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The English Country Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

White washed brick and leaded glass suit the countenance of an English country home whether nestled among the wind-swept hills north of London or, as in the present situation, sprawled over the gentle slopes of Lorraine in Highland Park. Built in 1934, the original house boasts a heavy wood front door and to the right a large stair window for ambient light to spill over the stark wooden staircase. A long hallway connects the stairs to the front entry and continues into an office/study and powder room on the east end and a magnificent library off the center. Take a moment to stand in the hall on the original wood floor in view of the dark molding and austere banisters?immersed in the history of the architecture.

Over the years, the home has been remodeled several times?enclosing the porch, adding a room, and restructuring around the garden, pool, and koi pond. But the hallway always stayed intact?updated with a fresh coat of paint, perhaps. The most recent remodeling is the collaborative work of architect, Bill Larson, AIA, Bruce Jensen of George Lewis Custom Homes builders and Nancy Wilkinson, ASID, of Low Country French Interiors. And for this project, Texas Building Trends Magazine in 2001 presented the Lone Star Award 2000 for the Best Historic Renovation over $200,000 for the State of Texas to George Lewis Custom Homes.

Just as important, the homeowners were thrilled with the ?new? home. Coming from a 5400-square-foot Plano house with a double story entrance and large rooms, a family with three small children was looking for an older home?more like the houses in New York, where the parents grew up. They wanted four-bedrooms; but they opted to buy the 3-bedroom house on Lorraine only after being convinced of the potential in converting the drop down ceiling and third floor attic space into a stairs and fourth bedroom/ bath. In the process of remodeling, the family decided to reconfigure all the bathrooms, remodel the cabana and second floor garage, paint the walls, and gut the kitchen. Despite the extensiveness of the renovation, the homeowners wanted to stay within the home?s original envelope, thus knocking out only necessary partitions and adding only 56 additional square feet for?a laundry room.

?We had this real dilemma,? said Larson. ?Prior to the new kitchen being made, there were more things happening in the kitchen than there are now. And one thing that was happening was laundry. We felt if we could get the laundry out of that space, that we could open up the kitchen quite a bit and make it user-friendly. But the dilemma was where to put the laundry. The house is pretty much maximized at all the levels, and there just was not a real good place to put a laundry. What we did was take the semi-open pathway from the main house out to the cabana and at an intermediate point, we put a doorway, and then we built a small addition?the washer-dryer workspace. We found a way that we could nicely tie into the roof of what had been the semi-open walkway and have it easily accessible to the house. It?s on the path from the garage, from the pool; it functions as a mudroom and laundry. And it?s very easily accessible from the kitchen.? Brick walls and concrete floors give the space a rustic ambiance that complements the brick floor in the adjacent garden room and enclosed porch. And making the transition to the kitchen is a small built-in wet cabinet for wind storage, glasses, and refrigeration.

Past the utility island and appliances in the kitchen is the breakfast area, a room separated from the kitchen by a swinging door yet connected to the kitchen aesthetically with matching leaded glass cabinetry and star studded molding, all original to the breakfast area. So, rather than combining the kitchen and breakfast area into one big space, the homeowners intentionally kept them separate, thus adding a sense of ?surprise? when entering each room and a sense of enclosure once inside the rooms.

Only the third floor lacks a door, and the stairs emerge abruptly inside the bedroom.

?The key to the third floor is to dump a fair amount of light into the small space to make it look larger, more friendly,? said Larson. ?By putting the windows to one side, we were able to create more floor space in the sense that you could walk out into those windows.? Larson chose to add the windows to the south side of the roof because of the beautiful view over the backyard and because the dormers would incorporate nicely into the roofline. Dormers on the north side of the house would have detracted from the large stair window?a very dynamic component in the home exterior.

?The house has really strong bones,? said Larson. ?We didn?t want to change that in the sense that there really was a strong characteristic that already existed. When something has structure, there?s strength in the structure. What covers the structure can become, in some cases, chaotic. We basically just took the structure that was there and looked at it very hard?tried to come up with multiple solutions to simplify it. In the area of the master bedroom, there were a series of multiple spaces that were sort of chaotic. We simplified the space.? For example, the windows on the second floor like the windows added to the third floor tuck in underneath the roofline and feel like an extension out from the sheltering roof. That characteristic was maximized in the master bath where a new tub was fitted into one dormer window; the tub projected lengthwise into the interior and stopped at a small wall that, in turning, provided the vanity to the master sink. Across from the broad side of the tub, carved out the wall, is a large shower stall. And across from the opposite broadside of the tub are lots of little cubby spaces and angled doors. For the house does have an unusually large number of closets and odd-shaped doors?each opening with a ?surprise? behind it.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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