The renovation of a Italianate home in the Roanoke neighborhood gets personal
Right at the start, let me say that this is not a story where we find our happily- ever-after home. I’ve learned my lesson; you’ll never hear me claim that again.
But my husband, Warren Maus, and I do love living in our latest project, a 1920s Italianate house in the Roanoke neighborhood. If you regularly read my Editor’s Note, you’ll know that for the past two years we’ve been renovating our home (and I’ve been kvetching about living in the dust of a
reno). It’s certainly been a go-to subject for my column.
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Now it’s finished, or as finished as I can ever let it be, and I wanted to share it with you.
A friend of mine has always said the house looks like it should be in Bel Air rather than in Kansas City, and that’s one of the reasons we love it. The exterior stucco finish and red-tile roof, and a plentitude of wrought iron, tile and bottle glass windows on the interior do seem to be redolent of the classic Southern California lifestyle. But this house is plunked down squarely in the middle of this midtown neighborhood, surrounded by larger, mostly Georgian and Tudor and Colonial homes built around the same time.
From the first time I walked into it, the interior architecture took my breath away. The entry is a soaring two-story space with a barrel-vault ceiling and an open staircase framed with a wrought- iron bannister that leads to the second floor.
A spacious, single story foyer topped with a classic groin-vault ceiling is just off the entry. A triptych of green bottle-glass windows is the highlight of the library. And that fireplace! It wouldn’t seem out of place in a Tuscan villa.
So while it had all these glorious details, it had some glaring defects too. The bathrooms and kitchen hadn’t been updated in ages. Oddest of all were several weirdly placed doors that seemed to go nowhere or went somewhere that you just didn’t need to go. The original oak floor had a yellowed, scratched polyurethane finish, so they just needed to be sanded, stained Jacobean brown and finished to recapture them in all their glory.
Some rooms were ripped out down to the studs, while others only needed a coat of fresh paint. We made the most changes in the master bath and the kitchen.
The kitchen had undergone a renovation sometime in the ’80s, so it was serviceable but dated. Now I’ve long been a fan of open shelves. For me, seeing everything at a glance is so much easier than opening doors and drawers searching for something. And nothing gets dusty or greasy because it’s all used on a regular basis. So out came the upper cabinets and in went simple, painted wood and wrought-iron shelves.
Immediately the kitchen seemed to double in size without those cabinets crowding the round-topped window. White paint updated the lower cabinets. My two real splurges were the Italian Bertazzoni range (I call it my midlife-crisis Italian sports car) and replacing the laminate countertop with the honed Carrara marble that I’ve lusted after for so long.
We switched the designated master bedroom and guest rooms, and renovated a former secondary bathroom into our new master bath. Nothing in the bathroom was salvageable, so out it all came. Carrara marble tile now lines the shower and the floor, and a slab of Carrara tops the vanity. I saved some cash by finding a dining room sideboard in a thrift store, painting it black and converting it to the double vanity. It so well fit the space that it looks custom-made.
Then comes the fun part—the decorating. Since we move so often, we really can’t afford to buy new furniture to fit each home. Rather, stuff gets moved around. Accessories, art and furniture all are assigned new rooms to shake things up. The club chairs that were in the master bedroom at the last house were rebuilt and reupholstered in gray velvet to fit the new color scheme of the living room. The living room sofa moved to the kitchen, while the wing chairs that sat in the kitchen of the last house moved to the master bedroom. Literally musical chairs, as it were. The Louis XV chair doesn’t change rooms; it’s always been a living room stalwart. But it’s now recovered in, I kid you not, the seventh different fabric (including a purple linen that lasted about two minutes—a major miscalculation) since I bought it for $25 at a garage sale 20 years ago. Not a bad investment! The dining room table has been painted white, black, and then white again.
Even rooms get moved around. What was originally the house’s dining room became our library, while the loggia that had been closed in years ago and had served as a TV room for the former owner became our dining room.
The end result is, I think, a home that honors its past yet lives very well for us today. It’s been a fun project, but I’ll never say never again, again.