co-owner with Alan Freysinger of Design Group Three, the Milwaukee design/build firm the homeowners charged with the task.
Prindiville's clients wanted an open floor plan for the kitchen, dining room, and living area, without sacrificing traditional details, and they wanted much higher-quality finishes. “It wasn't a budget-driven project,” Prindiville says.
At just under 3,000 square feet, the house was one of the smaller homes in this upscale suburb. The remodel did not add much to the original footprint of the house, growing by just 100 square feet with a breakfast room addition off the new kitchen. Still, the remodel meant basically starting from scratch. “We ripped out ceilings, and the house was stripped to the studs and subflooring,” Prindiville says.
To achieve the openness his clients wanted, Prindiville flip-flopped the kitchen and dining spaces. The old family room, once isolated by the walled-off kitchen and laundry area (the latter was relocated to the basement), was opened to the new formal dining room. That was accomplished at the expense of removing a load-bearing wall.
Design Group Three's carpenters had to add new framing and subflooring because the conjoined spaces didn't line up. Prindiville salvaged the tongue-and-groove pecky cypress that covered the ceiling of the former family room, and repurposed it to build rustic cabinets for the master bathroom. “Our cabinet shop re-milled it, refaced it, and did a sample cabinet,” he says. The couple loved it, and the color and finish of the old wood contrasted beautifully with the colors and highly textured surfaces used in the bathroom. “They turned out to be beautiful cabinets.”
To provide a greater volume of space in the new living room, Prindiville vaulted the 8-foot ceiling — but not before his carpenters had reframed the undersized rafters they found when they demolished the old ceiling. “There were also some point loads that had to be dealt with and transferred to the basement with a series of columns hidden inside walls on the first floor,” Prindiville says. The designer also vaulted the ceiling in the master suite.
Rectangular columns inset 3 feet 2 inches from either side of the wide entryways not only separate the three areas from one another but also serve as elegant framing devices for the rooms' significant features, which include the living room fireplace with its limestone surround and custom mantel (see “Retained and Reused,” this page), and the kitchen's custom hood.
“The columns are a throwback to the Arts and Crafts elements the homeowners requested,” Prindiville says. The columns also align with the beams on the coffered dining room ceiling, another traditional detail, he adds.
The new formal dining room, open to both living room and kitchen, receives plenty of light through the French doors — formerly the location of the kitchen sink in the original floor plan — that open to the backyard. The columns that separate the dining room from the new galley kitchen frame a half-wall and support the rangehood enclosure built out of maple and illuminated with recessed lights. Maple brackets on the kitchen side of the columns help support the hood and carry the Arts and Crafts styling into the room. The hood and brackets were custom pieces fabricated by Steve Puetz of Sap Woodworking in Cudahy, Wis.
The galley kitchen, 9 feet wide by 16 feet long, is bookended by a light-flooded breakfast room at one end and a 6-foot-by-7-foot walk-in pantry at the other. The pantry features the same granite countertops and white painted maple cabinetry as the kitchen, and has a window to admit natural light, making it a pleasant place to work. A pocket door tidily closes off the area when necessary.
Kate Tyndall is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
Project: Open the living room, dining room, and kitchen of a 1950s ranch to achieve a more modern living arrangement.
Location: Elm Grove, Wis.
Square footage before: 2,925
Square footage after: 3,025
Company: Design Group Three, Milwaukee, Wis.
Designer: Bob Prindiville
Retained and Reused
A crumbling retaining wall outside the home's front door had to be demolished and rebuilt. Designer Bob Prindiville rescued the limestone slabs that capped the wall, and used them to create a new surround for the living room fireplace. The fireplace in the original family room (right, top) was a 10-foot wide surround of 12-inch-diameter fieldstones that rose halfway up the wall, Prindiville recalls. “We shrunk the size of the fireplace and faced it with the limestone,” he says.
Prindiville enlisted local mason Paul Luterbach in this reclamation project. Luterbach used a grinder to clean the salvaged limestone and re-cut it for the surround. The custom mantel and simple columns built by Sap Woodworking's Steve Puetz add the finishing touches to the refurbished fireplace. Puetz also built a mantel for the new library's fireplace (which shares the same chimney). The adjacent library, once a formal living room, was repurposed by the homeowners who had no need for a formal space.