Discovered on The Modern House: St. Francis House, a monastic retreat transformed into “an exceptionally chic modern home.” Located in Cambridgeshire, a 45-minute train journey from London, the late-Georgian structure was built as a country estate. It was in the 1950s that a religious order moved in and purpose-rebuilt the place as a silent retreat, stripping out just about all of the original detailing and introducing, among other things, 22 spartan bedrooms on the second floor.
Ten years ago, when Anna Unwin and Willie McDougall spotted the property in a real estate listing, they were looking to relocate from London with their three daughters. Anna, who runs AU Bespoke, is an interiors stylist and sourcing specialist, and Willie is a developer—talents that enabled them to envision a new life for all 8,500-square feet.
They opened up the downstairs as a series of invitingly tranquil living spaces, and added one of the chicest pale pink kitchens we’ve come across. As for the upstairs monk’s cells, they converted those into five bedroom suites, glam bathrooms included. Their kids are now grown and the couple say they feel ready to roam—they both have business in Ibiza and plan to spend half time there—so their giant remodel is back on the market. Join us for a tour—and go to The Modern House if you’re tempted to move in.
Photography courtesy of The Modern House.
The roof tiles are Welsh slate, one of many details that look as if they’ve always been here but were in fact brought in by Anna and Willie.
The World War I brass bullet cases on the mantel are from Anna’s AU Bespoke collection.
Go to The Modern House to see more.
Here are some three more standout house transformations in England:
In this Ask A Designer column, Jennifer Koper shares her ideas for making an awkward living-dining room more polished.
Question: The angled wall in my living room has me stumped, and I’m not sure what to put on my bare walls. Could you help me with furniture and lighting? — T.M., Dawson Creek, B.C.
Answer: You’re on the right track with your deep wall color, but the bare walls make the room fall a bit flat. A wonderful way to add architectural interest and texture to a space is to invest in built-in bookcases. Consider having shallow, wraparound built-ins made for both long living room walls, as well as the angled wall. Paint the bookcases the same dark hue and fill the shelves with books, art and decorative objets. Be sure to vary the “fullness” of each shelf to avoid a look that’s packed too tight. Treating all three walls the same way will also help disguise the awkward angle.
Next, update your sofa with a contemporary charcoal-colored version with subtle texture. The tone-on-tone effect of the sofa, walls and bookcases will create a snug, cocooned feeling. Consider choosing a sofa that’s slightly less deep than your current one to gain back some of the space that will be taken up by the new bookcases.
(Source: Kimberly Sofa in Midnight by Distinctly Home, $1,599, thebay.com)
I recommend swapping out your love seat for two luxurious club chairs in a channelled black leather.
(Source: Schuler Club Chair, $999, shelterfurniture.ca)
Then, add a smoked glass coffee table for a modern touch; the glass, although tinted, will make the table feel lighter.
(Source: Verre Square Coffee Table in Grey, $599, eq3.com)
A round wooden accent table placed between the club chairs and a nubby wool rug underfoot will bring in a touch of warmth.
(Source: Trill Round Wood Side Table, $499, cb2.ca)
(Source: Hand-Woven Chunky Woolen Cable Rug in Off-White by NuLoom, $444, homedepot.ca)
In your adjoining dining area, replace the exposed bulb fixture with a more streamlined shaded version that will cast a softer glow. Its classic style will also temper the more modern pieces in the living area.
(Source: Piaf 39 Inch 4 Light Chandelier by Thomas O’Brien for Visual Comfort, $1,467, robinsonlightingcentre.com)
This mix of textures and styles will add plenty of interest to your space and give you a cozy but dynamic room, perfect for relaxing or entertaining.
Do you have a design dilemma? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Midway through a particularly bleak New York City winter, I’ve been fantasizing about a potential escape—most recently, to Copenhagen. A few weeks ago I was planning an imaginary/hopeful trip, looking at airfares, and poking around the Internet for new hotels and wine bars to try when I stumbled upon Hverdagen—a new restaurant in the city’s industrial-cool Kødbyen neighborhood with warm, clean-lined interiors, paper lanterns, and terra cotta-colored details—and added it to my wish-list itinerary.
A little more digging revealed that the restaurant interiors are by Danish studio Vermland, founded by cabinet maker Joakim Tolf Vulpius and young architect Anton Bak—the very same Anton Bak behind a scrappy two-week, $1000 renovation in Brooklyn we featured a couple of years ago, when he was a spacial designer at the Royal Danish Academy and his partner, Kristina Line, was interning at Søren Rose Studio in New York. The design world is small.
Back to the restaurant: It’s full of lovely, subtle design details to take note of—and looks well worth a visit should you find yourself in Copenhagen.
