'60s Split-level Rebuild: Feedback on Elevation and Floor Plan

IdsyJanuary 12, 2014

I'm thinking of possibly doing a major renovation (or rebuild) of a '60s split-level. I would appreciate any guidance, feedback, or criticism you're willing to offer. Thank you :)

Front Elevation:

Current and Proposed Floor Plans:

Upstairs Addition:

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Wow! That is quite the change to this house! Are some of your support walls changing? How is your upstairs floorplan now? It looks like you will get a really nice large master suite when all is done. If there are no children on the main floor, this would be really nice. On the main floor, is the power room accessible through the living room? Just want to make sure guests aren't going through your laundry area. I don't love open concept, but your kitchen/living seems very enjoyable. Are you sure that you are okay with the 17'6 depth ...is looks a bit tight with your furniture layout. I would LOVE the workshop and potting shed addition to the garage!
I like the new proposed front better than the current front. I think it is the darker windows :).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 8:35AM
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Sophie Wheeler

A teardown would be a better choice. In the end, you're spending almost as much as you would to build new, and you've still got a split level that will always appraise for less than a conventional two story. If you are gonna put that much money into a property, at least build it new with a 2015 build date and the ceiling height and layout if a modern build.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 9:55AM
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Our old neighbors did a similar change, love it. I wondered about the garage door right into the middle but the always used the front door anyway, garage was for projects and storage.

Consider a couple of inches of wall leading to the PR, just for a little separation.

I loved my split and considered such a plan, too.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 10:25AM
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Hi, NostalgicFarm. Thanks for the feedback!

1. Currently there is no upstairs, so there is no comparison layout for that space.
2. No children, just pets.
3. Yes, the main floor powder is accessible from the living room. It's just two steps up to address a spacing issue with the stairs, and add to the feeling of separation/privacy from the living space.
4. The furniture layout here is a little shoved up against, the corner. But, I did a 3-D version, and the layout looks/feels comfortable, and allows for more than minimum suggested space for traffic flow.

5. I think the elevation is growing on me, too. I struggled with many different versions for a long time.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Hi, Hollysprings. Thanks for the advice. It is something we have considered and are still considering, but it never seems like the best option for us for a number of reasons:

1. You're right about resale value. Colonial is king in this area, but we don't like the style, so we would be unlikely to build in the market-preferred style anyway.
2. Resale value is not the primary concern, a comfortable house is.
3. We talked to some contractors early on about some different plans, and all of them gave a teeth-sucking it's a toss-up as to cost and ease of construction. If that really is the case, then I'd rather try to work with what we have.
4. I almost always find that older homes feel more solidly constructed than newer ones, even rather expensive ones.
5. Our jurisdiction gives a 10 year tax break to remodels, but none to new construction.

We're tall and ceiling height has been concern for us. But, the new upstairs addition, should be able to built at full height. And, from what I understand, if we are adding a floor above the great room/kitchen level, adding another foot to the great room/kitchen height is not much more difficult than adding a foot to the addition above. Perhaps I've been misled on this?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 10:58AM
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Ooh, I forgot to add in response to NostalgicFarms earlier post that there are some supporting walls changed in this plan. I was conscious of this, and tried to minimize those changes and anticipate places where support columns and beams might need to go. But, a structural engineer would need to review and address some support issues no matter what.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:09AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Do you have a contractor and a builder dialed in the loop on your plans? If not, I'd highly suggest doing so. I think you'll be shocked at what "just" a remodel as extensive as yours will cost you. The degree of difficulty is much greater in a remodel because you are trying to work around the obstacles of the existing structure rather than beginning with an empty slate of a blank lot. Its a whole lot easier to rewire a house to modern standards when the walls are completely open than it is when everything is closed up after the fact, etc. ad naseum. No one says that you have to build a Colonial were you to design a new structure. Just that you'd get more and better space from a new build vs. trying to make do working your way around the limitations of he existing structure.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:28AM
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Bpathome, it's very encouraging to hear that your neighbors liked their remodel so much.

