Enlarging the front door. Creating the perfect copper lanterns. Rethinking the old powder room to create an elegant guest bath. From top to bottom, Wendi Wolfe loves details. “It took us about a year and a half to do the renovation. We wanted to do things right. And I’m really analytical. I’m going to think about something and mull it over,” Wendi says. “My husband has the patience of Job.”
Her husband, Dana Wolfe, is a partner in Wolfe & Taylor, a real estate sales and property management company founded by his father in 1945. With Dana’s eye for a home’s potential and Wendi’s enthusiasm for finding the right solution for every room, they’ve converted a traditional midcentury brick ranch house into an easy and elegant home that is just right for their empty nesting years.
Dana, Wendi says, had noticed the house years before it became available, still owned by the family who built it. After their parents passed away, the adult children were finally ready to sell. The brother and sister showed potential buyers their childhood home. “They walked around and shared their memories. And we told them we wanted to move into this house. We weren’t going to flip it. It was personal to them, and it was personal to us. We were leaving a family home, too.”
The Wolfes were downsizing, after bringing up three sons in a much larger house that had been Dana’s parents’ home since 1979. Both Dana and Wendi could see the potential of this solidly built, u-shaped, one-story ranch to be exactly what they wanted and needed next.
Living Large with Less Space
“Being married to Dana for 31 years, I’ve been in a lot of homes, and he’s taught me to feel the space of the room and forget about what’s in the room. So, when I walked in, I knew it would be great,” Wendi says.
To make that space work for them, the Wolfes rethought rooms — turning the original living room into a formal dining room to hold their treasured table for 12. Dana’s mother had commissioned the table to accommodate her family of seven children. “We use the dining room much more than other people, honestly,” says Wendi. “That table has been the sounding board. We love to have people over and eat at the dining room table. When we came here, we were making sure that was a focal point.”
Centering the room around that table led Wendi to press for another change — reconfiguring the windows across the front of the house. By moving the windows and pushing the wall out, they gained extra space and another bonus, more curb appeal.
“I love the simplicity of the brick ranch, but it always has that straight line, no variation at all. It’s such a flat surface,” says Wendi. “So even though it’s only going out maybe a foot and a half or two feet, it just gives it some variation. That woke it up.”
Installing a larger front door and elevating the ceiling a foot added to the feeling of spaciousness. Still, Wendi had concerns about how well the smaller kitchen would work: “We had a huge island at the other house. And we were struggling with trying to be smart and get the storage we thought we needed.”
They decided to tuck a pantry and space for a coffee maker and microwave into a hallway that connects to their home office. Wendi went with quartzite stone countertops instead of marble, for ease of care. They planned out every inch of the kitchen to fit a six-burner cooktop, double ovens, and a farmhouse sink. A pair of painted metal pendants over the island are anything but skimpy. “A girlfriend had a version of these in her kitchen, and I was obsessed with them. I walked into The Shops at Cricket Newman, and there they were.”
As for managing with less storage, Wendi says she made a discovery. “I don’t need all that stuff. I just need what I’m going to use, and if I’m not using it, I get rid of it.”
Finding the Perfect Flow
Sitting in the den, Wendi describes why she likes the way the house works, whether it’s just for her and Dana or a crowd of family and friends. “I can be cooking in there, and they can all be in here. It’s just so easy.” The white shiplap walls help create the bright, no-fuss feeling Wendi wants. Lots of light flows through large windows across the back of the room.
On the other side of those windows is a covered outdoor space with a fireplace and large TV. Cased openings connect the den to the formal dining room and entry. The flow, from front door to kitchen to den to backyard pool, is one that Wendi and Dana worked hard to get right.
One key was the choice of tall sliding doors that open onto the outdoor living room. Wendi knew most door options would hinder access, swinging in or stacking to take up valuable space. She found her dream solution online. “It was gorgeous. But gosh, that one door probably cost $50,000.”
She showed her window supplier, Tommy Bagnal at BMC, what she wanted. He found a similar style from Western Window Systems that fit the budget. With her contractor Tommy Hollingsworth’s help to figure out the installation, she was able to get a three-paneled glass pocket door that, when open, disappears into the exterior wall.
Customized for Their New Life
Rethinking the layout of rooms throughout the house gave Wendi and Dana the opportunity to create a bedroom suite designed just for them. The old primary bedroom and bath became their youngest son’s space.
An addition houses the couple’s spacious new bedroom and Dana’s favorite feature — his-and-hers closets and baths. Both closets include built-in drawers, eliminating the need for storage furniture in their bedroom. His bathroom has a roomy shower, hers a tub and spacious vanity.
The couple has also incorporated the laundry room into the bedroom zone, a convenience that makes sense now that they no longer have three children at home. Closets and a laundry room also serve another function, providing privacy and noise insulation from the rest of the house.
Ideas for Ranch Renovation
In taking the original building down to the studs and reimagining it to fit their needs, Dana and Wendi made hundreds of decisions. And Wendi, being a person who likes to collect and analyze data, didn’t make those decisions carelessly. One result is that she has solid tips for others who may be renovating a ranch.
Her top tip? “Do your research and figure out what you really like before you start the project. It will help the construction move faster and use the experience of people in the industry,” she says. Wendi used the Houzz app to organize ideas and photos by room. It also made it easy for her to share what she wanted with her architect, contractor, carpenter, brick mason, and interior designer and friends who helped her along the way.
Another recommendation: take advantage of the opportunity to make the most of wiring. With the old walls out, Dana drew on his experience viewing thousands of homes to fine-tune the location of light switches and outlets. The couple installed a sound system with speakers in every room and outdoors, controlled from a smartphone.
They also benefited from mocking up major changes, so they could get a better idea of how designs on paper feel in real life. “I came home one day, and Dana had a big old piece of plywood where I thought I wanted the outdoor fireplace. ‘There,’ he says. ‘How does the pool in your backyard look now?’ And he was right. Putting it there would have blocked the view.”
With the fireplace in a better position, the couple is able to appreciate the expansive backyard from inside and out. The outdoor living space was formerly an enclosed sunroom. Wendi can stand there now and see not only what they’ve accomplished but what might come next on their wish list: a larger outdoor cooking area.