Photography by Jannick Boerlum, courtesy of Vermland.
1. Hang the table.
2. Keep to a tight color palette.
3. Disguise the W.C.
4. And keep materials of a piece.
Above: Every piece of furniture in the restaurant is made from a single Douglas fir tree and inspired by Japanese joinery.
5. Add texture with dried branches.
6. Employ the subtlest of checks.
7. Hang lanterns.
8. Use food as decor.
More Copenhagen restaurants and restaurants on my someday-itinerary:
When we last checked in on Anna Pipkorn Skermer and Jane Kilpatrick of Pipkorn Kilpatrick, the Melbourne-based interior designers had just tackled their first big commission: an extraordinarily refined houseboat: see Lake Luxe, Scandi-Style. Today, we’re spotlighting another nature-centric project of theirs: Kilpatrick’s own indoor-outdoor kitchen in a charmingly tiny Edwardian brick row house in Melbourne’s Fitzroy.
To remake the quarters for Kilpatrick and her husband, the duo created a new “flow-through floor plan from front door to backyard,” ending in a clean-lined kitchen that’s fully open to the backyard. The front of the house was largely preserved. What had to be fully reconfigured was an existing north-facing addition out back: a clutch of small spaces ending in an awkward bath/laundry that was the sunniest room in the house. The laundry duo is now tucked out of sight, and a brick terrace and plantings have taken center stage off the large open kitchen. The remodel was completed 10 years ago and recently photographed to prepare the house for sale—Kilpatrick and her husband now have three young sons and need bigger quarters. We think this one looks hard to equal.
Photography courtesy of Pipkorn Kilpatrick.
The house dates to the 1890s and brick salvaged from the remodel was reused to pave the new terrace. The plantings include an herbs garden in an old wooden crate.
The small sink, Kilpatrick says, is scaled to the room: “it’s big enough to wash big pots and deep enough to hide dishes when doing a quick clean.”
Craving outdoor access? Here are three more remodels that connect kitchen to garden:
Remodeling for when one room leads to the next and the next
“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten
For every homeowner, there are certain household features that just aren’t negotiable: from space layout to square footage and modern features. Some owners are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their home matches their preferences which was certainly true for Lavanya and Regis, a couple who had to try (and try again) before finding a space that truly felt like home.
They had sold an apartment that she had loved, and proceeded to buy and move into another that they both really disliked. Lavanya, the executive producer for Artifex Productions, a New York City-based production company, decided to give it another try, saying, “We were on the hunt for something like the old place.”
The renewed search was for a railroad-style layout with distinct spaces that could serve different purposes for home and business activities. When she and her partner Regis, who manages an NYC-based restaurant, and Frankie, their 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier, saw it, they knew it was the one. They snapped up the place, posted their project onto Sweeten, a free renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors, and quickly found a contractor with the chops to help them implement their vision for their unusually-shaped home.
The long-skinny layout, which was introduced in New York City in the mid-19th century and is also referred to as a “floor-through,” is known for its small, narrow rooms. However, with some help, it can become the perfect layout for a couple with at least one work-at-homer. Lavanya knew from the first apartment she and her husband had that a long, rambling railroad-style flat could be configured to create a private office for her to work in without feeling like the rest of their home life was overlapping with her space.
They found their new apartment in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. The two-bedroom condo was 700 square feet and, as is typical, stretched from the front of the prewar building, built around 1910, to its rear. One thing railroad-style apartments are known for is the immodest “bathtub in the kitchen.” Although their new apartment didn’t feature one of those, the overall layout still didn’t fit the couple’s day-to-day needs.
When Lavanya and Regis signed their Sweeten contractor, they understood that they would need a six-month renovation to cover work across multiple rooms. To begin with, the condo was strangely configured: the master bedroom was at the apartment’s back end, far from the bathroom, and next to it was the dining area, which, as the former owners had it arranged, was separated from the living area by the kitchen. To the couple, the apartment’s arrangement felt backward.
To help the couple, their contractor recommended Jennifer Levy of CAVdesign Interiors to make sense of the space they were working with and create the right flow that would work for them. The team decided to flip the layout so that the area that had been the living room would become their bedroom. The rear bedroom, which was large, would become a living area and office.
[P]ocket and barn doors…saved a ton of space and made our whole home feel modern and cool.
The kitchen had issues, including old, honey-colored wood cabinets and a layout that was far from its efficient capacity. The floors throughout the apartment were uneven and stained a reddish color which felt outdated. Their goal was to make the main rooms bright and airy by integrating glossy white-painted wood floors, built-in storage, and recessed lighting on dimmers.
