Designers are taking care to make living spaces more durable, functional and thoughtful—somewhere you’d actually choose to spend your time—whether through personal touches or rooms built to bring families together.
“I think pre-pandemic, it didn’t matter that a space was unused,” says Alexa Harris-Ralff of AHR Designs. “Now every inch of most people’s homes are being used.”
With a better understanding of how people live every day, homeowners have given their spaces new purpose with these creative projects from innovative designers.
Designed with Durability | Alexa Harris-Ralff, AHR Designs
Ralff has always designed with real life in mind. “We’re not only living here, but we’re living hard. Everything has to be able to go the distance for busy families,” she says.
In a historic 1930s home in Baltimore, Ralff used materials that would stand up to the wear and tear of everyday life. “Making sure that our fabrics and our rugs and everything is forgiving. That we have a surface area to put down a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. That there’s tile on the floor where the puppy comes in,” she says.
She repurposed furniture from the family’s historic brownstone in Hoboken, New Jersey, updating it for style and durability in Baltimore. Many more people are either recovering what they already have or buying used furniture and local art, she says.
Ralff used the family’s personal art collection to make the rooms feel homey and inviting. Whether it’s a “picture frame or a vase from great aunt Martha,” or a childhood figurine, “that’s all the stuff that makes a house feel like a home and reflects the people that actually live there.” | ahrdesigns.com
Scandinavian Warmth and Functionality | Sam Elder, Enhance Building Co.
The drive for Sam Elder to remodel his home was bringing his family together. He needed a space that was handicap- accessible for his father-in-law but also functional for a busy family. Aisles were made extra wide to accommodate running children. A peninsula sits between the dining room and the kitchen for easy cleanup in this farmhouse-style Cockeysville home.
Elder drew on his wife Hilde’s Norwegian upbringing to establish open shelving for convenient access to snacks. An important part of Scandinavian tradition is also spending quality time in cozy indoor spaces together during the times of the year with only six hours of daylight.
Elder installed lighting that would leave a warm glow. “If it’s too bright in the house, Horst, my father-in-law, will wear sunglasses,” Elder says. A custom kitchen table and banquette seats 10, along with an island bar. The design goal was to keep everyone in the same room.
“We eat dinner together every night. I did not grow up like that,” he says. “It was very, very important to us to have that place where we can all be together as a family.” | enhancebuild.com
Blending of Indoors and Outdoors | Martin Marren, Marren Architects
As people are spending more time at home, the focus has turned to improving and expanding their environment. For this Green Spring Valley home, Marren suggested combining a kitchen expansion with unused landscape plans to extend the footprint of the home into a seamless indoor-outdoor paradise. In Sausalito, California—where he worked for many years—a strong connection always existed between indoors and outdoors in home design.
“A lot of these developer homes have no real relationship to the lot—the natural landscape,” he says.
Marren decided to highlight the home’s beautiful woodland setting with a Nana window wall—six panels that offer a sliding door in the winter or completely fold out to an outdoor dining room during the warmer months.
“In the winter, it still feels good. It still feels like you have a visual and psychic connection to the outside,” Marren notes. The kitchen blends effortlessly into the outdoor dining room, the patio and the yard.
To further drive home the connection to nature, he matched Douglas fir wood in both indoor and outdoor spaces and added natural elements such as stacked stone. | marrenarchitects.com
In the Details: Sources and Professional Services
Photography: AHR Designs: Jenn Verrier; Enhance Building Company:
Peak Visuals; Marren Architects: Alan Gilbert
- Art over sideboard: Lynda Stuart Curry
- Dining art between windows: Frank Avray Wilson
- Dining chairs: Gubi
- Dining chandelier: Moooi
- Dining rug: Dash and Albert
- Dining table: Ethnicraft
- Drapery: Serena Dugan
- Drapery hardware: Crown Hardware
- Paint color: Soft Chinchilla Ben Moore
- Sideboard: Environmental furniture
- Art over sofa: Kayce Hughes
- Bar cabinet: Century Furniture
- Carpet: Floors Etc
- Chairs: Vintage covered in Thibaut & Schumacher fabric
- Chandelier: Currey & Co
- Chandelier in entry: Pelle
- Coffee table: Noir
- Paint: Light Pewter Benjamin Moore
- Pillows: Custom Kelly Werstler for Kravet/Zoffany
- Sectional: Room and Board
- Bedding: Legacy Home
- Fabrics on draperies and pillows (Schumacher)
- Lamp: Circa Lighting
- Paint color: Gray Owl Benjamin Moore
- Rug: Floors Etc.
Enhance Building Co.
- Architectural design: Louis Battistone
- Bar – Soapstone counter and backsplash
- Bar stools: Wayfair
- Cabinetry (kitchen): Custom fit cabinetry
- Counters (kitchen): Green soapstone, live edge book matched walnut slab, Baltimore Granite (Bath) – Carrara Marble
- Flooring (kitchen): Solid white oak – Graf Custom hardwood
- Interior design: Hilde Schirmer (Elder)/Enhance Building Company
- Paint: Benjamin Moore Duration – White Dove
- Kitchen backsplash: Hunt Valley Tile – Ivy Leaf Dolomite
- Kitchen sinks: Kohler Ceramic Farmhouse
- Kitchen table and benches: Good Woods Lumber
- Styling: Helen Crowther
- Windows: Marvin Brand, Elevate
- Wood beams: salvaged from a 240-year-old barn in Pa.
- Tile – bathroom wall – Lunada Bay Tile, Flooring by Emil
- Master bath wallpaper – Serena and Lily Fallbrook Wallpaper
Kitchen and Dining Room
- Ceramic tile, tile flooring and kitchen backsplash: Architessa (formerly Architectural Ceramics)
- Dining room window: Marvin Windows
- Folding window wall: Nana Wall Systems
- General contractor: Gregory Custom Remodeling
- Kitchen cabinetry, countertops, island and wood counter: Canton Kitchens
- Kitchen chairs and bar stools: Crate and Barrel
- Kitchen sink: Galley Ideal Workstation 4
- Kitchen table: Trueform Zen Concrete Dining Table
- Lighting design: DoublEdge Design
- Paint: Benjamin Moore
- Wood trusses, custom dining room cabinetry and steel feature wall: Anything Wood and Metal