Most of us probably lean toward instant-design, don’t we? We buy a home, change the flooring, update the kitchen and bathrooms, paint and paint and paint, and maybe even buy a couch on a Saturday when we were supposed to be picking out paint colors! And just when we think we can’t take another day of renovation, the project is over! But can you imagine a home renovation that took seven years to complete? That’s exactly how long it has taken Cory and her husband to transform the ancient one-room schoolhouse into a home abundant with thoughtful details and timeless design. Seven years? Time well spent, I’d say! Please enjoy the home that Cory and Douglas (and Otto and Max!) built.

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives in this home!

A: I’m Cory Kallfelz and I live in this special house with my husband, Douglas, and our two sons: Otto, who is seven, and Max, who is three. Our home is located in Rhode Island just up the street from the ocean, nestled in a cluster of very sweet historic cottages. Douglas and I are both architects – a dangerous combo! – and we are passionate about our profession and connect on seeing the world through a similar lens. We met in design school many years ago and greatly value each other’s design counsel. We are avid DIYers and have spent many weekends and nights plugging away at our house project.

Q: How did this home come to be yours?

A: We were sold on this house because of the charm of the immediate neighborhood, its proximity to the water and our little town center, and most definitely because we could get our hands dirty with a hefty renovation. We found the former house – originally an 1890s one-room schoolhouse – and knew that this was our project. Our design juices flowed immediately, and we started our construction two months after closing.

And what a project it has been! Seven years and two kids later, we did a complete gut and added a second floor. You’re probably wondering what happened to the charming one-room schoolhouse? Well, by the time it had come into our hands it had been converted, covered-up, and carpeted. We did keep the 120-year old wood floors, front door, and first floor wall framing, though.

Doug and I put a lot of sweat equity into the renovation, and a house that we could move into was finished just before our first son was born. Oh, I forgot to mention that I got pregnant one month into construction! We moved into our home just in time to welcome young Otto into the world.

Q: Because of its age and its original purpose, there were probably lots of necessary renovations. Seven years’ worth! Where did you start, and how did you prioritize?

A: We actually had to have a lot of vision because in its pre-renovation state, it really wasn’t much. It had this fabulous history but had evolved into a sort of ho-hum house. We knew that we would have to change it dramatically. There was no charm on the inside but its size, location, and potential were so appealing.

To start, we sketched and drew numerous floor plans and elevations, and quickly decided on a simple open living-dining-kitchen layout on the first floor, and bedrooms and baths on the second floor. We moved out and were able to live with family during the construction and truthfully, wouldn’t have been able to do this project without that option. The priority was to move back into a house that had a finished kitchen, one working bathroom, primed walls, and finished floors. We decided that we could chip away at the remainder of the work ourselves.

That list included installing all the doors, trim, finished stair, final paint, and a bath-and-a-half.  As funds and time have become available, we have tackled projects like our master bathroom, hallway library bookshelves, etc. But our initial design had these areas already planned. The plumbing and electrical was in place and recesses were ready to receive the built-ins.

Q: What were your ultimate goals in your renovation? And was it difficult to select all the design items when the renovation took so long? I’m wondering what happens when your original plans or taste change? Does that ever happen?

A: The ultimate goal was to create a home for us that represented our design sense, but was also comfortable and cozy. We knew that we would be raising a family here so it had to be functional and have a great flow: a small house that lives big. I feel like the choices that we’ve made for things like trim and hardware are ones that are based on timeless design. For example, the egg-shaped door knobs are vintage in style but in a brushed nickel finish, which gives them an updated feel.

Can my taste change? Generally my taste has not changed but my obsessions can. Currently, I’m obsessed with built-in benches in breakfast rooms with cozy cushions and great light, which may happen in some house, someday! As for plan changes, we pretty much have stayed true to the general layout. However, Doug and I changed our minds about the location for our front door and moved it last summer. We had lived with the door located in one place for a while and realized that it just wasn’t working. There was a very straight-forward solution and we made the change. Taking time with our renovation has been a good thing in our case, and I often give that advice to clients to not rush into changes – especially when purchasing a new house – and to live in the house for a while and see if that modification really makes sense.

