Monday, May 30, 2011

The McAllister--a New Pre-Designed Plan

For all you movie buffs out there, the newest plan in our portfolio of pre-designed houses might look familiar.
When the real house from the movie "Home Alone" hit the market recently, the internet and blogs were abuzz with photos and information on the house in Winnetka, Illinois. It seems the classicly styled house had captured the hearts of many. And, it's easy to see why. The curb appeal is just amazing!

The real "Home Alone" house.

The interior, as recent listing information revealed, was very nice as well, but had a somewhat convoluted floor plan and was predictably lacking in closet and bathroom space demanded by modern families. (The original house was built in 1920, afterall.)

So we have created the modern version of the house, keeping the curb appeal that makes it so timeless, and incorporating a floor plan that's more satisfying to the way we live now:
The Front of our "McAllister"
The Main Floor of our McAllister Plan. Incorporates formal living and dining rooms, but the wonderful open floor plan, with circular traffic flow, is an entertainer's dream! the gourmet kitchen opens to the principal living areas, and the inclusion of an attached garage is a welcome convenience.
Upstairs, four bedrooms provide plenty of room for family and guests. All of the bedrooms are generously sized. One of the secondary bedrooms has a private bath, while the other two share a generous hall bath. The master suite is pure luxury. An arched and paneled bed alcove, a sun-filled sitting room, and dual walk-in closets join a spa-like bathroom for a true owner's retreat.

At just under 4,000 square feet, the McAllister is a reasonably sized house, and it's simple form and graceful hipped roof make it economical to build. (Additional space could be captured in the attic if desired.) If you've always dreamed of having the "Home Alone" house for your own, now you can! Please contact us at for information on ordering these plans.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Small Changes Make a Big Impact

As I've said before, sometimes small changes to a room can have a much larger impact than the effort and money put into them. Such was the case with my kitchen. Our house was built by one of the large national builders. As anyone who has ever built a home with one of that sort of builder knows, the "options" really rack up, and the price they charge for some items is just ridiculous, particularly kitchen upgrades. ($700 just to add crown to the cabinets? Puh-leeze!) So while our kitchen was large and bright, the cabinets lacked any detail and just looked like cheap boxes hung on the wall. (A shame, because they were actually nice, real wood cabinets.)

When the house was brand new. The cabinets looked short and cheap.

Painting the kitchen a warm orangey/terra cotta color helped warm it up, but the cabinets just weren't "popping."

After paint. (The color is not quite so saturated as the picture indicates.)

So I decided to do something about it. I tracked down the maker of the cabinetry, and a few phone calls later, had ordered matching crown molding, a taller cabinet for over the range, and had one of their installers on the way to the house. Once he had installed the new cabinet and trim, $80 bucks worth of oil-rubbed bronze hardware and a half hour with the drill finished the space off. And the results were dramatic:

The trim really gave the cabinets a level of detail they needed. And the taller cabinet over the range made the kitchen look much higher-end.

The new cabinet and trim cost less than $500--a fraction of what the builder wanted just to add the crown!

As always, I am linking up to the Metamorphosis Monday party at "Between Naps on the Porch" click on over there to see more great Before-and-Afters!

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

On The Market--A Shope Reno Wharton Masterpiece on Kiawah Island

In a few weeks, I will be joining my family for a week at the beach. This will be the fourth or fifth summer that we've spent our vacation at a modest four-bedroom ocean front beach house on a small North Carolina island that has been spared over-development. It promises to be a week of relaxation, and one I am very much looking forward to. Naturally, this upcoming vacation has me thinking about beach houses, and one of the places that has some of the best is Kiawah Island, SC. We've spent many vacations there over the years, and I love to take a leisurely bike ride through the far end of the island and just admire the incredible architecture. The island is chock full of exquisite homes whose details and craftsmanship clearly indicate that cost was no factor in their construction. Some of the giants of architecture and interior design have worked on Kiawah homes, including Shope Reno Wharton, who designed this $29 million estate that is currently on the market:

An aerial view. Many of Kiawah's homes are nestled into the lush landscape, not slapped right on the beach.

