By Laura Samuel Meyn
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Contemporary touches and retro-sleek finishes revive the true self of a ’60s classic.
It was on his way home from the gym in 1993 that Dan Miller first spotted the midcentury modern ranch house perched on a hill. He and wife Jennifer had been casually looking at houses for a decade, but this one, surrounded by a breeze-block perimeter, was different. “The house had been sitting vacant for about a year; at the time, midcentury modern wasn’t a thing,” says Dan. “I’ve always liked contemporary styles and knew we could do something with it.” Jennifer, also a fan of streamlined design, could immediately picture their family of five calling it home. After moving into the 1961 house, the couple decided to live with the carpet that covered original terrazzo floors and make do with the chopped-up layout. But they dreamed that someday, when they had the time and the money, they’d renovate.
Twenty-five years later, the Millers briefly considered leaving the house behind and downsizing. But children married, they now had six adults and five grandchildren visiting regularly. Plus, they’d inherited from Dan’s mom a sizable collection of high-quality furniture and original art they wanted to keep — as well as her little Shih Tzu-poodle rescue dog, Jack. They had no shortage of ideas for the house, having collected images from Atomic Ranch and 360 West magazines. “We always knew it had this personality that had been covered up,” says Jennifer.
The couple met Inman Novak of D&I Landscape and Construction on a local architects’ tour, and engaged him to replace the exterior steps — uneven and accented with terra-cotta tiles — with sleek Lueders stone slabs; he also removed the too-close hedge of thorny Chinese horned holly to promote better drainage around the foundation. Inman introduced the couple to his brother Daniel Novak (not to be confused with homeowner Dan), who would helm the interior remodel. At the top of the Millers’ list? Opening up the layout to let in more light, creating inviting living and dining spaces, designing a modern kitchen and bringing the bathrooms into the 21st century.
The couple hired interior designer Megan Kranz of MTK Design Group to create a new kitchen and den layout, as well as a new master bathroom design. She then moved on to furnishings; the idea was to mainly feature pieces already in the Millers’ collection, pulling in a few new chairs, rugs, pillows and works of art to tie everything together. “I wanted something comfortable that I didn’t have to overly worry about,” says Jennifer. “I very much wanted this to be a place where grandkids are happy.”
In both Megan and Daniel, the Millers found like-minded pros who understood their love of the home’s original features and their readiness to expand from there. Take the new front doors, for instance. The team decided that replacing the solid-wood double doors with glass ones was a critical move in ushering in more light. But instead of a midcentury design, Jennifer fell in love with contemporary doors with an overlapping arc pattern circling across the glass, so they went with it.
Inside the entry, Daniel removed a wall that once closed off the den, making way for the morning light to flow into the space. He quickly discovered that the wall wasn’t original — it hid a beautiful overhead beam and revealed that the home’s original terrazzo floor continued uninterrupted beneath it. The terrazzo throughout the entry, den and kitchen had yellowed over time, but patching, grinding and polishing it produced surprisingly lustrous results. The designer drew from its beauty and flecks of color to inform other selections. “These floors gave us a starting point when we were looking at countertops, paint colors and wood,” she says.
For the den, Daniel did some research on midcentury stereo cabinets and fashioned a built-in version, with open shelving for LPs. The unit includes a gray fabric-covered panel that looks like a retro speaker — and hides modern speakers — with Daniel’s custom wood design echoing the arcs of the new front doors. The design repeats in the fireplace screen he welded for the house. Above the fireplace, Megan hung a classic seascape that the couple inherited from Dan’s mom; LEDs, glowing from underneath a painted brick overhang on the hearth, provide adjustable mood lighting. The couple kept their longtime sofa, reupholstered a few years back in a graphic brown and white pattern. Megan added two orange poufs in a chunky weave, bringing in texture and a casual perch; for comfort and bold good looks, she sourced a pair of orange leather chairs that glide, recline and have matching footstools, too. “I had to have a chair to rock the grandbabies in,” says Jennifer. Megan chose a colorful contemporary rug to pull together disparate elements.
To fully realize the Millers’ open, light-filled vision, another wall needed to come down — the one separating the den from the kitchen. The new layout meant more room for a large peninsula with seating on one side and ample kitchen workspace on the other. Daniel created beautiful slab-front cabinetry using a rich, dark Italian composite wood paneling. The team loved the wood so much they decided to use it to clad an entire kitchen wall, creating a backdrop to an open-shelf bar accented by more LEDs. The cooktop is strategically positioned so that it can be accessed from three sides, making way for more than one cook. An extra-deep kitchen sink means that the couple can relax after dinner, leaving dishes tucked out of sight.
In the adjacent breakfast room, Daniel built storage benches that not only stash coats, backpacks and more but also feature outlets for charging devices. Similarly, a command center with a roll-up door hides a phone charging station and serves as a catchall for bills and mail, keeping the clutter to a minimum.
In the formal living/dining room space, the couple opted to keep existing walls intact; in fact, they added bifold doors to the room’s entry. Jennifer likes to entertain her teacher friends and book club, and the separate space means Dan can still watch a ballgame or read in the den during the festivities. The dining room features Dan’s giant old desk, repurposed as a table and paired with new leggy velvet chairs in blue and green. For the walls, the couple assembled a collection of old black-and-white photographs shot by their fathers, while Megan brought in a pair of large abstract oil paintings to add color and energy. For formal living room seating, a vintage sofa and pair of club chairs are enlivened with a colorful new rug and a pair of abstract pillows designed by the same artist who did the paintings.
While the bedrooms await some finishing touches, including Murphy beds for the grandkids, the bathrooms have already been updated. In a hall bath, the original turquoise floor and wall tile remains, while a new quartz countertop and large, round mirror make it feel fresh. The master bath saw a total overhaul, with floating vanities, a large, open shower and marble-look porcelain tile from floor to ceiling.
The Millers still find the transformation of their longtime home thrilling. “I’ll come in and say, ‘Gee, Dan, whose nice house is this?’” Jennifer says. “Megan made it all work; there are things she picked that I would never come up with on my own, but there’s also pieces I feel like she looked into my soul.”
The result feels midcentury modern, yet something more. “It has those bones, but a little of their personality thrown in, with the color and fun patterns,” says Megan. Adds Daniel, “It’s midcentury Miller.”