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Renovation Solutions: Renovation turns ordinary house into something inspiring

The old family house on the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley turned 83 this year.

When Lucynthia Robbins Lines Knudsen received the deed to the house, she couldn't bear to sell it.

"This house has history," Knudsen says. "My parents bought it in 1940. My brother and I grew up in this house. And now a fourth generation will be living here with my daughter and grandchildren moving into the house."

Though Knudsen knew the house needed a complete renovation, she wanted to maintain the spirit of the family home, while opening it up and adding more light and space in the process.

With the exception of one window, additional trim, and a new front porch, the front exterior of the house remained the same.

She kept the shape and footprint of the house except for seven feet that were added at the rear of the house on all three levels.

The interior was gutted and a whole new floor plan inserted. Although Knudsen didn't add a lot of space, it was enough to open up the floor plan and simplify the circulation and flow of the rooms.

She relocated the kitchen and created a great room on the main level. She also included an office/guest room, laundry room and bathroom on the main level.

The upper level used to have three tiny bedrooms and one bathroom. Now it has one bedroom, one bathroom and one spectacular master suite.

The original basement was largely unfinished, consisting of the requisite pine paneled recreation room with the unfinished portion containing the mechanical room and laundry room.

Today, it is completely finished, housing two bedrooms, a bathroom and a light-filled family room.

Knudsen's main complaint about the original house was how plain and ordinary it was. One goal of the project was to dress it up without adding frills.

"I wanted the house to have a clean, modern feel, with lots of light," she says. "I wanted the house to bring in the outside, to bring in the natural light. That was the focus."

To accomplish that goal, a dormer and 12 windows were added to the back of the house. In the master suite, six tall windows now capture the beautiful views.

"I literally can lie in bed and trace the pathway of the moon through my southern facing windows," Knudsen says. "The dormer opens up the view of the mountains on the east side. It is just beautiful."

While she maintained the spirit of the old house, she added a few features that were her own.

Having spent some time in Japan, Knudsen wanted to have a traditional Japanese shower room. The bathroom on the main floor is designed to have the whole room function as a shower.

"It is handicap accessible, so you could literally push a wheelchair in there and they could take a shower," she says.

She also added nine wall niches in the great room for her rock collection. "Rocks and flowers are my thing," she says. "I wanted a place to show off my rocks."

It was also her idea to add hydronic solar panels on the roof to heat the hot water in the house. Another unseen green feature is the top-notch foam insulation throughout.

Although her modern flair shows throughout the house with her contemporary artwork, the metallic see-through fireplace and crisp style, she can still feel the spirit of the house she grew up in.

"I love walking into my house and remembering," she says. "Looking out the window and seeing the old Hawthorn and the big pine that Mom planted. The blooming plum … if this house could talk."

Knudsen still has her mother's needlepoint rendering of the house that shows the former pink exterior with the brown shingled roof.

"Mother did beautiful needlepoint," she says.

"I want to hang that needlepoint in the house now to show how the house used to look. People who know the house already are amazed at how stunning it looks. Now, my ordinary house is something truly inspiring."

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.