Next up for redesign was the bathroom. The tub had been shoved into a corner and closed off by an unattractive partial wall, creating a very narrow and dark opening. The toilet and sink were installed too close together and the bathroom had minimal storage. Ultimately, the duo wanted to reconfigure the room to create a more spacious, spa-like environment.
Their Sweeten contractor installed solid oak wood floors and painted the planks with a high-performance floor paint. They ran into challenges while updating the lighting when the electricians realized that installing the dimmable lighting would require replacing the wiring to bring it to code. This ended up creating many new holes in the walls, which then needed to be patched and skim coated putting the project behind schedule. One bright consolation was the brand new dimmer switches—one of their favorite features.
The kitchen was a success without many problems to solve. The contractor suggested hiding the refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher behind panels that matched the cabinetry. The room was spacious enough that their new washer and dryer found their place behind a closet without conflict. The finishing touches included handmade tiles for the backsplash and a custom butcher-block counter.
Lavanya was especially excited about the closets custom-designed for the bedrooms, with sliding shoe racks to accommodate her self-professed “footwear addiction.” That organizational theme continued on many of the interior thresholds with pocket and barn doors; this idea, which their contractor embraced, saved significant space and made their whole home feel modern and stylish.
The bathroom redesign was a creative collaboration between Lavanya and Regis who enjoyed both the planning process and end result. They opted for a hand-poured concrete floor and custom cabinets, along with luxurious hand-made tiles for the shower and a deep, cast-iron soaking bathtub (a non-negotiable for the couple.) New shower fixtures, including a rain showerhead, a towel heater, and a dimmable backlit mirror pulled it all together.
Every step of the way, their Sweeten contractor was fantastic: “Relaxed and professional from the outset, he helped me stay calm, even when delays and surprise expenses came up. The electricians and plumbers were exceptional as well,” said Lavanya. During the renovation, their contractor came up with ideas to keep costs at the right place and also substituted some expensive ideas with affordable ones.
“We love our gleaming floors and the brightness of the rooms, and our beautiful, modern bathroom. It’s like we live in a white palace!” Lavanya shared.
Thank you, Lavanya and Regis, for sharing your space with us!
LIVING AREA RESOURCES: Corotech floor paint in Bone, wall paint in China White: Benjamin Moore. Ceiling fan: The Home Depot. Dimmers: Lutron.
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Ringhult kitchen cabinets: IKEA. Brushed steel cabinet hardware: Sugastune. Craft-Art American Cherry butcher-block countertops: Specialty Kitchens. Foundation Brick Paper Matte backsplash tile: Ann Sacks. Faucet: Grohe. Sink: Kohler. Refrigerator and dishwasher: Blomberg. Range: KitchenAid.
Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.
I’ve been in the market for a good area rug for years. In fact, I’ve never owned one. I’ve always been lucky with good-enough wood flooring to sit with my indecision—and without a living room rug. The trouble is: area rugs are expensive. It’s a massive commitment, taking up 9 by 12 feet in a room and costing thousands of dollars. If you’re looking to spend under $1k on an area rug, but would still like one fairly well made and neutral in tone, here is our list of favorites.
Shopping for more rug styles or price points? See our posts:
A successful kitchen renovation isn’t measured by the number of walls knocked down or the size of a kitchen island. Instead, it’s the thoughtful details and design elements culled over time from Pinterest and the hours of research on materials coming to life that brings the joy for a lifestyle that finally fits you and your family.
Here we look at 11 kitchens renovated by homeowners who came to Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects. Some were major transformations removing walls, creating built-ins, and adding new windows, while others proved that smart improvements in space efficiency, updated materials, and renewed layouts gave them the overall refreshes they wanted.
From outdated to classic gray
After living on Long Island for many years, Rosalind and Lawrence were ready to downsize and return to their beloved former hometown of Brooklyn. They purchased a 100-year-old home in Cypress Hills and slowly started renovating the outdated spaces. After refreshes of two bathrooms, a staircase, and a walk-in closet were complete, they decided to turn their attention to the kitchen.
The main problem besides the yellow walls, dated wooden cabinets, and orange-tiled backsplash, was the lack of storage. Rosalind was forced to store her larger appliances like the slow cooker and mixer in the living room. So, with the help of a Sweeten contractor, the couple reimagined their layout and added a kitchen island that doubles as storage as well as a convenient gathering spot. Rosalind chose gray tones throughout and accented them with interesting geometric shapes.
Same layout, more storage
Shoko and Rob really liked their 900-square-foot apartment in Harlem, New York. The only thing that gnawed at them was the “orange-y cabinetry, shiny black appliances, and brown countertop.” So they decided to take the plunge and redo the small kitchen.
