Dream Home: Design update in Columbia started with a window

For The Baltimore Sun
"It started with the window." Outdoor views and natural light drove this Columbia home's refresh.

Bluebirds, woodpeckers and other colorful birds provide entertainment outside the new bay window as they dart around while nibbling at the feeders.

Betty Crader delights in the sight, whether watching from the kitchen counter, dining area table or her comfortable black chair.

"It started with the window," Crader said of the just-finished changes in her split-foyer home in Columbia's Oakland Mills.

Her late husband, Bruce, had talked about enlarging the house by breaking through the dining room wall. But two years after he died, Crader concluded last year that she didn't want more space; instead, she wanted a view of the outdoors and more natural light indoors. And fresh colors.

And she wanted new furniture to replace what was removed to accommodate the power chair used by her husband, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The result is a light-filled home with an updated color palette that retains the look that had been the couple's hallmark since they bought the place new in 1971.

Crader loved her home's informal appearance and rustic touches, as well as the handmade pottery and family heirlooms. Much of the house reflects not only her husband's workmanship but the couple's 55 years together. She kept the open layout he created when he removed two walls, allowing family and friends to fill their plates in the kitchen and roam between the living room with its big TV, the dining space and the backyard deck with its raised koi pond.

Now, the home's new floor of textured vinyl planks (also known as luxury vinyl tile) in a weathered wood look — easy to clean, it hides any dirt her dogs trek in — complements barnwood her husband installed years ago on the pitched ceiling over the dining area.

Crader, a retired head of circulation in the Howard County Library System, worked with Carol Weill of The Decorating Therapist in Columbia on the home's face-lift.

The kitchen walls are a warm peach, setting the area apart from the dining area and living room, where walls are a grayish tone. The kitchen "is so much brighter" with recessed lighting that replaced existing fixtures, Crader said.

Granite counters in creams and browns with streaks of black complement the medium-brown wood kitchen cabinets, which Crader decided against replacing.

"I love this granite," Crader said. "Every time I look at it, it looks different, the way the color flows."

Finding a backsplash was tough.

"This granite is so busy, so I wanted something plain," she said.

She selected beveled stone-color porcelain tiles. To set off the cooking area, that section of the backsplash has smaller tiles in a mix of stone that blends with the countertop and glass.

The kitchen face-lift also made cooking more comfortable for Crader, who's less than 5 feet tall and was finding certain pots increasingly awkward to use. The solution: The cooktop was lowered nearly 4 inches so that it's the bottom of the pots, not the base of the cooktop, that's about even with the new granite countertops.

"I love it," she said. "It's perfect."

In the living room, the fireplace and its gas stove insert were added years ago, and they retain an earthy, eye-catching appeal. The fireplace evolved from family outings, Crader said.

"We'd go for rides and pick up stones," Crader recalled.

Those rocks became the fireplace surround; her husband made the mantel from scavenged barnwood.

Crader bought new living room seats.

"I always wanted a white leather couch," she said.

Beside it is her husband's lamp with a hammered copper shade. It's a favorite reading and TV-watching spot, and she puts her feet up on what she calls her "cow," a storage ottoman in white faux hide with brown splotches that she got for fun.

Punching up two chairs upholstered in a stone color are butterfly print pillows.

All are pulled around a new round rug of swirls in slate, beige and brown.

The design is repeated on an oval rug beneath the round dining table. By the table is the bay window that started everything.

"It makes my yard look so big," she said.

"In the winter, and sometimes in the summer, this is my seat," said Crader, pointing to a black chair and ottoman where the living, dining and kitchen spaces meet. "I watch my birds."

Crader didn't tinker with the three-season sunroom, where the dogs lounge on the furniture, alert to the comings and goings of wildlife and neighbors. It overlooks a garden, where saplings Crader planted are now trees shading azaleas, shade-loving plants and six birdfeeders

"I call this my treehouse," she said.

Several years ago, the home's bedrooms went from three to two. The master bedroom and bathroom were modified to accommodate Bruce's power chair. A lift built into a sunroom extension along one side of the house that enabled him to leave the house now gives Crader an easy way to bring heavy packages up from the lower-level garage.

"For a long time," she said, "it was Bruce and Betty's house. Now, it's Betty's house."

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