Sally and Rick's $5,000 Home

Sally and Rick's $5,000 Home

Therese Maring
Sep 29, 2011

Name: Sally and Rick
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Years lived in: 38 years

When this Madison, Wisconsin home was built in 1935, its clean-lined architecture was considered avant-garde. The flat roof, wrap-around windows, and free-flowing interior were representative of the International Style—several examples of which were built in Madison by the renowned team of Beatty and Strang. (Hamilton Beatty studied under design pioneer Le Corbusier.) Bringing cutting-edge architecture to the masses was a signature of International Style; when the home was featured in the 1936 Architectural Forum as "The Five Thousand Dollar House," it was described as solving the problem of creating a "servantless house for a single lady." Today, it continues to be an example of forward-thinking design as owners Sally and Rick adapt it with eco-friendliness in mind.

Ah, yes. What is one to do when designing a servantless home? It may have been designed for a single woman, but 40 years after the home was built, Sally and Rick purchased it from its original owner; they managed to raise their entire family of four just fine in the 1,500-square-foot space.

When they wanted to modernize the kitchen and bath, however, the couple thought for several years about how to adjust the home's traffic flow for modern life. With the help of architect Tom McHugh, they did a green renovation that blends the new with the old in a way that respects the home's noted heritage.

In addition to adding a modern kitchen and bath, the project involved reorienting the front door to the upper level. (Built on a hill, the home's front door was previously on the lower floor.) The 2011 version of the home features bamboo cabinetry, cork flooring, and lighting that highlights Rick's pottery work. A screened porch looks out onto a garden filled with native species and irrigated with rainwater collected from the home's flat roof. A walkway was designed to allow a relative's wheelchair to weave through the garden without use of a bulky ramp to reach the entrance.

Overall, the home features a cozy, organic style that highlights the owners' love of mid-century Danish furniture and connection to nature. Clerestory windows and skylights bring southern light deep into the interior during the winter. (A must for a couple that spent several years living in Hawaii.) All of which add up to a lovely home that feels both modern and classic.

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Re-Nest Survey:

Our style: Casual, understated, organic

Inspiration: The architecture of the original house reinforced our preferences for clean lines and a tendency toward simplicity.

Favorite Element: We always planned our remodeling to respect the original house. In our effort to make the new kitchen seem integral to the older portions of the house, we used bamboo cabinets in both the kitchen and dining room. There is a lighted display shelf that runs continuously above the cabinets in both rooms—providing soft lighting at night and providing a nice way to display Rick's pottery. It's a really nice element.

Biggest Challenge: The house is on a hill and the main entrance has always been on one of the lower levels. We wanted to reorient the house so that the main entrance brought people in on the upper level. This required converting the old kitchen space into an entry and creating alternative space for a new kitchen and screened porch.

What Friends Say: Our friends all love the update and the additional space. One neighbor told his contractor, "Go see Sally and Rick's screened porch. That's what I want ours to look like."

Proudest DIY: Usually, we're proudest of the last project, whatever it was. Through the years, we have done most of the work ourselves. But the most recent project was so large that we got outside help. Right now, I think we're proudest that the various projects have resulted in a unified "look" that reflects our taste and our lives.

Biggest Indulgence: There are two of them: a dishwasher that it so quiet I sometimes have to touch it to be sure it's running, and a bubble tub.

Green Elements/Initiatives: Through the years, we have added insulation and always purchased the "greenest" appliances, furnace, thermostat, windows, etc. we could. The new kitchen floor is cork and the new cabinets are bamboo—both are considered to be renewable resources. We have installed three skylights to boost the natural light in the house and minimize the need for daytime lighting. Clerestory windows bring southern light deep into the interior during the winter.


Appliances: GE Profile kitchen appliances, except for an Asko high-efficiency dishwasher

Furniture: A collection of traditional leather, mid-century modern and handcrafted pieces from a variety of sources. Cherry tractor-seat stools at the breakfast bar are from Richard Bissell Woodworks in Putney, Vermont.

Accessories and Artwork: We have collections—Madison's annual Art Fair on the Square (run by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) has provided a few pieces. There are a number of pieces that reflect our connections to Hawaii. Then there's Rick's pottery, Sally's stitchery, occasional pieces from family and friends, and lots of books.

Lighting: Lamps and lighting are a combination of fixtures from Madison Lighting (they are great to work with!) and ceramic lamps that Rick has thrown.

Rugs and Carpets: Outside of the kitchen, the flooring is primarily hardwood. Gulessarian's Oriental Rugs in Madison has been the source of almost all of the floor coverings. They have a long-standing policy of letting customers bring their rugs home to see how they fit into what is already in the house in order to find just the right one. It's a wonderful way to do business.

Tiles and Stone: The backsplash in the kitchen is made of handmade, one-inch tiles from Trikeenen Tile, purchased through Nonn's Flooring. They are a perfect accent in the home of a potter. The recent bathroom remodel includes stone flooring from Tile Art.

Flooring: Cork flooring is from Eco-Friendly Flooring in Madison.

Paint: There's not much paint in this house; natural wood paneling was used in many of the International Style homes built in the mid-1930's. The new entry and bathroom have Benjamin Moore paint.

Original design: Beatty and Strang

Kitchen and bath addition: Tom McHugh

More on: International Style in Wisconsin; International Style in Europe and America

(Thanks, Sally and Rick!)

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(Images: Therese Maring)

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