Knock Knock: The Triangle’s Most Unusual Houses

Raleigh family creates their dream home by downsizing.
Oct. 12, 2013 @ 11:18 AM

Laura and Greg Kelly can stand in the living/dining/kitchen space of their small, modernist house in West Raleigh and see the two-story, 3,200-square-foot house they gladly left behind to downsize to exactly the amount of space their family of four actually needs.

After measuring the unused space in their big house, they realized they only needed 1.400 square feet, and all on one level, to be perfectly happy.

Laura, a pediatrician, remembers the day their oldest son, Troy, a senior at Broughton High School, pointed out the amount of space that they didn’t use. “We realized he was right,” she said one recent morning as an early fall breeze wafted through the wall of open glass doors that front the living area. “We never used the formal living room or formal dining room. It was such a waste.”

“If you used a string to measure between us, we were hardly ever more than 10 feet away from each other,” said Greg, a business appraiser who works from home. Along with their parents, Troy and his younger brother, John, a freshman at Broughton, hung out in the eat-in kitchen and family room at the back of the big house. “Yet we were heating and cooling all that space and it took so much effort and energy to clean it.”

Eager to simplify their lives yet stay in the same neighborhood and school zone, the Kellys found a 1,215-square-foot, ranch-style house built in 1954 just a couple of blocks away. It was the perfect foil for a renovation that would express both their family’s lifestyle and their appreciation for clean, modernist design.

The Kellys sold their big house for $675,000 and bought the little one for $245,000. With the profit, they began working with Richard Hall Designs of Raleigh on the renovation. It was important to Laura and Greg to keep the original scale and footprint in respect to the neighborhood. Yet they opened the interior by eliminating walls that separated the original kitchen, dining, and living rooms. A steel beam, exposed inside, replaced the load-bearing wall between the kitchen and living room. A small screened-in porch near the carport became Greg’s home office, effectively increasing the house’s square footage to 1,400.

At the Kellys’ suggestion, Hall replaced the old peaked roof with one angular plane, covered in standing-seem metal. This extends the roofline from its lowest point, at the carport, to 13 feet above the living room at the highest point.

Beneath this peak, Hall replaced the house’s front wall with glass clerestory windows and NanaWall® glass doors that completely open the living space to the 15-by-45-foot deck. For the exterior, stained wood siding offers a warm note among all the glass and steel. An elegant wood and metal partial fence creates privacy and a private garden at the front of the house without actually closing the house off to the neighborhood.

According to Laura and Greg, neither they nor their sons use their bedrooms for more than sleeping, so they kept the original, small (by today’s standards) bedrooms right where they were. Built-in cabinetry provides all the storage they need without intruding on the bedrooms’ limited space. Large window expanses also make the rooms seem larger.

Sleek, built-in storage throughout the house, created by Bo Taylor Custom Woodworking, was one of the renovation’s greatest expenses yet worth every penny, the Kellys say, because it eliminates the need for extra furnishings. And simple, pared-down space was a high priority, especially for Greg, who admits to a strong aversion to clutter and unnecessary decoration. The casework’s rich wood tones also provide a warm counterpoint to the crisp white walls seen throughout the house.

Besides the welcomed benefit of lowering property taxes and energy use expenses, the Kellys say their “little” house feels much bigger than their previous home because it isn’t filled with furnishings and it is so open to the outdoors.

Laura’s father, Troy Herring III, was an architect who, according to Laura, loved the Modernist sensibility. He died when Laura was barely 20. After their new house was completed, an uncle told her that her father would have loved it. “That meant so much to me,” she said. 

You can see more of Richard Hall’s work at www.trianglemodernisthouses.com/hall.htm.