April Gruber lay awake in bed with visions of the Piedmont house she’d seen earlier in the day playing through her mind. When she and her husband visited the home, they agreed it was not what they were looking to purchase for their growing family. The 1957-era house was not only a time capsule, seemingly untouched since the day it was finished, it was divorced from its expansive and very overgrown lot. What’s more, in a nod to the car-loving nature of that era, it was fronted by a formidable carport, and the enclosed entry from the parking spaces to the home had all the charm of a commercial garage.
But yet, thoughts of the home kept Gruber up at night. “As a residential designer, I have the need to solve building puzzles,” she says. “I never had a great ‘a-ha’ moment about this place, I just kept drawing until it became clear that this was our house.” Her husband, Aric Shalev, was immediately on board with the plan. “He believed in my ability to remake it,” says Gruber.
The transformation happened as the family grew. The couple had three children in the household when they purchased the home, and shortly after Gruber became pregnant with their fourth. “During my pregnancy, I was on bed rest for five weeks in the hospital,” she says. “I took my client work with me, and after I finished my business day, I worked on redrawing this house as our dream home.”
Her first move was to work with landscape architect David Thorne to eliminate the carport and cramped entry at the front of the house, relocating parking to a freestanding garage she designed and creating an entry courtyard complete with a living area and outdoor kitchen. “It made a world of difference,” Gruber notes. “We went from a cramped, unpleasant entry sequence to one that’s open, light-filled and has space for outdoor dining.”
In the back, Thorne reshaped the sloping lot in order to make way for a level spot for a pool and expansive play areas for the kids. “The backyard is a fairly steep site, and we were able to set the pool within an ipe deck we floated over the topography,” he says. “The combination of wood with concrete and stone feel right on the wooded site.”
Before the remodel, the entry was uncommonly large and outfitted with a retractable glass roof and built-in planters that allowed the room to serve as a plant conservatory. Gruber had a different vision. Although she made the space a bit narrower with the addition of a wine room, it was still spacious. “In the end we kept it mostly open, and it became the linchpin of the house—a beautiful space you pass through to enter the living room, library or bedroom wing,” she says. “Now, during celebrations, we roll up the rug and set up tables for family dinners. It becomes a lovely dining area filled with laughter.”
With the background in place, Gruber reached out to a long-time acquaintance, designer Mead Quin, for assistance. “I respected what April had done as an architect, and
I wanted to help her layer in softness while highlighting the architecture of the house,” says Quin.
Since establishing connections with the exterior was a driving force, Quin wanted to make sure that the colors and textures complemented the outdoors. “The big windows and doors and the scenes of the treetops outside give this home a tree house feeling,” she says. “When you have bright colors inside, it detracts from what’s going on outside, so we kept things soft and relatively quiet.”
However, quiet doesn’t equal colorless and flat. In the large living room, the designer created two seating areas against the broad expanse of the board-formed concrete fireplace Gruber designed. One is anchored by a pair
of soft gray sofas and a walnut coffee table, while the other is composed of a cream-colored sofa and a pair of tawny armchairs arranged around a marble-topped table. The dining room, which can be enclosed by the original, oversize folding doors, features an earthy grass- cloth wallcovering, slate-blue drapery and a slate-blue bar around a zinc dining table. And the master bedroom, though done in muted shades of cream and taupe, features a wallpaper with a fern motif as the textured backdrop for a large upholstered headboard.
All this helps Gruber achieve her goal of a peaceful family home. “We want the kids and our extended family and friends to spend time together,” she says. “This house facilitates that—whether it’s around the fire pit, in the family room, or in the kitchen with its large table where we usually eat. It’s those kinds of intentional social spaces that make this a special family home.”