Revitalized Midcentury Rancher

Savannah homeowners return a '50s rancher to its former glory with salvaged materials and color.
White Modern Kitchen With Colorful Accents

White Modern Kitchen With Colorful Accents

Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

By: Elizabeth Beeler

Savannah-based designer Celestino Piralla of CSCP Consult Design maintains an undeniable passion for all things modern. The Venezuelan native grew up embracing purist principles passed down from his grandfather, renowned architect Zoltan Piralla. Not surprisingly, when Celestino and PR guru Cornelia Stumpf stumbled across a midcentury modern abode that had undergone only a few renovations, they quickly halted their Savannah home search.

Besotted with the home's open plan, large windows, original features and its straightforward architectural elements, the pair saw past plenty of imperfections and embraced the idea of restoring the architectural gem. "Midcentury modern architecture is often overlooked," says Cornelia. "Nevertheless, these buildings are historic and deserve their place in architectural history. They represent one of the best periods in design."

Left vacant for more than two years and tired from decades of disregard, the 1,852-square-foot rancher was in need of attention. "The home looked like it had been neglected for about 20 years," says Celestino. "We had to peel back a few layers from the '70s, but overall, the structure had great bones and had maintained its authenticity."

This project exceeded standard expectations. Each and every modification harkens modernist principles and reinstates the home's iconic midcentury ethos. "The goal was to return the house to its original architectural language and allow the modernist concepts of comfortable, rational and practical to dictate the feel," says Celestino.

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BEFORE

BEFORE

White Modern Kitchen With Colorful Accents

White Modern Kitchen With Colorful Accents

AFTER

AFTER

The Scope of the Restoration

With form and function as primary considerations, Celestino and Cornelia brought the home up to speed over the duration of a single year.

  • Add a 5-inch lift to create a level foundation.
  • Remove wall-to-wall worn shag carpeting to reveal the original concrete floors.
  • Integrate the living room with the adjacent space by removing a wall.
  • Relocate dual sets of sliding-glass doors to the exterior facade.
  • Dismantle acoustical "popcorn" ceilings to expose the home's tongue-and-groove wood framework.
  • Paint ceilings white with an eco-friendly paint to lend an open, airy feel.

Midcentury Kitchen and Living Room Remodel

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Lackluster Beginnings

Prior to purchase, the home's exterior was desperate for an upgrade. Savannah-based designer Celestino Piralla and Cornelia Stumpf mended cracks in the bricks' mortar, enclosed the carport with decorative concrete blocks, and repaired the walks and driveway. They chose an eco-friendly spray foam for roof insulation, which increases energy efficiency and lowers utility bills.

Midcentury Curb Appeal

Amongst some of the country's best architecture, this midcentury bungalow rarely goes unnoticed. Cast concrete blocks laid in a brick-like pattern and a gently sloped low-profile roofline nod to the home's midcentury style. The front door's turquoise hue hints at the playful palette inside.

Desperate for an Upgrade

In its former state, the kitchen's cabinetry was not salvageable. While the basic kitchen layout was maintained, additional base cabinets were added for storage. Floral wallpaper, a brass chandelier, laminate countertops and obsolete appliances called out for an update.

Energy Efficient and Compact

Celestino and Cornelia chose stainless European appliances for their compactness and low-energy consumption.

Floor Plan for Storage

Celestino implemented a slight spacial reconfiguration in the kitchen's layout to accommodate an under-counter wine cooler. Its low placement keeps it largely out of sight.

Reclaimed Appliances

The oven was the only salvageable kitchen appliance. With its bright turquoise hue, the home's original GE oven is just as fashionable today as it was a half century ago. From toasters and blenders to refrigerators and ranges, new appliances in a variety of punchy colors are now being manufactured to mimic this '50s-era look.

Chic Cabinetry

The couple selected sustainable glass cabinetry manufactured by Bazzeo. A groove inset into the bottom edge of upper cabinets functions in lieu of pulls, keeping the look uninterrupted.

Bright and Colorful

Gypsum wallboard painted white brightens the dining area and tames texture underfoot. The original windows were kept intact, preserving the home's period appeal.

Salvaged Slate Floors

The original flooring in an array of earth-toned hues visually defines the adjoining kitchen and dining areas. When Celestino and Cornelia took ownership of the home, the existing stone floors were undamaged — only requiring a simple cleaning.