The garage door placement is kind of a funny thing. Our current garage is pretty heavily used as a garage, storage area, and garden center. Right now the garage is attached, but doesn't open into the house. So, a door almost anywhere leading from the garage to the house would be an improvement for us. I thought placing the door in a dead spot between the rooms would be better than breaking up or using up actual room space.

I'm not sure where you mean to put a couple of inches of wall by the powder room. Below is a 3-D mockup of the great room with powder room on the right behind the large white mirror. Would you put the wall at the top of the stairs or bottom? On the right or left?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:36AM
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Hollysprings,we don't have anyone "in the loop" right now. We actually talked to some contractors earlier on about more extensive changes a year ago. The price was very high, and more than I wanted to spend. But, I made a whole bunch of adjustments like not touching the lower level bath which was originally going to be gutted and expanded and altering the design so the roof on the far left section doesn't have to be touched, etc.

One of the contractors suggested that the only way to get a true feel for the cost on something like this was to have an architect do a few hundred dollars worth of rough preliminary drawings of just the elevation and layout and get estimates on those. This sounded reasonable to us, so it's what we will likely try. I am optimistic at this point that the estimates should be significantly lower, but suspect not low enough yet. We expect that some of the things we want will not be feasible, but will have to wait until we find out the estimates on particular rooms, items, and features to trim some more.

I'm not sure I understand your points about better space usage on new construction and saving money because the walls would be all open. Most of the new homes and new home designs I see waste more space than older homes in cathedral ceilings; balconies; large foyers; long hallways; and floor plans that don't take into consideration furniture placement, sight lines, or daily routines. Plus, some of the charming details that were put into older homes as a matter of routine, would be impractical or cost prohibitive today. With remodels, the addition portion of the house is like new construction in terms of accessibility for wiring and plumbing. The remodel portion is different, but with a major remodel that gets taken back to the studs everything is again visible and accessible. I don't see where that particular cost savings comes in.

Retrofitting is a concern as is the age of the house. The basement is unfinished though, so all the wires and pipes are exposed so contractors can get a good idea of what they're working with before anything starts.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 12:23PM
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Interesting! We are doing a very similar project... total remodel of a 1960s side-split ranch. Your house could be a mirror image of ours (our bedroom wing is on the other side). By total I mean moving walls, replacing all finishes, windows, doors, systems, etc. I think we are saving only maybe 10-15% of the cost of new construction since the majority of the cost is in replacing these systems and finishes which we would be doing either way.

Honestly if we were to do it over I would probably more closely investigate starting from scratch. When you are replacing this much of a house you are not going to save that much money. Also when you open walls you may find a lot of rot/termite etc that needs to be taken care of. I have been watching our framing and foundation crew for the past few weeks as they get in and work around the existing structure. It is definitely slower going.

Also, what they say about older homes being built better is definitely not true IMO. There are plenty of cheaply constructed 1950s-60s tract homes out there. Modern construction means modern structural engineering, 2x6 wall framing, etc. For instance most of our home is on a perimeter pier & beam foundation with 42" piers - advanced for the 1960s but under-spec'ed for today so we are installing 16 foot drilled piers into bedrock for underpinning in the areas our house has settled and some areas where we are moving loads around.

Note also that moving walls is never quite so simple as drawing lines on paper - you will have to have a structural engineer review your plans and come up with a set of structural drawings.

With that said there are some benefits to split levels... less than a full storey to get to the bedroom/rec areas, and generally lower profile. There is one town near where I live with a rural aesthetic that explicitly forbids "imposing" homes in its design requirements, and demands architects work with the contour of the land, designing houses that flow with the hillside. Split levels are good for this. If you look at some of the Cliff May Sunset books from the 1940s/50s you will see some homes that amble down hillsides like this (though they generally do not have upstairs/downstairs segments).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 12:23PM
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Cool, Caben! I think split-levels don't get as much love and attention as other styles of homes. Do you have a link to what you're doing with your place?

