Cars rush along a busy street near downtown Charlottesville, bowing day lilies that cluster beside the driveway of Chad and Rebecca Morgan’s early 20th-century home. But when you stand in the heart of the kitchen—a straight shot from the sidewalk through the front door and down the hallway—you could be a million miles from anywhere.
“It’s like living in a tree house,” said Rebecca, who worked with her husband, as well as architect Matt Griffith from In Situ Studio, and contractor Mike Ball to renovate the home they share with their two sons, ages 10 months and 3 years. “You can see green from every window.”
Light pours in from everywhere, suffusing the blue-gray walls and the variegated gray countertops with luminous calm. A four-paned window opens above the stainless steel apron front sink, which is flanked by a Sub-Zero glass-front refrigerator and an L-shaped bar. Two more windows brighten the informal dining room, which doubles as a play space, while another nestles in the alcove above a desktop computer on a built-in shelf.
From the helm of the kitchen, Morgan can easily access the back door and mudroom, where groceries are brought in, the butler’s pantry, which holds a wine fridge, glasses, and a baby changing station, and the play area and living room, where her family spends most of its time.
“We kept the focus on being open and functional,” Morgan said. “We wanted to make this a place where people would feel comfortable gathering.” The ceilings are high and the furniture minimal, interspersed with colorful details like jazz festival prints and a Little Tykes basketball hoop. Most of the kitchen storage is tucked out of sight, with a pantry behind a paneled pocket door, a butler’s pantry to minimize cabinets in the kitchen, and additional storage in the adjacent mudroom.
The overall effect is airy and spacious, simple without feeling sparse. The space just flows, an achievement that sounds much easier than it was.
Before they moved to Charlottesville, the Morgans fell in love with the historical architecture in San Francisco. They found their forever home here, and it had beautiful bones, but the century-old structure needed an update. Working with Chad’s college roommate, an architect from Raleigh, they conceived a total renovation to lighten, brighten, and open the structure. The dark and narrow kitchen, with heavy cabinetry and an awkward corner that pointed inward instead of out, became a major focus of the overhaul.
“It was like weaving an addition into an existing house,” said Mike Ball, who helped the couple finalize their plans and whose local firm, Element Construction, led the five-month-long project. “Half the kitchen was existing, so we gutted that. We had to remove one wall, which was load bearing, and we had to take it apart brick by brick. The new wall needed to match the old one, and these [bricks] were unusual, maybe handmade on site, so we had to painstakingly chip each one free and clean it.”
Once the footprint of the house was finalized, the team widened windows and built custom cabinetry, including the overhead paneling of the entrance to the mudroom. Instead of an open doorway, Ball said, the overhang defined the space and “added a sense of continuation around the whole kitchen.”
Seamless transitions between spaces are aided by continuous details in multiple rooms, including the countertops’ marble-like finish and maple cabinets, painted white, that disguised filing or cutlery drawers.
Other details were added to mimic those of the original structure. Ceiling trim was designed to match the original trim, and window frames were sourced online to most closely reflect the antique double-paned originals. Ball even found a barn in North Carolina made of 1900s-era heart pine, vertical grained and golden, to match the original flooring.
“I never wanted someone to feel like they had crossed the threshold from old to new,” Morgan said. “I hoped they would just think this is the way the house always was.”
Their dedication to uninterrupted flow has resulted in “a great use of space where nothing is wasted,” Ball said. “It’s a gracious area.” Now the kitchen transitions easily from cocktail hour to little boys’ pizza parties, and every angle radiates calm. It’s the peaceful heart of an interior marrying past and present.
After the Morgans moved into the house, Chad framed two sets of plans, one of the house’s original structure and one of its updates. Rebecca hung them in the formal dining room alongside an undated black and white photo of the house that they found in the attic. When asked how reality compares to the dream on paper, Rebecca smiled broadly. “This is even better.”
Kitchen (including pantry and built-in desk): 345 sq. ft.
Informal dining room: 225 sq. ft.
Den (playroom/breakfast nook): 195 sq. ft.
Mudroom including cubbies: 40 sq. ft.
Butler’s pantry: 55 sq. ft.
Primary materials or finishes
Super White Granite from Cogswell Stone
painted custom maple cabinets
vertical grain heart pine floor reclaimed from a
North Carolina barn.
Kitchen peninsula lights: Progress Lighting Crystal Single Light Mini
Butler pantry light: Artcraft Light AC193 Coventry Three-Light
Appliances and plumbing fixtures Range: Wolf R366 six-burner 36″ gas range
Hood: Wolf with exterior blower
Refrigerator: Sub-Zero B1-36UG over-and-under with glass door
Sink: Porcher 35140-01 London 36″ Farmhouse
Faucet: Hansgrohe Interaktiv S