Groovy Lighting

Celestino added a pendant comprised of milk glass above the dining table for practicality. The modular design goes hand-in-hand with the home's vintage style.

Retro Furnishings

The living room's Danish modern seating was passed down to Cornelia from her family in Germany, while the nearby vintage sofa was purchased from a Miami Beach shop. The retro wooden-topped coffee table is one of the couple's favorite finds. "It's an original Harry Bertoia bench that's rare and hardly ever comes on the market," says Celestino.

Bold Vintage Finds

The couple found a Saarinen womb chair and ottoman in its original upholstery at an estate sale a decade ago. Instead of a standard floor lamp, an original George Nelson cigar lamp attached to the wall operates on a swing arm and casts a soft glow.

A Ceiling With Charm

Celestino removed dropped acoustical "popcorn" ceilings, leaving the wood framework exposed and maximizing ceiling heights. Wood offers warmth, character and layers of texture that can't be matched by flat paint on drywall.

Geometric Design

A suspended stream of shapes joined by metal links creates a visual divide without blocking light from the living area's windowed wall. "The partition was one of those rare finds," says Celestino. "The screen creates a non-intrusive separation of the space."

Practical and Sophisticated

Once wall-to-wall carpeting was lifted, the home's concrete floors were given a second chance to shine. The floors were repaired and polished in a glossy satin sheen; the low-maintenance application offers a practical surface underfoot.

Layers of History

Cast concrete block walls that mimic the home's exterior façade were discovered behind layers of '70s grass cloth. With its rough, tactile surface, the brickwork adds another layer of texture to the home and balances the look of sleek concrete floors.

Tackling the Kitchen

In the kitchen and dining area, Celestino and Cornelia scrubbed the existing slate floors and let them set the tone underfoot.

They kept the soffit lighting and gave its original bold orange hue a fresh coat of paint. "The kitchen hadn't received upgrades or any substantial maintenance over the years and needed major attention," says Cornelia.

Unable to salvage the existing cabinetry damaged from a flood, Celestino and Cornelia opted for flush-mounted glass cabinet faces mounted atop aluminum frames for a sleek look. "The cabinetry maintains the same clean, unobtrusive vocabulary as the rest of the house," says Celestino. Base cabinetry painted taupe visually anchors the room, while blanched upper cabinetry void of pulls maintains seamless design.

When it came to the appliances, Cornelia insisted on keeping the fully functional circa-1954 GE wall oven — and its turquoise hue — allowing it to serve as the primary focal point from every vantage. "Preservation and reuse are the ultimate forms of recycling," she says.

Efficiency and low-energy consumption were the chief determinants for new appliance selection, but the couple sought appliances that wouldn't visually detract from the home's overall character.

"I saw it appropriate to integrate green ideas into the space whenever possible," says Celestino. Sustainable cabinetry, a low-energy induction cooktop, a dishwasher that utilizes less water than comparable models and a compact energy efficient refrigerator ensure this space is practical and stylish. Celestino finished off the look with chic quartz countertops in white that won't scratch or stain.

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For seating, Danish modern chairs upholstered in contrasting hues throw a playful twist at the otherwise polished space. Pictured, designer Celestino Piralla

For seating, Danish modern chairs upholstered in contrasting hues throw a playful twist at the otherwise polished space. Pictured, designer Celestino Piralla

With its understated design elements, the house serves as a blank canvas for furniture, art and accessories. Mavens on all things midcentury modern, the couple had no trouble filling the space with items they love.

Instead of cluttering the home with many small, unnecessary items, Celestino and Cornelia allowed a few chosen pieces to make a big impact. From the bright red Saarinen womb chair and the George Nelson cigar wall pendant to the genuine Harry Bertoia bench, every inch pays homage to midcentury decor.

While each entity reflects a revered modernist era, the overall look reads as collected. "Not one single piece of furniture or artwork was selected to 'match,'" says Celestino.

Consequently, in a city known for its historical Greek revival and neoclassic architecture, this residence remains firmly grounded in its modern roots. "Restoring and saving these wonderful midcentury homes achieves not only a rewarding design result, it also preserves history," says Cornelia. "I hope this renovation inspires people to look beyond dated carpet and ugly wallpaper and do the same."

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