*Swoons* There are many homes on the island that feature naturally weathered cedar shakes with black or very dark green trim. It's a gorgeous look.

Another look outside. Love that black pergola!

A look up at one of the house's stairways. Beautiful gray green on a chippendale style railing.

I love how the design team tempered elements that could be very formal with more casual ones for a perfectly elegant beach retreat. Jackye Lanham of Atlanta was responsible for the interiors.

The dark hand planed walnut floors really anchor the rooms.

Check out the light fixtures in the hallway--a modified version of old fisherman's lamps!

I love a rotunda! And check out the woodwork--stunning.

What a wonderful sunroom!

Wow! Bright and open kitchen space. I'm drawn to the ceiling-height cabinetry.

We always like to have a few bottles of wine on hand at the beach. With this gorgeous wine cellar, that shouldn't be a problem.

A groin vaulted master bedroom with a stunning arch and clerestory dormer.

A copper tub looks out on the marsh. The octagonal tiles are a timeless choice.

"His" bath is decidedly masculine, and appears to have a sauna.

While this masterpiece isn't what I would want for a beach house, it's certainly a beautifully designed space with a one-of-a-kind location. For those who have almost 30 million dollars to spend on a retreat, this one would definitely be a tranquil and calming place to get away from it all.

(all photos taken from current listings)

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Little Vocabulary Lesson

I think that realtors ought to have to take a brief history of architecture class. Granted, most of them are well versed in the pieces and parts that go into a house, and having been through untold numbers of homes over the years, I know a good majority have a great eye and appreciation for design. But, almost without fail, if I have settled into my chair to spend a few minutes looking through the latest listings, I come across a description written by a realtor whose architectural ignorance makes my jaw drop.

The most prolific mistake I see touts a home's "Palladium Windows". There is simply no such thing.

Palladium is a a rare metallic element of the platinum group, silver-white, ductile and malleable, harder and fusing more readily than platinum: used chiefly as a catalyst and in dental and other alloys. Symbol: Pd; atomic weight: 106.4; atomic number: 46; specific gravity: 12 at 20°C. 

So unless the previous owners chiseled out all of their old fillings to make windows, chances are that the poor misinformed realtor really wants us all to know that the house has a PALLADIAN window. Which looks like this:
Palladian Window

And ONLY like that. The entire composition of three parts is a Palladian Window. This nuance is lost on some who will describe any window with an arch top on it as Palladian. So, a brief recap:


Palladian Window

Cheap, builder-grade half round transom. NOT Palladian or Palladium.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Air of Decay

Rodin once said, “More beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing.” While I'm not sure I agree with him, I've always had, for lack of a better term, a fascination with houses that have been allowed to fall into ruin. Literature and pop culture are full of examples: Satis House, the home of Miss Haversham in Dickens "Great Expectations", lies in ruin, the clocks stopped at the moment the owner learns of her would-be husband's betrayal. Scarlet's Tara is in shambles during the time of the Civil War in "Gone With the Wind."  In Anne Rice's Mayfair witches series, some of the main characters call Fontevrault, a decaying plantation  house half submerged in the Louisiana swamp, home. More recently, we've been made aware of a real life ruin in the Hamptons--Grey Gardens, a once (and once again) grand seaside house that fell into complete ruin as the eccentric Edith and Edie Beale lived there.

There are some incredible decaying estates worth noting right now. Tied up in divorces, allowed to fall into neglect because of their owner's falls from glory, or simply too large and expensive to find new owners, each of these houses have a story to tell:

Land's End, The Hamptons, NY

It's a bit unfair to include this house, because it was recently razed. Thought to be the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan's house in The Great Gatsby, Land's End was a 25,000 square foot mansion that was most recently owned by a family that paid over $17 million for it. Daunted by the renovations needed to bring the house up to date, the last owner's heirs had the house on the market for years with  no takers. It fell into shambles, and in the spring of 2011, was torn down, it's grounds will be the location for what some are calling "McMansions."

