For 25 years, David and Cathy Sussman lived comfortably enough in the split-level house in Golden Valley where they raised their two daughters.
The house, built in 1964, still had many of its original features and finishes.
“We hadn’t done anything but paint,” said David. “We still had the speckled Formica countertop and the powder blue bathroom.”
Ready to make a change, the couple started looking at houses. “But we love our neighborhood [South Tyrol Hills],” David said.
So they decided to stay and remodel.
“We didn’t need more space. We needed different space,” said David. The Sussmans had a lot of ideas about what they wanted in a home. For years, they’d gone on house tours and compiled a wish list of features.
Cathy, who traveled extensively for work (pre-coronavirus), wanted their home to be a refuge, a place she would be happy to return to. David wanted to open up their spaces, bring in more light and feel more in touch with the outdoors.
To accomplish those goals, the couple hired architects David O’Brien Wagner and Marta Snow of SALA Architects and builder Stephen Roche of Showcase Renovations.
“It’s a solidly built house, with good bones,” said Wagner of the Sussmans’ house. He aimed to enhance its midcentury modern character, while personalizing it for the Sussmans — “making it something special, about the two of them.”
David Sussman, who had recently retired and has a keen interest in design, had time to be closely involved with the project. “I could be onsite every day and make decisions on the spot,” he said. And Roche, who regularly collaborates with Wagner, was closely involved in the final design, to offer input on feasibility and cost implications.
The house had plenty of space, but the split-level entry was small and cramped. A 30-square-foot bump-out addition at the front door created a more welcoming entrance. “Two or three guests can arrive and not be elbow to elbow,” Wagner said.
The split staircase just inside the front door was flipped to improve sight lines from the entry into the home and toward a big window overlooking the backyard.
“What a difference it makes!” said Roche.
The spacious new entry is paneled in whitewashed fir, with a hidden closet, and accented with metal-lined niches where David can display “things that make me smile” — whimsical keepsakes, such as his vintage adding machine, a pair of ’70s Earth Shoes and a Pez dispenser.
Punctuating the exterior
Wagner also updated the home’s exterior, removing original brick trim and “reskinning” the house with dark blue horizontal siding to emphasize its horizontal lines and deep roof overhang. He updated the windows and added a wide horizontal slot window to let in more light and punctuate the design. The front door is now a bold red. “The split entry becomes an exclamation point,” said Wagner.
Inside, the upper level got a dramatically different floor plan.
The former family room at the rear of the house is now a light-filled great room that leads to a new deck on one side and is open to the kitchen on the other. A wall was removed, and a 32-foot steel I-beam was added for support, creating one connected space.
The family room had been part of an earlier addition, and its ceilings were higher than the rest of the house. Wagner emphasized the height differential, wrapping walls and the kitchen ceiling in whitewashed fir, which lowered the kitchen ceiling a few more inches. “It heightens the experience of the space and adds a little more drama,” he said.
The new kitchen is clean-lined and uncluttered, with pullout pantries and appliances behind cabinet doors. A 12-foot island topped with white quartz also provides storage, including deep drawers for dishes. “Every little detail is thought through,” David said.
The great room and kitchen are flooded with natural light. “Even when it’s cloudy outside, it’s nice and bright inside,” said Roche, while UV glass protects the couple’s artwork.
“Before, we kept the draperies closed because we didn’t want the art to fade,” said David.
The living room at the front of the house had been underused, so Wagner repurposed it to create a library for Cathy and an office for David.
Cathy, an avid reader, wanted walls of open shelves in her library. “I love to be surrounded by books,” she said. Before the makeover, there were bookshelves all over the house to hold her thousands of volumes. “Now they’re in one place,” she said, along with her favorite Eames chair and a window seat.
A tea aficionado, Cathy also has a pass-through in her library to the “tea center” in the pantry, which is equipped with a storage cabinet for her vast collection of teas and a sink with a concealed hot-water dispenser.
David’s office has a built-in desk with a big window overlooking the front yard. “It brings the outside in,” he said, and allows him to see and wave at their neighbors. The metal-lined display niches in the front entry also open into David’s office, so he can see his collectibles.
“It’s the first time we’ve had our own spaces,” he said. “Before, we’ve always shared.”
At the other end of the upper level, two of the three bedrooms were combined to create a spacious owners’ suite. The bedroom has floating built-in dressers flanking a floating window seat. The bathroom has a floating vanity, heated floors and high-placed horizontal windows that offer views of sky and treetops without sacrificing privacy.
And the Sussmans’ revamped home is also more energy-efficient. Solar panels on the roof generate electricity that’s stored in two Tesla batteries, with the extra sold back to Xcel Energy.
The Sussmans rented an apartment nearby while their house was under construction. As a prelude, they significantly pared down their belongings.
“We got rid of a third of what we had,” said David, who led the charge.
“He said, ‘If you wouldn’t buy it today, get rid of it,’ ” Cathy recalled.
Now with fewer possessions and more built-in storage, their home is streamlined and simple, without “visual distraction,” said David.
“There used to be a lot of clutter,” said Cathy. “There was never a place to put things. There’s a certain stress that comes with that. Now there’s a place for everything, it’s easy to keep clean, and it’s super nice to come home to. It’s amazing how stress-relieving it is.”
The Sussmans had planned to open their home to visitors this week as part of the Parade of Homes Remodelers Showcase. That event was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak — and their daughter and son-in-law, who recently returned from Europe, were advised to self-isolate. They’re staying with the Sussmans, who will self-isolate with them.
“We have all of our supplies,” said David.
Fortunately, their new and improved house is an appealing place to hunker down.
“It brings us so much joy,” said David. “We love living here.”