Ranch Dressing

By staff February 1, 2006

Realtor Kevin Vale and interior decorator David Harlan had just sold their home in the summer of 2004-the second of two major house renovations they'd undertaken together-when they came upon a 1950s ranch on a charming West-of-Trail street and immediately fell in love.

"We really didn't want a new project so soon, and we certainly didn't want to live in the place while we went through the whole rehab nightmare," says Vale. "But we realized this house was within our budget and it had great possibilities. And there was no use thinking about renting another place while we worked on this one, because we had four dogs at the time, two of them great Danes, and we knew we'd never find a landlord willing to take us all. So we just moved in and got to work."

Vale and Harlan have been laboring for a year and a half, and the original one-story, 1,700-square-foot ranch now has a second floor and 2,700 square feet of modern living and stylistic harmony.

The rehab team from time to time included Harlan's parents, Howard and Anita, who came from Ohio and stayed three months to knock out walls, paint and scrub. Harlan's brother, Shaun, made the trip from Cincinnati to lend a construction hand. He also created some of the paintings and pottery displayed in the home. Vale's brother, Ron, became part of the labor force, too.

The initial plan called for relocating the front door and bumping out the front three feet toward the street to make the living room more spacious. The homeowners moved the kitchen from the front of the house to the back and added a butler's pantry, turning the old kitchen into a dining room with a view of the front lawn. They updated a bedroom and two downstairs baths. Since they were adding a second story, they raised the ceiling downstairs and covered it in white, V-groove, six-inch cypress boards, a nod to the age of the home. Upstairs, the homeowners added a master suite with a study, bedroom and a luxurious all-white and chrome bath that measures 14 square feet.

Because all the plumbing had to be configured, it was impossible to save the already damaged terrazzo floors, so they were jackhammered up. The downstairs floors and staircase are now oak, stained with a glamorous black satin finish. "They're high maintenance, but the look is worth it," says Harlan, who also added an authentic tabby fireplace with crushed oyster shells that his designer friend, Robert Claussen, brought back from Georgia. The tabby surface supplies pioneer-Florida vintage charm to a room furnished with eclectic modern furniture. Harlan says doing the fireplace wasn't difficult, just messy and time consuming.

"Basically, I spread on a half-inch of stucco and then stood back and literally threw the oyster shells at the wet stucco to embed them," he says. "After the shells covered the fireplace surround, I let the tabby cure for 30 days and then applied a clear water-based sealer. If you touch it, and people always want to, it will shed a little bit, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's a great contrast to the black floors and the modern furniture. Actually, I think of it as a big piece of sculpture."

The coffee table on casters in the living room is Harlan's design, crafted from a friend's cast-off kitchen table. Paintings and sculpture in the downstairs living room, dining room and open kitchen have been collected from vacations and bought from local galleries such as Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art. Much of the mid-century modern pottery is from Jack Vinales Antiques, including a set of Russel Wright dinnerware on display in glass cabinets in the butler's pantry. All the walls are painted a soft creamy linen, Benjamin Moore OC-37, to showcase the vivid art. White plantation shutters on all the windows control light while keeping the look crisp and streamlined.

The kitchen was designed to Vale's specifications. He cooks, Harlan grills. "This is by the far the nicest and the best-designed kitchen I've ever worked in," says Vale. "The cabinetry was done by Lance Jacobsen's Classic Cabinetry & Construction, and it's wood with a white lacquer finish. We opted for lots of storage drawers, honed black granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. And we ran the cupboards right up to the ceiling for extra storage area. The backsplash is gray glass subway tile. The kitchen is very visible; we've hung art in it so that this room flows with the rest of the downstairs."

Anything left to be done? Always, say the homeowners.

"We need to add a balcony over the front door and improve the landscaping," says Harlan. "Inside, there's an old glassed-in porch that the dogs own now," explains Vale. "Eventually, that area will be a library that leads to an enclosed laundry room."

Then what? "Then they can bury me in the yard," jokes Harlan, "because I'm never moving from this house. Kevin and I have said it before, but this time we mean it. We'll renovate for clients, but as for us, we're staying put and enjoying all the work that's gone into making this the home we want."

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