In this photo from a 1970's real estate listing, the original grandeur is evident.

This photo of the dining room, from the same 1970's listing, shows the gracious size of Lands End's rooms, and the sort of detail it once had. Gorgeous parquet work!

But time was unkind. Here, the rear of the house has fallen into ruin. Looks like half the windows are gone.

The last owner was quoted as saying Land's End cost $4,500 A DAY to maintain. Might explain why they obviously were NOT maintaining it.

The interior was even worse.

And finally, she was gone. There's something beautiful about the ghosts of her massive chimneys.

Sunninghill Park--the former home of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson

When Britain's Prince Andrew married Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson, the couple made their home in a newly built mansion that the popular press dubbed "SouthYork"--a play on "Southfork" of the then-popular nighttime soap "Dallas", a nickname it earned by looking like any American mansion from the 1980's. It's an architecturally uninspiring home, large but with no particular style.

An aerial shot of Sunninghill Park as construction neared completion.

After Andrew and Fergie divorced, the  house remained the official residence of the Duke of York until 2004. The house was sold, for substantially more than the asking price, in 2007 to new owners with ties to the president of Kazakhstan. The transaction has been seen as money laundering, bribery, and worse. Whatever the case is, the new owners clearly did not purchase Sunningill Park to use as a home, because it has fallen into a state of decay. (For more photos, visit the Facebook page created by some architectural trespassers!)

Recent photo of the overgrown gardens and neglected mansion.

The front of the house doesn't look any better. The prescence of the dumpster makes me wonder if someone is cleaning the place up.
More "deferred maintenance" is evident on this corner of the mansion. I wonder what that strange enclosd space that looks like a better living patio room is?

Former Estate of Mike Tyson, Southington, Ohio

And now, the former estate of boxer, biter, and alleged wife-beater Mike Tyson. His personal and professional lives have played out in the national spotlight, so hardly bear repeating here. It's little wonder that there have been no takers for the enormous house he used to call home in Southington, Ohio. The house is a favorite of "urban explorers", and there are a ton more photos of this monstrosity out there. Check out this Flickr stream for more. Those with delicate decorative sensibilities may want to take a nerve pill before laying eyes on the following photos:

Subtle and elegant entrance, no?

It's like the inside of a DEB shop from 1982!

Looks like the poolboy quit.

Acres of bleached oak, and zebra carpet. This house is Klassy with a K, friends.

White wall-to-wall, curly-q railing, and off in the distance a lava rock veneered wall. I just can't fathom why this house can't find an owner.

Khalil Bin-Laden Estate near Orlando, Florida

Despite having been owned by the brother of the notorius, now-dead terrorist, this 9,700 square foot mansion, on 17 acres outside of Orlando, has a lot of potential. It has sat vacant since 2001 (when, shock of shocks,  the previous owners left the United States) and ten years of neglect have made the house a bit of a diamond in the rough:

Traditional Florida Meditteranean architecture. The house is now full of bullet holes, and the boarded up windows reveal years of vandalism.

The large grounds are evident at left. At right, could that great room not be drop-dead gorgeous? That ceiling is dee-lish. And the arched windows? Yes, please!

Another disgusting pool, but a little imagination, and a lot of bleach could turn that into a backyard oasis. Gorgeous covered lanai on the right.

Which of these neglected ruins would you most like to bring back to glory? My money is on the Bin Laden estate. I'm not sure Iron Mike's manse ever had a heyday, and Fergie's old pile is awfully boring.

I'm linking  this backward metamporphosis to the Met Monday party at Between Naps on the Porch! Click over there to see some more impressive before-and-afters.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

That's the one Marv...That's The Silver Tuna!

By now, the listing of the "Home Alone" house has been covered in dozens of places. (Had I been able to drop what I was doing and blog about it a few days ago when a friend called to whisper that it was for sale, I would have been one of the first to do a special thank you to that friend for thinking of me and my lil ole house blog.)

