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Split Level Renovation Strategies

The Split Level Home

Unleashed by production builders in the 60’s and 70’s, split level homes are the most difficult type of house to transform into the way our customers want to live today. At the same time, these homes are also in the current sweet spot for in-town renovations because of their location on the growth rings of cities. Typically, split level homes are good candidates for an architectural intervention. They are close to town, and they have a reasonable cost basis, due to their older look.

Over the years and more recently, we, as architects, have been more involved due to the riddle of the split level being so hard to solve.  On our website, we have been getting many hits and search query’s every month concerning split level renovations. Therefore, we thought it would be a good time to revisit strategies to turn the split level monster into a piece of architecture.

Why is the Split-Level home so hard to change?

  1. Split level homes are efficient machines of 60’s and 70 living – The stair occupies the minimum possible space in the house.  It’s located in the middle of the house and uses the entry space on the main level and the open space on the lower level as a landing space.  The only circulation on the bedroom end of the splitter are tiny halls. There is no extra space to claim for a renovation.

  2. Tiny rooms in weird places – Typically all rooms are provided from the 60’s/ 70’s designer check list; the rooms just happen to be tiny and in weird places in the house.  Sarcastically… “Sure you need a laundry but why not put it behind the garage as far as possible from the bedrooms.”

  3. What entry? – The entry door is in typically buried in an inside corner of the house and probably does not orient to the entrance or driveway.

  4. Low roof slopes – Nothing says “look at me, I was built in 1966” like a 3:12 roof pitch. When thinking why someone would to do that: “Lower roof slopes use less truss wood resulting in less expensive houses”.

  5. Massing – houses look nice when there is a larger mass in the middle of the house.  With the splitter you get a 50/50 tall massing at the bedroom side and lower mass in the middle level living areas on the other.

  6. We have a garage! – When the lot space is narrow the garage is facing the street.  The nicer “split masters” have garage doors to the side.  Of course carports are less expensive than garages and smaller so some examples have carports that are too small to turn into garages.

  7. Aren’t those 8 foot ceilings cozy – Why would you want anything higher…?

What can be done?

  1. Attack the bearing wall – Open up or eliminate the bearing wall to create spaces that can see out of the front and back of the house.

  2. Change the ceiling heights – For instances when the main level does not have space above it, create pop ups in the ceiling for additional ceiling height.

  3. Worlds without walls – Open up the public levels and organize the spaces with furniture, lighting and ceiling pop ups.  Open up the bearing wall with large cased openings.

  4. Change the room name – The living room is typically perfectly proportioned to be a dining room big enough for space between the table and the wall for chairs.

  5. Move the front door – Can the front door be moved to the living room?  Can you add a front porch to reorient the entry of the house?  If the front door is moved, you can create some space for a coat closet at the front door.

  6. Add a master bedroom – Either claim a floor level for the master or add a level over finished space.

  7. Exterior facelift – Use a style for an exterior makeover that is conducive for lower sloped roofs.   Arts and crafts, Craftsman style, and Spanish Eclectic all have worked for us in the past.  We also like to get rid of the gable end with hipped roofs and like to add exterior detail like brackets.

Bryan Jones, Principal Jones Pierce Inc. An Atlanta based Architectural firm specializing in custom home transformations and custom retirement homes in fun places.

Check out another split-level project by Jones Pierce Studios:

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