Once eschewed as unfashionable, ranch homes have again become desirable. First-time buyers and empty nesters in particular are attracted to the more reasonable pricing, smaller sizes, and single-story layouts well adapted to aging in place.
Savvy to their appeal back in 2004, Amy Korte and Jeff Thompson purchased a circa 1959 concrete slab ranch built in Framingham by the Campanelli brothers. Such homes were a response to the need for inexpensive housing for returning GIs. “We prefer compact living,” says Korte, president of Arrowstreet, a commercial architecture firm in Boston.
That said, the family outgrew the home’s modest 1,250 square feet over time. In 2010, coinciding with the arrival of their daughter, Anna, they added a two-car garage. That let them remove the wall between the original one-car garage and the kitchen, and convert the former garage into a living room with large picture windows. Planning ahead, the couple also rebuilt and expanded the back porch that previous owners had added, incorporating a foundation and a roof so they could fully enclose it in the future. Finally, they cut down a three-quarter-height brick wall between the kitchen and living room for a more open layout.
By fall 2017, Korte and Thompson were ready to embark on phase two. “We wanted to further open up the kitchen, living, and dining space and turn the covered porch into a multi-function room where we could work and our daughter could do homework and projects,” Korte says. They also needed more storage and desired a more custom look to reflect their taste for bright, clean decor.
The couple tapped Korte’s former architecture school classmates, Christina Marsh and Kristen Giannattasio, who had recently launched the Newton-based firm Atelier et Alia. “I spend my week designing, so I wanted to prioritize spending time with my family on the weekends,” Korte explains of the decision to outsource. “Plus, I had always been envious of Kristen’s gorgeous Campanelli ranch, and wanted to support a women-owned firm.”
While the primary goal of the project was to create an open floor plan, the architects enhanced functionality (and design) by creatively integrating flexible elements throughout. Giannattasio says, “Our approach is to solve problems architecturally.” Rather than just hang things on the walls, the walls themselves became interactive design moments, infusing otherwise mundane surfaces “with function and personality,” she says. “How they impact the space depends on how they’re used.”
Before the renovation, coats landed on the couch. Giannattasio and Marsh took advantage of the blank wall next to the neglected closet by installing a custom, floor-to-ceiling pegboard. It can be adjusted to suit the season, and as Anna gets taller, the pegs move up. “The pegboard idea was brilliant,” Korte says. “We hang up our stuff about 75 percent of the time now.”
Built-in bookshelves with an integrated window seat stretch across the living room wall. The structure visually anchors that side of the house with a focal point, plus creates open and closed storage. “We created the overall composition as the backdrop of the room,” Marsh says.
As planned, the team transformed the porch into an office/playroom. It will evolve again into a guest room, once a Murphy bed is installed. The wide doorway from the living room preserves the home’s open layout, while large windows introduce a wooded view and let in sunlight. A custom, rolling door that doubles as a white board for drawings and messages slides shut for privacy. “We can now work together as a family,” Korte says, “with Anna building elaborate cardboard constructions in the middle of this large, sun-filled room.”
The new kitchen packs the biggest punch. Demolishing the fireplace that stood where the cooktop is now, as well as enlarging the back window, made the house feel far lighter and airier. The architects maintained the original setup of two parallel counters, but commandeered the nook at one end. That former office area is now a hidden pantry with a surprise pop of teal tile. “It gives the open kitchen a place that can be left untidy, and still be accessible from the work aisle,” Marsh says.
In classic Atelier et Alia fashion, the pantry’s outer walls take on highly functional assignments. To replicate the utility of a traditional fridge door — the family’s new refrigerator has a cabinetry panel door — the architects custom fit the kitchen-facing side with a floor-to-ceiling magnetic dry erase board. A seamless array of floating shelves wraps around the other side, turning the otherwise empty bedroom hallway into a useful and attractive destination.
While there are still a few things on Korte’s bucket list, including convincing her husband that they should paint the front door teal, the family is quite pleased. So are the prior owners, who occasionally visit to check their progress, happy that another generation is being raised in the house.
Korte says, “It finally feels like home.”
Architect: Atelier et Alia, atelieretalia.com
Contractor: Simendinger Construction, simendingerconstruction.com
Millwork: Jaywalk Studio, jaywalkstudio.com
Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.