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updated: 6/24/2014 3:17 PM

Ways to make an older home work for today

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  • This 80-year-old Denmark home was modernized with the addition of large windows in the roof to enhance upstairs bedrooms.

      This 80-year-old Denmark home was modernized with the addition of large windows in the roof to enhance upstairs bedrooms.
    Courtesy of Velux

 

Remodels present more challenges per square foot than new construction. Is this based on statistics? No way. But I have experienced myriad oddities over the course of years working with builders, homeowners and craftsmen on all manner of projects.

You never know what you will find when you tear out a wall or begin to lift up layers of old flooring. Surprises are the one constant in a process that is loaded with inconsistencies; cracks, leaks and rotten materials abound.

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Often, in a vintage house, to capture enough room for your needs you must convince an attic or basement to function in a more modern capacity despite all manner of problems. There are low ceilings that make you feel oppressed. There are strange changes in floor elevations due to retrofitting. Sometimes there are ducts that pass right through a room, stealing headroom in an unattractive way. Some basements are such a mess of mismatched materials that you cannot imagine wanting to spend time there.

The challenge is to fix what is wrong in a way that enables you to not only use the space, but to enjoy it. The room pictured here exists in an 80-year-old house outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. A young couple bought the house for their family and immediately recognized they needed a remodel. One challenge was to improve two dark rooms to become suitable children's bedrooms. The old rooms each had one small window.

The architect suggested a total of 12 large roof windows, which were to become a part of each child's room. Such a dramatic access to daylight made an enormous difference in the appeal of the rooms. Reportedly, the homeowner was nervous about the large exposure until she realized that no one could look into the upstairs rooms from the ground level.

Experiencing the amazing light in person, after staring at architectural drawings, made all the difference in the world.

When natural light isn't easily added due to either a budget or physical constraint, consider other ways of increasing the perception of space. Eliminate too many changes in building materials and aim for uniformity with one floor type or one paint color. Keeping the color scheme simple can aid in streamlining odd features that you cannot eliminate. Don't forget to look for ways to improve on the artificial light.

Know that even if you aim for energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, you can buy full spectrum bulbs that mimic daylight. This light is much better for accurate color rendition and increases the subliminal comfort in a space. We humans are attracted to warm light sources. Even in a rental, you can take the bulbs out and make a trip to your local specialty light bulb store where an informed salesperson can aid you in replacing the bulbs with better quality light output.

If you are working with odd spaces, do your best to eliminate clutter and visual noise. The more individual piles and stacks, the more distraction and discomfort you will feel in the area.

Eliminate lots of small pieces of furniture that add to the cacophony. Try to use storage pieces of furniture that feature closed storage compartments.

When a room is odd in some way, keep any other distractions at a minimum.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net.

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