They did their research and found information from designer Keren Richter on how to make the most of their cook space and turned to Sweeten to execute their vision. In addition to overhauling the look of the kitchen, they wanted to improve the flow and functionality with more storage as their top goal. Their original kitchen didn’t take advantage of the ceiling height so they extended the new upper cabinetry to get as close as possible to the ceiling. In all, they were able to create a minimalist style yet warm space to cook in and entertain.
Dark and dated to contemporary chic
How do you make a house feel more like a loft apartment? First, you open up the layout so that you have an unobstructed sightline across the first floor. For Romuald and his family, this meant tearing down a wall between the kitchen and the main living space. To regain the storage space lost by removing the cabinets on that wall, they decided to do what many do: build an island.
They also added other design touches to fit into their cooking-centric lives. Their Sweeten contractor suggested they install an “appliance garage” to make their countertop less cluttered. Being avid cooks, Romuald and his wife have a lot of small appliances, including a toaster, coffee maker, and mixer, that would be nicely concealed—but yet easily accessible—by this storage solution. They also put in a pot-filler above the stove and a microwave drawer in the island.
The warm gray cabinets complement the white quartz countertop and the classic subway tile of the backsplash. For ease of cleaning and added durability, Romuald installed a porcelain floor that mimics the look of real wood.
Veteran renovators Jennifer and Joe always knew their New Jersey apartment wouldn’t be complete without a kitchen remodel. They, like many homeowners, wanted an open-concept layout in order to see the amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and George Washington Bridge that their apartment affords.
They asked their Sweeten contractor to knock down a wall to get better sightlines to the wall of windows in their living room. Unfortunately, the entire wall could not be removed as it was load-bearing. So their contractor took down as much of the wall as possible and utilized the rest of the space to house the refrigerator.
Jennifer and Joe based the design entirely around the marble waterfall island, which features a deep black base with white veins throughout the countertop. The color palette of the entire kitchen plays off the two tones, with glossy black drawers and all-white upper and lower cabinetry as well as a white quartz countertop. Not one detail was spared, from the under-cabinet lighting to the textured backsplash.
Midcentury Scandi meets Italian modern
“I wanted midcentury Scandi meets 70s Italian modern,” says Brooklyn Sweeten homeowner Melissa of her design preference for her kitchen. The co-op building itself had a midcentury vibe so she wanted to continue it inside.
First things first, her Sweeten contractor removed walls that were blocking off the kitchen from the living area. Once that was complete, natural sunlight bathed the entire apartment. She carefully selected a mix of different materials (matte concrete floor and counters) as well as warmer accents in her textile and paint choices. A built-in shelf intersects over a new peninsula for additional seating. She didn’t move the plumbing (which is an added cost) or change the location of the appliances.
From the ’80s to modern industrial
For their one-bedroom co-op in a 19th-century converted warehouse, homeowners Dan and Mike wanted to bring their 1980s kitchen into a new era. While they desired a nod to the industrial roots of the building, they did want the aesthetic to be balanced.
They hired a Sweeten contractor to help redefine the space. To create an open floor plan, a wall was removed as well as the upper cabinets, which were replaced with beautiful open shelves of salvaged Douglas Fir. The base cabinets were updated from laminate to a full set of IKEA cabinets and drawers, customized by Semihandmade. A modern waterfall countertop on the peninsula was used to visually separate the kitchen entry. They also utilized different natural and synthetic wood finishes to maintain a measure of warmth and masculinity.
A dark kitchen sees the (natural) light
Even after tackling other updates to their colonial-style home, Nydia and Jonathan knew that renovating their Brooklyn kitchen was a top priority. The old version had mismatched appliances, dated cabinets, and not enough counter space. The dark space hardly felt welcoming (or functional) for their family of five.
They turned to Sweeten to help with the construction process, hiring a trusted contractor from its carefully vetted network. The project involved rethinking the layout to opening up the stairway to the basement, which is accessed via the kitchen. The renovation helped key kitchen elements find new locations: the refrigerator moved out of the main cooking area, the dishwasher now sits directly across from the sink, and the walls surrounding the basement stairs were taken down. By replacing existing cabinets with ceiling-height ones and adding a peninsula, the space was really transformed.
From functional to fabulous
A mutual love of cooking (and of cooking together) ultimately led Marissa and Jeremy to renovate their small kitchen in their Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, co-op. The space was so cramped that it brought about a special house rule: Only one person allowed in the kitchen at a time when cooking in order to keep the peace.
