A year after moving into her airy west Little Rock colonial, homeowner Lindsey Ryan seems to be experiencing a case of architectural amnesia.
“You’re walking into the original family room,” she says as she gives a tour of the completely renovated space, whose cool blues and crisp whites recall the tones of a seashore hideaway. She pauses, placing one hand on her hip, a confused expression furrowing her brow. “Or was there a bathroom here? I mean, it was really, like, three different spaces.”
“This was the bathroom,” pipes in builder Richard Harp, the contractor responsible for the home’s top-to-bottom transformation. He points to the windows at the front of the expansive living room. “And that was a bedroom. And that was the living room,” he says, motioning to what’s now a formal dining room, “but you had to walk through it to get to the kitchen.”
Ryan’s case of amnesia is certainly a pardonable offense, given that so much has changed since she and her husband, John, purchased their ’70s-era rambler, which sits atop an established, tree-studded lot in Little Rock’s Pleasant Valley. A stripped-to-the-studs renovation isn’t exactly what the couple was looking for when they started their search for a home where they could entertain and unwind with their two teenage daughters. But after hearing Harp’s vision for the space and receiving a vote of confidence from their longtime interior designer, Miguel Newberg, they decided to take a leap of faith and make an offer.
The potential for the renovation was difficult for the homeowners to envision at first. “I kept asking, ‘What can we do with this? And can this be done?’” Ryan says. Harp, however, could easily visualize the open-concept, family-friendly space the couple desired. He knew the first order of business was to take down some walls—a lot of them.
“There was a wall here, one here,” says Harp, walking through the lower-level’s living room and adjoining kitchen and eating area. “We would just walk from box to box to box to go throughout this house. Everything about this was not right.”
Walking through the space now, the last adjective you’d use to describe the space is “boxy.” As you breeze through the white-washed living room—ground zero for the family’s day-to-day activities—and arrive in the kitchen, you can almost take in the whole of the lower level from any given vantage point. The gourmet kitchen extends along the length of the back of the house, emptying onto a meticulously manicured lawn and an outdoor room, outfitted with perks such as a flat-screen television, a wood-burning fireplace, cozy club chairs and a showstopper of a wooden pergola. An oversized island runs down the center of the kitchen, and six inviting, boldly patterned stools are snuggled up beside the island—the best seats in the house, says Ryan.
“Before, I called this kitchen ‘Mel’s Diner,’” she says with a laugh, recalling its two tiny “pickup windows” and its crammed and cluttered workspace. “Now, the island is where we do everything. It’s where we land. There are four of us in the family, but there are never just four of us at home—it’s constantly full of family and friends.”
Designer Miguel Newberg, Ryan’s sorority sister and longtime friend, understood how important entertaining was to the family and kept those needs at the forefront as she started to brainstorm how they might revamp the space.
“I came in before an offer was even on the table to talk to Lindsey about what could be done,” Newberg says. “You know, just dreaming.”
As she and Ryan worked together, tracing furniture layouts in the sawdust and pulling paint samples and pattern swatches, the design concept “just kind of evolved,” Newberg says. But as they worked through the interior plans, it became apparent that something was missing: a place for John.
“With two teenage girls? John needs his space,” says Ryan, stepping out of the kitchen’s French doors onto the patio, which was designed as an extension of the home’s entertaining space, as well as a place for John to relax and watch his beloved Razorbacks. “This was just a little slab, a skinny little strip with a retaining wall that looked like it was going to fall any minute.” She points to the television-viewing area. “We had that thing going before we even had the furniture. He’d bring out the tailgate chairs, and we’d sit out there and watch Breaking Bad, burning a fire in the fireplace.”
As the heat of summer melts into fall, the Ryans are anxious to make the most of their outdoor room, where they’ll host Razorback watch parties and family gatherings. “It’s always, always geared around sports,” Ryan says. And while John is plenty pleased with the space he now shares with his family, there’s still one thing left on the renovation agenda.
“The plans for the ‘man cave’ addition!” says Ryan, poking Harp in the arm, a gentle reminder about “phase 2” of the renovation project. “Don’t rip them up—you never know.”
Contractor: Richard Harp Homes
Designer: Miguel Newberg, M. N’teriors
Lighting: TEC Electric
Lawn and patio: Better Lawns & Gardens
Outdoor furniture and fireplace: Antique Brick
Paint: Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams