Story by Tosha Kelly • Photography by Kevin G. Smith
They say history repeats itself. In home décor, we're seeing retro prints, shag carpet and bold colors like orange and avocado green being reintroduced. But then there are some things – like cramped kitchens and popcorn ceilings – that really should just stay in the past.
Coordinators Interior Design Group, Nathalie Talbot
Kingfisher Construction, Kit Callahan
Cabinetry & Teak Stair Rail:
Fabricated by Jon Deel of Jon's Woodworking
Oak Hardwood Flooring:
Wildwood Hardwood Floors
Bathroom Glass & Porcelain Tiles:
Glass Hand Rail, Shower & Mirrors:
Alaska Architectural Lighting & Louis Poulsen
Caesarstone Quartz Kitchen & Master Bath Countertops:
Mountain Tops Ltd.
Alaska Marble & Granite
Heat & Glo
Jill Smythe's home was victim to those and many other "dated" elements, making it cry out for a makeover. With more than 20 years of wear and tear and several generations of cats, her 1970's midtown Anchorage townhouse was in bad need of updating. Smythe decided her recent retirement would be the perfect time for a fresh start.
She enlisted Catherine Call and Anne Wortmann of Blue Sky Studio to help with the many interior design decisions that had to be made – from spatial strategy in kitchen and bathroom layouts down to details such as light switches, door handles and wood finishes.
"It had never been touched since it was built," says Call. "This was your classic 70's home." A main goal was to up the quality level of everything, while giving it a fresh modern twist that would highlight Smythe's art collection, her Louis Poulsen lighting and love for Danish furniture. "We wanted to take it from the 70's to a very clean, loft-like space."
"The house was almost gutted – much of it taken down to the studs," Smythe recalls. Some of the walls were replaced and all were resurfaced. All popcorn ceilings and a dark ceiling beam were covered with sheetrock and re-plastered. After, to help open up the space, all of the trim and walls were painted white. "By painting everything white, your eyes look out into the landscape more," says Call.
To make a lasting first impression, Call added a glass French door to give an infinite feel and sense of flow throughout the home. Solid core flush doors replaced the remaining doors. "They aren't flimsy, and they give more acoustic privacy," says Call.
An electric mat under the entryway tile adds a measure of comfort and convenience. Warm tile is comfortable to stocking feet, and evaporates melted snow tracked in on boots.
Smythe's entry leads in to space that is now open and airy. Sunlight from a row of high windows is amplified by the creamy white walls and pale hardwood flooring. Smythe wanted the design to create a tranquil environment, so soft and easy colors like sea green were chosen to help make the space peaceful. Using a neutral palette, including an oak wood floor, allowed her artwork and other accent pieces, including a comfortable wooden-frame couch with black leather cushions, to sing.
Call designed the living room for lots of space. By "floating" the furniture in the center of the room, the space around the outside feels larger and more open. It's a very modern concept, she says. A gas-fired fireplace was installed for ambiance and warmth, with a television positioned above it to create a two-tiered entertainment center. That way, explains Call, "you're not looking one way for the fireplace and another way for the TV."
A key area during the remodel was the kitchen. Originally it was built as a tiny galley kitchen with a dropped ceiling, which made for a cramped, cave-like feel. The decision was made to extend the kitchen along the back wall of what had previously been the dining area. On the opposing wall, the upper cabinets were eliminated and the counter was expanded to accommodate drawers and cupboards, facing both the kitchen and living room. This created a large island and completely opened up the kitchen to the living room area. Doorways leading into and out of the old galley kitchen were taken out, along with the dropped ceiling. To illuminate the new space, recessed lighting was installed throughout the kitchen and dining area. Three pendant lanterns hang from the lofty ceiling to give additional light, warm the space and soften the straight edge of the upper floor.
The baths draw on a serene, sea-inspired palette of sand and watered blue-greens, Call says. "In the guest bath, a recycled glass floor tile in a pale sea green, with clear iridescent glass tile, mosaics and trim create a shimmering blue for the tub surround, and a maple vanity adds the warmth of sand," Call explains. "Plumbing fixtures, Corian countertop and walls in crisp white offset the pale ocean colors."
Once an "itty-bitty room," the master bath was expanded with a dressing and vanity area using the same modern maple cabinetry as in the kitchen. "I decided to get rid of the bathtub, which I almost never used, and put in a really nice big shower," Smythe says – complete with a handheld showerhead, a rain shower, and a built-in seat. "Cream-colored porcelain tile reminiscent of sand, with sea green recycled glass floor tile and the shot of green on the edges of the frameless European shower bring in the sea," says Call.
The standard stairway was transformed into a structural glass stairway with teak handrails and an aluminum cap so it feels larger and carries light into the upper area, says Call. And the loft lighting was updated with a new monorail system.
Smythe's home was a case of less is more, explains Call. "We took a lot of things out, and put back very few things. Pulling the living room into the center gave a sense of spaciousness instead of 'why isn't this space used?' Part of the serenity aspect that makes this place work is the gentle flow and transition of color and material from one room to the next," she says. "That simple, consistent palette contributes to the sense of space and flow in the home."
"(The contractor) told me that the smartest thing I did was hire Blue Sky Studio," says Smythe, "and he was absolutely right." There were far too many decisions to be made alone, she adds, and the designers thought of things that would never have occurred to her. "My house is so beautiful and peaceful now, I hate to leave it."