Q: What is your general philosophy to living with kids? Are there rooms in your home that are strictly for adults?

A: Our boys, especially Otto, have played a big part in our renovation. They help when they can and are able. Otto, as a small boy, even had his own kid-sized tool belt. So this is very much their house, too.

There are no off limits spaces, but I would say that we definitely use the vertical height in our house to keep some of the more delicate items like our glass Alvar Aalto vases and Japanese sake service.

We have fairly high ceilings on the first floor and in the upstairs hallway, so we’ve tried to build shelving all the way up to the ceiling to allow for plenty of storage; the boys’ things are at their level.

With such a small house, the boys play everywhere. So I encourage them to be creative with their play so that we are not overrun by a lot of toys. For example, the open stairs are for hoisting, the living room for forts, and the long hallway for car races! Much of their toys can be stashed in bins or in lower cabinets. I’ve also tried to have kid-scaled things in our house like rockers, benches, and stools, built-in toilet seats, and shaker pegs at their height – things that are usable for kids. All that being said, I will admit to a healthy supply of super glue for the occasional break!

The other day, Otto and I were coming in the house after school and he opened the back door, paused, and said, “Mom. I love this house.” Oh, how that warms my heart!

Q: What is your favorite spot in the house?

A: Can I choose more than one? Our three large kitchen windows let in the loveliest light, day or night. There’s also our dining room table with all of its well-worn nicks and scratches, the coziness of our living room at night, the spa feel of our master bath (no kiddo toys next to the soap!), and our family picture wall at the top of the stairs.

Q: Will you share your best personal and professional sources for inspiration?

A: I look for inspiration everywhere, and I’m a glutton for design. In my immediate surroundings, I am inspired by classic New England architecture and town planning. But I also love random things like Japanese packaging and rural quilts made in Alabama. I love traveling for inspiration, like to New York City, and immersing myself in the scale and structure of such a big city. I’m a junky for design magazines and sometimes have too many to get through; my favorite right now for interiors is Canadian House & Home.


Q: What would you admit is your decor or design weakness?

A: I LOVE lighting. I think lighting – whether natural, built-in, or plug-in – can make all the difference in a space. Using layers of lighting with dimmers can really make a room fabulous.  Another weakness I have is that I default to the color black. My husband makes fun of me because whether it’s a piece of furniture, picture frame, or lamp base, I can easily paint that baby black. I think it feels like neutral and allows that piece to be a strong visual support.

Q: What is your best advice for working moms?

A: I’ve found that each job requires dedicated time for it to be done well. I’m able to be quite flexible with my hours, and work certain days of the week when the boys are in school or childcare. Most of my design work is done on those workdays or at night.

When the boys were young, I could work part-time during naps and at night but daytime meetings were tricky without the help of a sitter or my husband. Once my youngest was two and a half, I felt it was the right time to get childcare and start to focus on my business. I feel like everyone’s balance is different and it really requires an individual approach.

Q: What do you hope your boys will remember about their childhood home?

A: I would love them to remember the care and thought that Doug and I have put into making it our home. I hope they remember the walkable location to the ocean and town, the responsible size and materials, and the quality and design of the space. I hope that by living in this environment, the boys embrace the importance of having pride in the place where you live.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: I wish I had known that my career would take me the point where I am; where I am my own boss and crafting a design business. It all happened organically and I guess wish I would have had that take-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude and made the leap to working for myself a few years earlier.

I was hesitant to take the risk and admitting to myself that this is what I wanted…and doing it while being a mom, too. I was nervous about putting my name and design sensibility out there, and also being there for my boys. I can say that thankfully the tides have gone in a positive direction, and I am getting more comfortable with the whole notion that this is my business to foster. I guess I really have three kids, right?

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Thank you, Cory! I love your varied list of inspirations, especially New York City! It’s my favorite, too. And I completely hear you about the risks involved in putting yourself out there professionally and hoping you can keep it all together on the family front, as well.

Friends, have you ever taken on a lengthy renovation? If so, I’d like to ask you the same question I posed to Cory: Has your taste ever changed midway through your project? What happened next?

P.S. — You can find all the home in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!