Design Q +A: A mid-century Farm Pond renovation

Staying in the footprint, but opening the house to the light and the views.

The dining room of the Farm Pond house after the remodel. – Courtesy Jill Neubauer

Design by Jill Neubauer

How large is the home?

Roughly 2,500 square feet.

Was the footprint changed, or just the interior?

Just interior.

What were the goals of the client at the outset?

Two generations from the D.C. area were buying a home together as a vacation home — it was an original ranch, and it needed a full overhaul. The idea was to make it fresh, light, and fun, and be able to work for really three generations: a retired single father and his son, the son’s wife, and two children.

What did they have on their wish list, and how did you collaborate — did they confer with you throughout, or just let you do what you wanted?

It was a nice collaboration — they were open to ideas and products. They had nice taste and simple, elegant mid-century goals.

It was such a wonderful ranch/cottage — stripped down, with very simple rooms with hooks on the walls and open shelves, the occasional built-in. It hadn’t been touched — everything was original, from the ’50s or maybe early ’60s. It had kind of an ugly open garage. You’d arrive and look into a cavernous hole.

The house was kind of dark and sad, but cool. They had the vision to make it lighter, but

really bought that mid-century look. And they were completely realistic about not wanting to do something to make the house something it shouldn’t be.

It had a strong floor plan. I loved it.

What changes did you make?

We opened up the kitchen, just opened it up to the living room, and renovated the windows so when you came in, you could see the view of the lawn leading out to Farm Pond. The change was inspired by function, joy, light.

The fireplace was great, a concrete hearth — we just ground it down. It had built-in bookshelves on the side, so we took those out so you could move around the whole fireplace.

That front sitting area became a kind of family TV area. We enclosed the garage, gave it a door; enclosed the basement stairs.

We gave the grandfather his own bedroom and bath; I think we took a kitchen pantry to accommodate this. There was a funky window seat in the master, and the windows were kind of high. So we put bigger windows so he could see the lawn and water.

We didn’t move any bathrooms — just cleaned them up and changed the access from the master.

The deck had been broken up into pieces, one goofy part with just a Weber grill. So we created just one great deck — no railings, just flat.

The other thing was that that screen porch was very dingy and a little creepy-crawler-y. It had a solid wall — when you went down the hallway, there were two solid-core doors out onto the deck. So we got rid of those, put all new windows in, and made a stronger connection to the living room, so the screen porch became cozier, and the hallway lighter. We painted the ceiling in there, and it went from dark to light, and made it feel fresh.

What materials and finishes were chosen or changed?

In all three bathrooms we used large, simple subway tiles. Just one look for all three. I think a 4- by 8-inch white tile from Lowe’s — clean and simple.

Who came up with the design — the colors and furniture?

We were involved with the colors of things attached to the house, and the owners had great taste; they did the furniture themselves.

Did you have challenges you had to deal with?

It really was all fun. There were nice lines to work with. The son is a landscape architect, so he had solid connection to design. There was no need programmatically to change the footprint; the new owners just fit well into that footprint, so there was no pressure to change it.

Do you like designing renovations?

I love renovations, because they can just transform a house.

That house renovated so beautifully — it just needed a fresh bath and new set of clothes. And because the clients were so realistic, they didn’t want to ask the house to do something it didn’t want to do.

We’re advocates for our clients, but we also become advocates for the building. Sometimes clients ask a lot of a building — we say maybe a building doesn’t want to be that.

It’s so great when people really get a house.


Jill Neubauer,