When Stephanie and Matt Monteith bought their 1920s Dutch Colonial seven years ago in West Hartford, they thought it was the ideal starter home with three bedrooms and 1½ baths. They not only fell in love with the home’s character, but also the neighborhood’s charm and walking distance to downtown.
Fast-forward to two kids and plans for another, and this young couple started thinking about moving or adding on for more living space. But, unbeknownst to them, baby No. 3 was already on the way, jump-starting their decision-making process. They quickly agreed, “Let’s go for the addition.”
A speedy plan was needed to get the renovation complete before the arrival. The Monteiths primarily wanted to create a family-friendly, open living space on the first floor along with a master bedroom suite with a walk-in closet above. It was going to be a tight timeline, but the couple enlisted a design team they believed could get the job done.
“There’s no changing a baby’s due date,” says Drew Liljedahl, the fourth-generation owner of Liljedahl Bros., a mid-size remodeling company serving Greater Hartford and the Farmington Valley. “Our approach was that it just had to get done. You push and you do what you have to do.”
Stephanie and Matt held the same philosophy — do what you need to do — as they moved their family of four, complete with a 4-year-old and 1-year-old, into Stephanie’s parents’ home in Cheshire from February until May 2018.
“They broke ground the week after Thanksgiving,” says Stephanie, who couldn’t wait to bring spaciousness to their 1,800-square-foot home. “We were able to keep living in the house until Super Bowl Sunday when they needed to shut the water off to rerun the plumbing.”
With the couple working full time — Stephanie was a sales director for a Washington, D.C.-based tech company and Matt is an attorney in Hartford — and the kids still in day care near their home, Stephanie decided to rent office space in West Hartford. This way, she figured she’d be local to pick up the girls every day as well as jet over to the house to answer any questions.
“I didn’t want to create any unnecessary delays on our end,” she says. “It was a freezing, cold winter, but the builders still showed up almost every day. Once it gets below a certain degree, the nail guns don’t work. But they were out there with hammers and nails.”
“The only predictable thing in remodeling is that there are going to be unpredictable things,” says Liljedahl, who noted that the ability to talk to Stephanie daily helped the project flow faster. “They put a lot of trust in us to work within their timeline and they definitely did their part in making it a very fluid, collaborative process.”
Staying true to its era and the neighborhood, the home’s two-story addition blends seamlessly with the old. The design moved the kitchen into the new addition, freeing up space where the original galley kitchen used to be. With plumbing already at the ready, the area was turned into a butler’s pantry and wet bar.
“It’s one of our favorite areas,” says Stephanie, who got the idea from a similar butler’s pantry at her parents’ house. “We didn’t know what to do with the space at first. This makes sense because these older homes have smaller dining rooms and there’s not enough room to have a big buffet for storage.”
A breakfast nook off the new kitchen offers a casual eating area — something the family didn’t have before. And a kitchen island, with three big counter stools with backs so that the kids don’t fall off, offers another gathering spot for informal meals.
Stephanie’s friend, Jeanne Barber, who heads up her own interior design business, Camden Grace Interiors, sourced the stools as well as all of the furniture downstairs. Having just left her law career to start her new Farmington-based business, Barber was happy to take on the challenge of getting everything done before the baby’s arrival.
“She knew the timeline and understood that once I moved back with the baby, I didn’t want to move back to a home with empty rooms,” says Stephanie, who reached out to Barber early — almost as soon as she put down the phone with Liljedahl Bros.
“I really needed someone to help me pull the trigger,” she says. “Jeanne helped with different layouts and finding pieces that fit the room. She has access to furniture and fabrics that the general public doesn’t have, so she really pulled it all together. I’ll look forever and never make a decision.”
“Stephanie trusted me, which always makes the process easier,” Barber says. “She originally wanted white subway tile for her backsplash, but I pushed her boundaries to do something a little bit more special. We ended up going with a tile from TileBar that looks like wet clay with a pearlescent quality to it.
“When it came to designing the built-in storage in the living room, I persuaded her to go with drawers. They look more modern than cabinets and it’s easier for kids to clean up and just dump their toys into them.”
Brushed brass pulls on the drawers correspond with the gold, lantern pendant lights over the island. Monteith found them years ago and loved them, so Barber sourced them.
Barber’s motto, “good design for easy living,” rings true in the Monteith home. Using durable, stain-resistant fabrics, Sunbrella and Crypton; paint with an eggshell finish on the walls, so that they could easily be wiped clean; and painted wood, farmhouse-style chairs around the breakfast nook table and no rug, all “keep things real,” Barber says.
“It’s entirely possible to have spaces that are both functional and stylish,” she says. “You just have to know which design elements to utilize. Different lighting sources, for example, make such a difference. It’s important to call us at the inception of a project so we can work with the contractor to develop lighting plans and optimize layout.”
With the new 1,150-square-foot addition complete and the majority of the furniture in the home, the Monteiths moved back in on May 12 and the baby was born on the 15th.
“There was a little anxiety,” Monteith says with a laugh. She originally hoped to be in about a month earlier, had it not been for the frigid winter. “But, once we moved back in, it was like moving into a brand-new home.”
The Monteiths even called in Simsbury-based D.W. Burr Landscaping and Design to finish their outdoor space. The whole project had destroyed the backyard and it was important to them for the kids to be able to play outside that summer.
“We decided to push ahead and just do everything in sequence,” Monteith says. “With the addition, interior design, new patio and landscaping all done, now we can just be. It’s everything we imagined — fresh, inviting and comfortable.”