Old Home, Modern Living: A Re-cap of Amy’s Presentation at Open Book

Amy spoke at Open Book (a small independent bookstore in Elkins Park – its located at the foot of the train station if you want to swing by) this fall. 

Visit Open Book, click here

She spoke on a topic that is not only a part of her profession as an interior designer but also the reality of her daily life: Living in an old house with modern design. Here are some of the insights she shared:

Amy feels that it is a privilege to own an old home, and considers a solemn responsibility to honor its original character when making interior design choices. She takes this same approach with our clients as well. As a part of an interior design consultation, Amy works to help define the characteristics that are important to highlight in a space. When working on merging old house charm with the standards of modern living, often it’s best to start with the needs of the family. 

When Amy’s family first moved into the house, there was no first floor powder room.   The Cukers converted a coat closet into a powder room but then guess what?   No coat storage!  As in many renovation projects, one solution found creates a new problem to solve.   Coats and shoes were overflowing in the butler’s pantry and up the back stairs.

A mudroom was definitely in order to solve this dilemma.   For more details about the Cukers’ mudroom project visit our previous Mudroom blog post, click here.

Many modern families prefer an open living concept to the divided up rooms typically found in older homes.   While divided rooms can be cozy, openness leads to increased connection when entertaining and supervising our children. It takes a bit of space planning, and in many cases bringing in architects and/or structural engineers to help understand what’s possible when it comes to opening up a space.

Here is the plan that Amy and her friends over at Phase 2 Architecture came up with:

Cuker Kitchen Before

Cuker Kitchen After

When making big changes its important to have a master plan (read more here on that matter. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. It is also important to do the following:

  • Define the wants and needs – what does the family want? What are the conveniences that will add to the space?
  • Preserve the detail – what are the features of the home that shouldn’t be lost or hidden but rather appreciated and highlighted?
  • Sustainability/Environmental Responsibility – how can we incorporate green design into this project? Check out more details from a previous article from the Philadelphia Inquirer featuring our client’s Fairmount row home, click here.

Let’s look at these important tasks more closely.

Define your wants and needs.  If the original floor plan had small, carved up spaces you can consider having them opened up. For example, opening up the kitchen to the family room creates a stronger connection between the two most-used living spaces.


If you want an island but it can’t work in your space, remember it doesn’t have to be built in. You can even raise the height and add a work surface to a piece of furniture for a freestanding, inexpensive island.

Photo from Hayneedle

If you need more storage, a place to put away shoes and coats, hide pet supplies, etc. consider repurposing school lockers for storage.

 You can also subdivide a bench and install hooks for hanging.  With all the chalkboard paint and magnet boards out there now with some good planning and ease you can have a command center set up to keep organized.  

Preserve the details . Maybe a new detail in your home references an old one to tie the two together.   Amy’s new dining room built ins reference (but don’t literally quote) the original cabinets found in the living room.

The original medicine cabinet and tile in Amy’s bathroom was maintained even when this space required an emergency renovation.

New bathroom with original medicine cabinet
Original tile maintained

Finally, once the space is done, make it yours by filling the space with artifacts that have meaning.  You can always ask us for help.  Speaking of, in the next blog post we will focus on how to get the right help to make your dreams a reality.

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