Striking a Balance: A Home Designed for Work and Play
When two architects teamed up for the ultimate renovation — a house in the woods for their own family of four — they focused on making space for noise and quiet, introversion and extroversion, work and life.
When Birmingham, Alabama, architects Lynielle and Richard Long’s first house sold before ever putting it on the market, they had a chance to rethink their environment. They had been living in a historic neighborhood brimming with renewal and revitalization, but with their expanding family, what they really hoped to find was a serene place nestled in the woods.
Striking a Balance
After selling their previous house in a historic Birmingham neighborhood, architects Lynielle and Richard Long hoped to find a serene spot nestled in the woods for their expanding family. A split-level rancher in the suburb of Vestavia Hills fit the bill, but it needed a lot of work. Combining their expertise, the couple transformed the tired 1970s property into a family-friendly home for themselves and their two kids. Plus, they made space to set up their own firm, Long and Long Design.
The decking is left natural, while the rafters are stained to match the doors and windows of the house. Contrasts such as this are repeated throughout the Longs’ design. The architects opted for a simple ceiling fan without a light kit, hanging string lights along the perimeter for soft illumination at night.
Choose Art You Love
“Richard has an affinity for water,” Lynielle says. “And we both like being outside.” As a result, much of the artwork they gravitate toward has environmental themes, such as the giclée of a tranquil stream above the console. Lynielle replaced two small table lamps that obscured the artwork with one large floor lamp, which anchors the space.
The Longs chipped off the old brick façade of the 1970s fireplace and designed a layered mantel with echoes of midcentury modern master architect Carlo Scarpa. Once a darkly paneled and carpeted room, the den now blends into the kitchen. Art supplies live high up here — they’re easily accessible by all but little hands.
Let the Light In
Light was seriously lacking in the old house, so the architects added sets of French doors flanking the fireplace. Both sets of doors lead to the screened deck. Contrasts of light and dark, rough and smooth, define the space.
Leave Room to Grow
Add Handmade Touches
For each child’s first birthday, Lynielle made pennant flags that spell out their names and “Happy Birthday” along the panels. The reverse side is blank, featuring only the pattern of the fabrics. For each birthday, she turns them around, but during the remainder of the year they decorate the bedrooms.
Make Space for Quiet
The living room is the area that Richard considers the introverted area of the house: This is where the family goes for quiet moments: listening to or playing music, reading or pausing for a minute of reflection. It adjoins the dining room, which is painted a dark gray for a cozy feel. “Our goal is to have an art collection,” says Richard, “so we wanted a color that would fade into the background and let the art stand out.” Simple but glossy moldings and creamy walls are set off by the rich textures of leather, jute and wood in the living room.
Involve Kids in the Kitchen
A new wall of cabinetry in the kitchen offers pantry space from floor to ceiling and even houses a microwave. “Everything’s on pull-out drawers,” says Lynielle, who enjoys sharing bits of fresh ingredients with the children while she’s cooking. “That way, they play with their kitchenette and feel included in the meal prep while I work.” New hardwood flooring features a mix of plank sizes.
Always Add Storage
“I wanted storage above the hood since you can never have too much,” says Lynielle, who included just two sets of glass doors for glassware and china storage. A wall of marble tile set in a herringbone pattern is easily wiped down and adds subtle dimension. The countertops utilize two tones of quartz: “Blizzard White” on the counters and “London Fog” on the island.
Open Up and Out
The original kitchen was smaller, darker and enclosed. The Longs removed the wall separating the kitchen and den, extended the space out by two feet, and added a series of windows to open it up. The ceilings are the standard 8 feet high, but floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and long, linear shapes lend a sense of more height. They cut new doorways and covered up old doors here, completely reworking the space for a clean and contemporary kitchen.
Think in Zones
The basement includes zones for playing and working. The husband and wife team removed dropped ceilings, painted the cinder-block walls and installed carpet floor tiles — which can be removed and washed or replaced — and layered with rugs to soften the space.
They found their woods not far away in Vestavia Hills, a quiet suburb where evergreens, azaleas and ivy soften the rocky foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. Of course, they fell for the expansive lot with mature trees. Then they brought their combined talents for designing commercial and residential spaces to its substantial but outdated split-level rancher. Undaunted by the Reagan-era wallpaper, plush beige carpeting and faux butcher-block laminate countertops, they slowly transformed the tired 1970s property into a fresh and cheerful place — just the right fit for this family of four.
“The minute we got the key, Richard went in and ripped out the carpet,” says Lynielle. “The next weekend, he tore out a wall.” The wall separated the kitchen from the den, but they weren’t looking to open up the entire house. They established zones, thinking in terms of juxtapositions: active versus passive, loud versus quiet, extroverted versus introverted. The floors were next. When the carpet came up, they realized the floors needed all new hardwoods, so they designed a pattern of various widths for a subtle but distinct sophistication.
They reconceived entryways by adding or widening doors, bumped out an exterior kitchen wall to include a bank of windows, and installed fresh drywall and simple cove molding. They painted every square inch, including the original brown molding on the dining room walls. And then the architects designed a screened deck that enables them to further blur the lines between inside and out. They and their children, now ages 3 and 2, use it year-round.
The split-level house is not only larger with better separation of space, it inspired the young architects to reorient their work environment as well: Not long ago they established their own firm, Long and Long Design, leading Richard and Lynielle to strike a balance in personal versus professional too. With thoughtfully chosen details, plenty of natural light, and an appreciation for the strength and beauty that comes with contrasts, the Longs have ensured that their new old house nestles quite comfortably into the woods — just what they were hoping for.