Gary & Yvonne Bushland
The new entrance adds function while respecting the original look of the house.
Gary and Yvonne Bushland could have moved into a condo. The couple considered it. But they had some reservations about the environmental statement they'd make moving into a condo that was "probably built in a place that was a cornfield a year ago," says Gary. Wouldn't making some improvements to their modest, mid-century modern ranch be a more sustainable choice?
The Bushlands, who served in the Peace Corps in Malaysia during the first years of their marriage in the mid-1960s, retain from that experience a sense of not going after more than they need. There, they lived in a village with no electricity for two years. "It was like camping," recalls Yvonne; reading was the main form of entertainment. Moving to a condo with a lot of bells and whistles and where maintenance would be done for them didn't sit right. And the prospect of some disarray brought on by a remodel wasn't anything they couldn't handle.
They chose to stay in their home, making necessary improvements in the roof and chimney - but also remodeling to improve the home's layout, energy efficiency and safety. The landscaping got an up-do, as well.
The Bushlands' home seems remarkable by chance rather than design. It sits adjacent to state-owned Mendota Mental Health Center land; the woods across the street is fronted by flowering crabs and old, established lilacs. It was designed by Louis (or Lewis) Casada, who built a number of homes on the street, mostly conventional ranches from the late 1950s. For some reason, Casada loaded a few more mid-century trademark details into this particular one, and "came up with a more interesting house," Gary reflects. It's a simple design, but even before the remodel, it had good bones.
The living area is paneled with unusual textured square wood "tiles" made from so-called Philippine mahogany (red lauan) stained with orange shellac. The roof is mostly flat, with some sections having a slight pitch. The breezeway, originally open to the garage, had been closed in but not otherwise insulated by a previous owner. The exterior siding is vertical redwood.
It's a "reasonable house," say the Bushlands. They bought the house in 1970 and lived there, raising two kids, without making major changes: "We upgraded the electric, but didn't put a lot into the house," says Gary.
Partly their upbringings, and partly their Peace Corps experience, left both Gary and Yvonne with the idea that "you do your projects yourself." In this case, they did what they could. They knew what they wanted to change and drew up their own plans, but also called on a network of relatives and friends for advice and to accomplish the big work - the plumber was a friend who recommended the electrician who recommended the landscaper, and so forth.
Because the chimney needed to be rebuilt and the roof was leaking, the project started at the top. The first question was what to do with the flat roof - undeniably a problem in a Wisconsin winter, but also an integral part of the look of the house. Gary consulted a friend, a structural engineer at Marshall Erdman, who confirmed what the couple already suspected: From the standpoint of the house's design, "that roof wants to stay flat."
A compromise was reached, wherein a low pitch was created, insulation added in the newly created space and better waterproofing applied to the roof deck. Yet to the eye, the roof still appears flat, since the new slope is hidden by the new entranceway that's bumped out at the front of the house.
The breezeway was transformed from an uninsulated spot that had become a storeroom to a dining room: insulated, drywalled, painted a light blue-green shade called "Venetian Dew" and brightened with new maple floors. This is the major addition of space to the house, yet the square footage was always there - it's just now become fully functional. A new door, mostly glass, lets light from the breezeway lighten the living room.
From the street, the addition of a new front entryway has the most impact. By bumping the front of the house out a few feet and orienting the front door to the side of the buildout, rather than the front, the living room gained two large windows facing the woods. This augmented both available light and the view, and created a space for guests to take off coats and boots before entering the living area. A new coat closet adds storage space. This is where most of the 300 square feet added to the home's footprint is found.
Redwood from the original front was carefully removed for reuse elsewhere in the project. The new entry, which needed considerably more wood, was constructed from cedar. It has yet to be stained to match the existing siding, and finding a way to match the stain is an ongoing project.
The new front necessitated the removal of the old foundation landscaping. Around back, a two-foot bump-out adds some more space to the interior. Outside, a crumbling cement patio was removed and fill was added to create a better slope for drainage. New brick paving stones and a new wooden deck behind the breezeway extend the living area into the backyard. Finally, a honeysuckle hedge was moved from next to the house to the rear lot line, saved because the birds love it.
Some of the less noticeable changes are just as important. A new soffit and fascia don't have to be painted. Because the original stairs to the basement were shallow and, Yvonne felt, a safety hazard for them and their grandkids, they were replaced. A second bathroom was created in the basement, too, and one of the cellar windows was enlarged for better light and egress. A larger-than-normal window well was created out of large landscaping stones; the landscaper even created natural steps from the stones to lead out of the hollow. Finally a new two-car driveway was poured, although they decided to stick with their original one-car garage.
The interior is still a work in progress. The windows in the dining room, originally built as exterior windows from the house to the breezeway, need a paint solution so they better blend with the new exterior windows. The first-floor bathroom still needs to be remodeled and other windows replaced for energy efficiency. And there is the matter of matching the exterior stain.
"We're not purists," says Yvonne Bushland of the mid-century modern style - their decor is closer to what she calls "family eclectic," with pieces handed down from grandparents, a Formica table from the '50s that coexists with batik art they brought back from Malaysia, and of course plenty of family photos.
Yvonne is happiest with the new dining room, because she now has a space where she can "have everybody all eating together" at the holidays without setting up a table that takes over the entire living room.
Gary likes "the overall look and function" of the whole remodel, especially the way the new front blends in. Even so, "We could have done less," he says. "We raised two kids here with just one bathroom."