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.
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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 Then they brought their combined talents for designing commercial and residential spaces to its substantial but outdated split-level rancher.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.