From Unloved Orphan to Cool Kid on the Block

New life for a mid-century split level.



Mention mid-century modern houses, and images of sleek, open plan, currently trendy homes come to mind. The classic examples grace the pages of Dwell Magazine and design blogs. There are a few good examples in northern New Jersey. However, more common in this area are the ranches and split levels built at the same time that alluded to a more modern taste, but rarely reached the level of design that is associated with the more desirable versions. These late 50’s through mid 60’s houses have become something of a pariah in the housing market, often never renovated since being built, and they often languish on the market when they come up for sale.


For a buyer who wants to create a modern home, these present a great opportunity- the price is usually lower than comparable homes in the neighborhood, and they lend themselves to modern make-overs. My clients who bought this split level house wanted to stay in their neighborhood, loved the location and the property, and saw a chance to create their dream home.


Because we were going to add a floor for new bedrooms, we were able to sacrifice a little floor space to completely open up around the stairs connecting all the levels. In most split levels, there is a half flight up from the kitchen/living room to the bedrooms, and a half flight down to a rec room and garage. Often the stair down is behind a door, making it feel like going into a basement. We decided to “split the split” – creating two stairs down, one from the entry, one from the kitchen, and open the space above to create a story and a half tall space containing all the stairs and offering views through the different levels.
The exterior was given a complete makeover, and my clients remark that they often see cars stopping in front of their house, with people gazing up to check out the house. And their daughter’s friends started wanting to come to her house more often for their play dates. (The parents wanted to see the house!) Definitely the new cool kid on the block.

We also recently did a video walk through for the realtor of another untouched split level that’s for sale. Often it’s hard for prospective buyers to imagine what can be done to transform a house, so we created this video to inspire buyers to what could be possible.