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Exploit Your Surroundings

Over the weekend, I got together with some old college friends for a reunion in a vacation rental near St. Michael's, Md. It was an aesthetically talented group consisting of about a dozen architects, interior designers, architectural engineers and yours truly, whose training in design is limited to the layout of newspaper pages. (Hat tip to J.C. Castner, an architect in Wayne, Pa., for the watercolor, above, which he did from the patio.) Let's just say everything about the layout and construction of our rental house was thoroughly picked apart, from the noisiness of its plastic plumbing to the quality of its windows.

It was an adequate house with acreage, up for sale at more than $1 million. But it was just a builder's stock floor plan for a two-story farmhouse with attached garage and vinyl siding. And the natural beauty of the site deserved much, much more than a stock floor plan, unmodified to take full advantage of the views.

We were sitting on waterfront property along Harris Creek, a broad tributary that flows into Chesapeake Bay. My friends pointed out the expansive windows that house should have to bring that view indoors, as well as the relaxed dining and seating areas that should be oriented toward the rear of the house, where the creek views are. They discussed the ways existing furniture could be re-arranged to make a more pleasant, more useful living space.

The take-away is much like what you hear on fashion makeover shows: Make the most of what you've got. Most homes don't have fabulous natural scenery on the doorstep, but there's likely to be some feature you can highlight. It could be the landscaping of your Georgetown patio, a view of the urban streetscape, or an interior feature such as a fireplace around which you create a cozy and elegant space for conversation.

What's the highlight of your home?

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  April 22, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Home features , Outdoors , Remodeling and repair  | Tags: Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Shore, St. Michael's, design, makeover, remodeling, vacation home, windows  
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Our new breakfast nook! History: we bought a big old house a few years ago, basically American Foursquare with a 6 1/2' x 21' porch off the back. 40-50 yrs ago, they turned the place into apartments (= recipe for bad architectural decisions + poor quality work and materials). As part of that effort, they enclosed the back porch to make a kitchen. When we bought it, you'd never have known the place had a gorgeous yard -- the entire back wall was floor to ceiling dark oak cabinets, with one teeny little window. And even though there was a deck right off the kitchen, to get there, you had to walk all the way down the porch to the side door, then back along a narrow strip of deck to get to the main deck. Really, really stupid.

So we flip-flopped the kitchen with the adjacent breakfast room and turned that back porch into a breakfast nook and mudroom. We added 3 pairs of big windows, and big glass doors out to the deck (yes, this was back when people were still making home equity loans!). And just a week ago, my husband finished building two cushioned cherry benches and a matching arc-shaped table that fit into the windowed breakfast nook corner. It's still a small area, but now I can sit in the corner, surrounded by windows, and look out at my big maple tree, watch the sun come up, etc. The only downside is that, with all those new windows, you can really see how crappy the deck is! :-)

Posted by: laura33 | April 22, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

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