Twenty-four inches of usable counter space was quintupled through the renovation, while other unique elements were added to suit the couple’s preferences and lifestyle. For example, they went non-traditional for the backsplash, using an antique mirror. They also installed a ventless washer/dryer combo unit and removed the space-invading gas dryer vent. “While a gas dryer dries clothes much faster than a ventless dryer, I wanted the extra counter space more than I wanted clothes dried in 20 minutes,” Marissa said. They capped off the gas vent and went long with the back counter. “I am excited about so many parts of our kitchen that I don’t know if I can pick a favorite!” she said.
A modern vision brought to life through an extension
For Laura and Tim, they decided they needed to do something about their kitchen that was “falling apart”—it had water damage from a leaky shower upstairs, the door to the patio was drafty, the cabinets were dark and “grungy,” and it generally just needed some fixing up.
The couple consulted their friend and designer Suzy Leon of Suzy Leon Design, Ltd. and came up with a plan to gut the existing kitchen but also enclose their back patio. The additional interior square footage would connect and provide a better flow between the kitchen, dining room, and outdoor space. The new enclosure would feature skylights to brighten the space.
They kept the galley layout but chose a light color palette in the “minty” green shaker cabinets to offset the dark plank wood floors. White quartz countertops were utilized to help make the flow look more open and airy.
Reaching new heights—with less ceiling
With an 18-inch tiny dishwasher, an oven that wasn’t big enough to fit a cookie tray, and a kitchen sitting underneath a loft, a renovation was long overdue for this mom who cooked five nights a week.
One major challenge homeowners Emily and Trey faced was the inability to move the building’s intercom system that was smack in the middle of the kitchen. They hired a Sweeten contractor who came up with a good solution: create an L-shaped peninsula to accommodate the immovable pole—and give them more space and storage at the same time.
In addition to the new peninsula, they were also able to get rid of the loft above, which increased the ceiling height drastically. The result was a well-thought-out new kitchen perfect for the family of four’s busy lifestyle.
First time’s a charm
Jennifer and Jonn couldn’t believe their luck when they found their 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom duplex in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was the perfect location for their family of two kids and a dog. The story goes that the co-op was the result of combining three one-bedroom apartments to create a huge two-level residence with sole access to a sprawling rear garden. Voila! The perfect home…but with one catch: It needed to be renovated.
The couple had their work cut out for them with this space that hadn’t been updated since the ’70s. They hired a contractor through Sweeten who was able to transform their white laminate kitchen into a light-filled galley kitchen with an eat-in banquette. They used shaker cabinets and five-panel doors while incorporating metals like brass lights and stainless steel appliances for a modern look.
Kitchens are arguably one of the most pivotal spaces in our homes. From giving us a gathering point to break bread together to providing space to tackle assignments and hobbies; every kitchen should deliver the kind of peace of mind (and organizational flow) that homeowners need.
Inspired to renovate your kitchen? Check out Sweeten’s cost guides here.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.
Spotted on our designer friend Victoria Kirk‘s Instagram: Rosetta in Mexico City, the prettiest restaurant we’ve seen in a while. Owner Elena Reygadas studied in New York and London before returning home to open Rosetta in 2010; since then, she’s earned a place on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, she was named Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2014, and—the ultimate accolade—Alice Waters blurbed her new cookbook.
“The restaurant is in a beautiful old colonial building,” Victoria says, “and the interiors are enchanting. You really feel the feminine touch; the walls are covered in floral frescoes and there are plants everywhere, draped from the ceiling or tucked in corners. It’s all about foliage. The cuisine is an interesting fusion of Italian and Mexican and the design is a mix of eclectic elements. It all works somehow.”
“I feel more at home in the 1970s,” Bella Freud told WOI Magazine not long ago. So it’s not a surprise that her collaboration on a London apartment for the Television Centre Helios Building in London has a glamorous 1970s Italian vibe, with a palette of rust, green and marigold and a collection of mod furniture from the era. Freud, the British fashion designer known as a “master of upmarket irreverence” (as well as for being the daughter of painter Lucien Freud and great granddaughter of Sigmund), collaborated on the interiors with Maria Speake, co-founder of Retrouvius (the pair have worked together before, including on Freud’s own London apartment).
Located in west London’s White City district, in the former quarters of the BBC, the three-bedroom penthouse apartment was overhauled by architects Piercy & Co., who designed the upper level as an open expanse that includes a living area and elegantly detailed kitchen plus utility room, with the lower level housing the bedrooms.
For more information and to see the full listing, go to The Modern House.
For more eccentric British interiors, see:
‘Mamma Mia’ Music Producer Nick Gilpin’s Stylishly Revived Georgian Manse
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