The "Home Alone" house is in Winnetka, Illinois--a tony northern suburb of Chicago. If you ever travel to Chicago, and are the sort of person who loves a little architectural tourism, you owe it to yourself to head north out of the city on Sheridan Avenue and just give yourself a few hours to get lost in the northern suburbs that lie just outside the city along the lakefront. (Winnetka and Glencoe standout in my mind as must-sees) These towns are chock full of exquisite residential architecture--including the "Home Alone House."

The classic red brick Georgian house was built in the 1920's, and looking at photos from the current listing and comparing it to photos from nearly 100 years ago, not much has changed outside:

But why would anyone WANT to change the exterior of this house? Georgian houses like these are my absolute favorite. There is something so solid, timeless, and undeniably "homey" about the traditional "five over four and a door" style. John Hughes probably agreed when he chose this house as home to the McAllister family in the string of Home Alone movies. If you'd like to see photos of the house from the movie, Julia at Hooked on  Houses has a wonderful collection of those images showing the house in all it's red and green wallpapered bliss, HERE. Julia also features a floorplan of the house that someone had worked up based on the movie. Compare it to this floor plan from current listing information, and you can see that the movie set very closely follows the floorplan of the real house:

Not a bad floorplan for a house that's nearing it's 100th birthday, but I think it could be better. (Maybe a new pre-designed plan from Southgate? Hmmm...) First, I hate that the laundry room is on axis with the front door. I realize that it's very unlikely that was always the laundry, but who wants company to see their dirty unmentionables lying on the floor waiting to be washed when they open the front door? Not me. It also seems to be a waste of space that the basement stair and the main stair aren't stacked on top of each other. But, overall, the plan is great. The rooms are a comfortable size, and I rather like how each room opens up to the next. if the formal living room only had an opening into the back hall where that half bath is, this home would have no "dead ends" at all, making it perfect for entertaining, and (if you ask anyone under the age of 12) even more perfect for a game of chase or hide and seek.

Something strange is going on with the second floor plan included with the listing information. Notice those closets between the master bedroom and the sunroom? They seem to show a window that would be slap-up on the corner of the house, a SIXTH window in the main block. Clearly (and thankfully) such a window does not exist. Obvious inaccuracies aside, the second floor plan reveals the master suite to be most in need of some reworking. A bedroom, a sitting room, AND a sunroom? All while the owner's of the house cram their Chicago-necessary four season wardrobe into 4 foot wide closets and attend to nature's call and groom themselves in a bathroom that looks more suited to a starter home? (A bathroom so covered in brass I can't even bear to repost the photos here.) Uh, no, ma'am. The square footage is there to make this a proper master suite, and I'd bet the ink isn't dry on the closing documents before the new owners do just that. Hopefully, while the new owners are making over the master, they'll also do something about that wonky half bath of questionable purpose that the floor plans indicate near the secondary bedrooms.

The Master Sitting Room

Master Bedroom

The most remarkable thing about the interior of the house is, well, how unremarkable it is. While the cove moldings in the foyer and the dentil molding and pilasters in the formal living room are deeee-lish-us, I honestly would have expected to see more woodwork in a house like this. The rest of the rooms are rather modestly trimmed, and frankly, a little boring. I can only assume that the current owners (who have lived in the house over 20 years, and owned it at the time it was used in the filming of Home Alone) have stripped away many of their belongings in preparation for selling the house. It just looks a bit empty, doesn't it?

That kitchen is fine as it is, but the glossy white cabinets seem a little low-buck, and while I can appreciate a hanging pot rack in SOME kitchens, the one hanging here looks more like some sort of torture device. I think finer cabinetry and detailing (like that gorgeous bordered wood floor!) would make the kitchen much better. So while I think the interior could use some updating, I imagine that any new owner who has $2.4 million to spend on it can surely afford a few hundred grand more to build on the incredible, timeless, and perfectly proportioned bones of this famous house.

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