REINVENTING THE RANCH

It was the property–five pristine, tree–studded acres with a view that seemed to stretch to "infinity–that drew the couple to this location in Westchester County, New York. The house they weren’t so crazy about. "It was a very blah, 1960s ranch with skylights," says Leonard Woods of Kroeger and Woods Associates Architects, who worked on the redesign. "The exterior was a bland beige with white trim."

The couple had sold a quaint Country French-style house to purchase this one, and they knew their hearts belonged with that style of architecture. "The question became, ‘Can we create a Country French feeling within the existing massing?’ "Woods says. The answer was a definite "yes," and the solution for a transformation was much easier than the homeowners might have initially thought.

"We basically did three things," Woods explains. "We changed the exterior to stucco, redesigned the doors and windows, and added dormers. And we did this while retaining the original shape."

French doors along the perimeter of the house add country-villa flair while strongly tying together the interiors and the lush landscape. "They make the house look and feel open. You have this wonderful connection to the outside," Woods says. From the outside, the dormers create the illusion of a second floor. Inside, the addition gives a new look to attic-space guest rooms that once featured skylights.

The house’s floorplan was also relatively easy to manipulate to suit the homeowners’ needs. A dining room, laundry room, and hail were converted into an informal kitchen, family, and breakfast room. A combined living room and dining room space has a more formal feeling, but the French doors and the soothing, creamy tone on the walls makes it very inviting.

The existing interiors were void of distinguishing architectural features. In keeping with the newly designed exterior, the home’s rooms were fitted with new moldings, lavishly detailed doorways with gracious arches, and ceiling beams that immediately recall the charming interiors of a venerable villa tucked away in the French countryside.

The redesign of the house was essentially a collaborative effort among the owners, the architecture firm, and Susan Thorn, an interior designer who worked with the owners on their previous home. When Woods suggested arched doors between the breakfast room and the hall, Thorn found an old armoire in Maine and had the arched doors refitted for the doorway. "We fed off each other’s ideas," Woods says. Together, Woods and Thorn worked with computer design programs to arrange and rearrange furniture throughout the house. "We were able to use almost all of their existing furniture," Thorn says. "And, if it’s possible, it actually looks better in this house than the last one."

Some pieces were reupholstered for the new house, while other furnishings fit in well as-is. Susan had purchased a stately fireplace overmantel and surround for the couple’s last home. Upon selling the house, they reluctantly had to leave behind those pieces. Thorn was going to have the mantel replicated, but she was concerned that the elegant turnings and handsome cornice would not be the same. "Then the people who bought the house called the couple one day and said, ‘We’re not using the mantel. Come over and get it,’ "Thorn remembers. "She [the wife] literally raced over there in her car and got it." Now occupying pride of place in this living room, the overmantel and surround add to the Old World beauty of the house.

Finally, the grounds immediately surrounding the house were enlivened with a courtyard, a charming dependency building, and clusters of boxwood and leafy trees. "There’s a sense of formality," Woods says. "And it was done so well, you don’t sense the new versus the old."

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