It's interesting to read everyone's take on a major rebuild since some issues that don't seem to come up in discussions of new home construction are coming up. Not creating an imposing structure was definitely something we considered with the front elevation, and one of the main reasons we set back the upstairs addition. It's not something that I see get much consideration on new home construction.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 1:20PM
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Based on everyone's suggestions, I'm wondering about doing a mockup of new construction plans and getting a more direct price comparison. Although, I think I'd choose a different lot for a teardown with a smaller home on it than this one.

What do you think?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 1:23PM
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Can you get an estimate from a contractor or two based on what you have?
One advantage to doing the remodel versus new construction is you don't have thousands of dollars in selling/moving expenses. May not be entirely comfortable living in a construction zone and not the best with kiddos around! Maybe make a list of the tasks you would be able to do for the remodel, and see if there is some cost savings there? Surely you can easily paint the new walls if you are already in the house? It would at least be helpful to think about if those estimates are still coming in higher than what you are hoping.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 1:44PM
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We are also crazy enough to be in the middle of a major reno/addition to a split-foyer house. We have added an addition out back and a second level on part of the house (over the addition and some of old). Our family of 6 has lived in the house the whole time which did save us substantially on the expense of relocating, moving, selling etc. However, some of the savings has been eaten by needing to store some of our things in long term storage.

Would I do it again? Probably not, but like child birth I hope I will forget the frustrations once it is all over. However, the house is turning out quite well and the cost has not been any more than anticipated (although we don't know the final numbers yet). It is hard to find a decent sized lot close to schools etc. We were living on a good sized lot in a good area which was the major motivation to adding on rather than rebuilding.

Best of luck!


    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 2:32PM
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I like the floor plan!

One thing to consider: having the powder room a couple steps up could be a real hardship to any mobility-challenged guests. I would look for ways to eliminate that step if it were my house. Is there a reason you need to make the laundry area a hallway? I'd be tempted to eliminate the stairs from the laundry toward the powder room-- it would make laundry noise less of an issue in your main living space.

Do you hang laundry outside? That's the only reason I could see making that staircase a priority.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 2:33PM
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First, I think we need an "I like my split" support group :)

One thing that will be expensive is moving the bathroom. I can tell you want the study looking out over the back garden, and the bedroom to have connected bath and the laundry to be on that levels. But if you can compromise on any of those, you could just expand or reconfigure the existing master and save some $$.

Regarding my thought on the PR, I take it back, it does have the steps and short passage, does not feel Like part of the living space

Around here additions on splits are very common, probably where you are, too. Have you visited, in person or online, any for sale that have been remodeled?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 3:22PM
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robo (z6a)

are side splits more marketable than split entries? I love side splits myself while split entries are lower on my personal list.

Love the new elevation! Would consider losing the shutters and going full on modern.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 3:50PM
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robotropolis, the benefit of our side-split is that the main floor (living space) is at grade (+/-), the bedrooms elevated and the lower level cut into the hillside ever so slightly. So there are no stairs needed for visitors. We would not have that with a split-entry.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 8:56PM
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Idsy, sorry about the bad sketches but our actual plans have too much PII on them.

Original house:

Roughly 4300sqft on the main living levels, with about 1300 sqft of unfinished space in the lower level of the side split. Our main complaints were that the kitchen was too small at 12x12, the family room/living rooms were too long and skinny (plus we never used the formal living room) and the master bath was too small. Also one of the bedrooms was way oversized at 19x13. The laundry room was inconveniently located next to the garage, a pain considering the house is > 100 feet wide.

Rebuild plan:

Now roughly 5000sqft across both levels. We finished the lower level into a playroom, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and storage as well as mech/infrastructure room. Upstairs we nixed the formal living, added an office/junk room, and made a huge open kitchen/nook/family room. In the bedroom wing we got rid of a bedroom (since we were adding two downstairs) and used that to make a new master bath, using the old master bath for an expanded closet. We restructured the bedrooms, moving the bathroom to be a jack-and-jill, and moving the laundry up into this area for convenience.

