preservation vs. renovation, part 1

by Oct 25, 2012ModArchitecture0 comments

architect woodie garber’s personal residence, circa 1966, as furnished by the architect himself (complete with bertoia sculptures), and perfectly preserved in this photograph

We like to think that we can preserve things forever.  But as any homeowner knows, things break or lifestyles change and modifications are the only way to improve the quality of life.  As our Midcentury housing stock passes the half century mark, it is often no longer a question of aesthetics (old vs. new), but a matter of necessity.  Faucets break, refrigerators or wall ovens need replacing and newer models no longer fit the old spaces.  And then there is the whole issue of improving energy efficiency.  What is a homeowner to do?  As our previous post points out, often one thing leads to another.

To me, the biggest no-brainer of all is undoing a previous renovation.  It is absolutely a license to do what you want, or what YOU think is best for the house.  But what about ripping original elements out of a midcentury home?  Is it ever a good idea?  I always go back to the principle of ‘form follows function.’  My #1 advice to clients is to live in a house for a while if you can before you make any changes.  You never really know how you are going to use the space until you are there.   Shortcomings usually present themselves quickly.  Improvements to the flow of the space are priceless.

the garber house kitchen after a previous renovation


great room as it is today with partial walls removed and NO MORE CARPET!

Case in point, the Garber House we just listed.  We had the great pleasure of selling this house to the current owners 3 years ago.  When the house was designed by Woodie Garber in 1966, it was his concept of ultimate modern living.  His mother owned one of the grand old Glendale homes and even though the house was huge, everyone hung out in the modest kitchen (designed for servants, not family gathering).  He vowed that he would design a better house.  The resulting creation is basically a huge 20 x 40 ft open rectangle with a large open kitchen at one end.  4 bedrooms were located behind the kitchen and opened into the communal space.  The lower level of the home was parking for up to 12 cars and freezer and root and wine cellar storage for all of the fruit and vegetables grown on the property.  There was no direct access from the main living level of the home to the lower level because there was not living space there.

Fast forward about 20 years.  The lower level had been divided into a 3 car garage with a mother in law suite beyond.  But still, the only way to access this level was from the outside.  Not a huge deal for the garage, but very inconvenient for accessing the suite and storage areas.  The house stayed like this for another 20 years or so, until the current owner, an architect, took it upon herself to modify the house for the way we live today.  A lovely open stairway was added in the entry of the home to provide direct access to the living area below.  The laundry was then moved to this level to allow for a larger master bath, and the 4th bedroom was converted to an amazing walk-in master closet (actually part of Garber’s original grand plan – to expand the master as the children left the nest –  that was never executed).

the former 4th bedroom is now a spacious and beautiful modern walk in closet and dressing room


view of the walk in closet as it connects to the master bedroom in this modular and flexible post and beam floorplan

Several energy efficient updates were added by the previous owners (r22 roof insulation, low e argon filled insulated windows) and current owners (high efficiency two stage furnace, smart thermostat).  Simple but extremely impactful changes that dramatically improve the efficiency and functionality of a home designed for modern living.  I think Woodie would approve, and appreciate that ‘state of the art 1966’ was just that close to being ‘state of the art 2012.’

new modern stairway to provide direct access to living areas on the lower level


the garber house, SOLD by cincinnatimodern to it’s next lucky owners!


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