In this post: Want to add character to an ordinary townhouse? Check out how we transformed our modern townhouse into a French Country home.⇒
I live in an empty nest.
The house one chooses to live in once the kids leave the nest has very different requirements than the one you choose to live in when you’re first raising a family.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is how we came to select the house we live in.
In today’s post I’m sharing why I chose my house, what works and what needs adjusting.
The most important thing to know about my house is that it’s a “typical” new townhouse, attached on one side.
The downside of a townhouse, particularly a new one, is that it often lacks character. Materials are generally builder’s grade, floor plans are limited to just a few options, and all of the homes in the neighborhood look the same on the outside. There are rules that restrict what you can do to the exterior, and even plantings need to be approved.
But oh how the positives outweigh these negatives!
The real reason we chose this home is precisely because it was a modern townhouse, and some of the key benefits had to do with not being responsible for the outside. Our development provides gardening and snow removal and anything that needs repair on the outside of the townhouse is not our burden. It’s super easy living.
Likewise, a new home brings with it other advantages, from smoother walls and fewer repairs, to a layout tailored to modern living. Our ceilings are high, our closets are spacious and our rooms have a semi-open concept. The laundry is conveniently located on the second floor, while downstairs the kitchen opens up to the congenial family room.
Our windows aren’t painted shut, the gas fireplace turns on with the flip of a switch, and most of the mechanical systems are state of the art.
Creating a French Country Home
But a new modern townhouse is short on personality, and this is the area I knew I’d spend most of my time on.
We already had a house full of furniture from our old house (an old brick colonial from the 40’s which you can see HERE), and to start off I brought most of it along to our new place. While we were downsizing in price, the house itself is actually a lot bigger than our previous home, so everything fit and I wanted to preserve the French Country character I had cultivated all these years.
Updating the furniture is something I’ve been working on throughout the few years we’ve been here, but for this post I wanted to focus on the things that are unique to the townhouse itself. As it turns out, most of the negatives we’ve been able to convert into positives, giving priority to adding character in my favored design style.
The first space I’ll highlight is the back patio, the only outdoor space that we own as part of the house. We do have grass and trees beyond our terrace, but those are technically common land that belong to the development. So we needed to ensure our patio served all of our needs, and furnished it accordingly, with a conversation area that could also be used for sunning. A small bistro set allows us to eat outside, and we also have a grill placed next to our kitchen. It turns out the patio is so convenient, that we use it more than we ever used our old backyard.
While the patio simply called for decorating and furniture, the space that commanded the most work was the original kitchen. Given the house was only 5 years old when we bought it, it was hard to justify ripping out such a significant room, but I was clear before we bought it that I would only proceed with the purchase if we agreed to some renovation.
It was dark cherry wood with all black counters and a dark gray backsplash and mud colored floor. It was as far from my style as a room could be and the darkness depressed me every time I walked into the room
I did compromise and save money by painting the cabinets white and installing glass front doors, and the hardware was changed as well to go with the new pendant lighting. Antique accessories underscore my French-inspired style and look lovely set against the new marble backsplash.
(You can see more of our dramatic kitchen renovation here.)
A smaller project and perhaps my very favorite, was the transformation of a storage closet, located next to the dining room, into a butler’s pantry with an elegant French look. Again I chose white cabinets with brass hardware, and a white marble counter and calacatta backsplash. The wine fridge makes it useful, and the chandelier is more whimsical, incorporating vintage teacups and pink crystal drops.
See the butler’s pantry renovation here. You won’t believe the before picture!
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The third renovation that helped make this modern townhouse a home, was the one we recently did to update the master bath. Like the kitchen, we didn’t change the footprint, as the room was pretty new and needed only cosmetic changes, but I could not stand the tile and nearly all black vanity. We replaced all the tile, along with the vanity and counter. The white with pops of grey offers the perfect backdrop for my vintage silver and crystal pieces, as well as the lovely warmth of the satin brass hardware.
See the full bathroom renovation here.
There were other less involved changes we made to add French character to our home, including a new fireplace mantel that became the focal point in our family room. It’s white and traditional, with carved details and is sized ideally for its place in the room.
We also changed most of the lighting, using primarily vintage pieces, to add a grander style to the majority of our rooms. Gilding and crystal figure prominently here, and we used reproductions as well, when it seemed the smarter option.
Additionally we added molding to the rooms where it was missing, a key component to bringing character to a modern townhouse. At the same time we dressed things up using elegant hardware and trim, including drapery rods and tie backs for a period look in our spaces.
I love having the best of both worlds in our updated empty nest, mixing the character of old with the convenience of new.
But the thing I love most is having the open space to entertain, and all brand new bedrooms to entice the kids to come back and visit!
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