We think this plan will serve us well, though we made numerous compromises along the way that we would not have to for new construction. Given the price delta for new construction it's clear to me now that we probably should just have started from scratch. But given that we're already started, I'm not going to delay us having a permanent home for another year just to start over.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:50PM
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NostalgicFarm, I'm not sure about how accurate it would be. Maybe I could go ask the contractor that suggested getting the rough professional drawings first if the set I have is enough for a proper estimate.

I'd rather get estimates for having all the work done professionally as that would be preferable to me. Only if costs need to be cut later would I then consider doing some painting or small jobs myself.


Carol, thanks for the good wishes. It sounds as if you are in the thick of things where the enthusiasm of starting a great new project has worn off and the finish line isn't in sight yet. I am encouraged to hear that so far you've been able to stick close to budget. I imagine that finishing will feel like such an accomplishment, you and your family will love the new space.

Best of luck to you, too!


Zone4Newby, we've thought about the obstacle those couple of stairs could pose. One of the issues is that no matter how we arrange it, the powder room isn't big enough for a wheelchair, and if we change the back stairs so they go straight down and there is no landing, it's too narrow to open the door or fit a door to the outside. We had the powder room where the workshop was originally, and no one really liked that arrangement, so I don't know where else to put it.

The back stairs are not necessary, but are preferred right now for a few reasons:

1. The main is that my mother who will have the laundry level bedroom is an avid gardener and liked the idea of having a 'mud room' and powder room near a door so she did not have to lug her dirty stuff all through the house or change at the door to run in to use the rest room (which becomes a bigger issue as she ages).

2. One of the major complaints with the house right now is that the hallways feel very congested. Even some of the contractors we talked to earlier were stopping to measure them and surprised they were standard width because they don't feel like it. Having two sets of stairs enhances the flow and reduces the congested feel.

3. Having the laundry open to a lit area also substitutes for not having a window. We intend to install a light tube, which helps with light, but doesn't make one feel less trapped in the laundry room the way a window or second door/opening to light can.

The noise from the laundry is a concern, which is why the drawing includes a pocket door. I am hoping the combination of a newer, quieter washing machine/dryer, the walls in that section actually being outside walls, and the direction the opening is facing will help with noise reduction.


Bpathome, I love the idea of a "I like my split" support group! Splits are not uncommon here, but they are not the most popular either and architects and contractors often thumb their noses up at opportunities to remodel them (example). It's actually unpopular enough that there are a couple of contractors who advertise that they do split level remodels because some GC's won't. I have looked at hundreds of homes over the years/decades since my family used to do open house tours as a Sunday activity (I know, crazy!) and although some updates like paint and swapping out fixtures were common, almost none had actual additions or major changes.

If you have suggestions on how to reconfigure the existing master, I am interested. The current master is actually a pleasant size, but we ran into a few problems trying to keep it and rearrange the existing bathroom space:

1. If we give that master a true master bathroom, we need to create a second bathroom on that floor for the other bedroom.

2. Figuring out where to place the door to the master. It currently is on an angle and so small a standard size door can't be put in that space.

3. We lose the back stairs that my mother is very fond of.


Robotropolis, split entries or split foyers are lower on many people's lists. You sometimes have to go up stairs to get inside, and then guests are always confronted with the obligatory, "up or down?" question and tend to mill in the foyer. Split-foyers also tend to live more like a less convenient rambler with people living mostly on one floor, but still using stairs all the time to enter the house.

Like with Caben, our 'public' space (living, dining, kitchen) for guests is all on the main floor, and there are no stairs to enter the house. It's not for everyone, but it works for us. Many people who don't like this style before buying are surprised that how well it works for them after living in one for awhile.

Caben, thanks for sharing. I like the new arrangement, especially the expanded kitchen and the new laundry room location. Combining the family room and formal living room looks like a smart idea, too. Despite your regrets, it looks like you'll have a great place to live when you are done.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 4:05PM
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