House of the Month


Photo by Martha Busse

The first time Ina Herlitzka went to see what would become her house for nearly two decades, she didn’t want her husband, Alan, to even stop the car. The exterior was a mix of brick and wood; they didn’t match. The international-style design wasn’t as popular seventeen years ago as it is today, and the boxy shape didn’t seem to fit in with the neocolonials and tudors nearby. But Ina and Alan were in town from Davenport, Iowa, specifically because they wanted to move to Madison. They were eager to find a house. So they got out and looked. There were a few issues inside, too. The shallow entry was awkward and required the host to stand on the first step of the staircase in order to open the front door. The towering cedars outside blocked the view and natural light from filtering into the living room. And the previous owners had fought with the modern design and used some traditional finishes in an effort to blend in with the other houses in the neighborhood. “I think the people who lived here tried to make it more like a Nakoma house, and it isn’t really a Nakoma house,” Ina explains. But all problems aside, the International-Style house had a nice contemporary vibe that Ina and Alan liked. They could envision the clean walls filled with art. The kitchen was small but seemed functional. There was enough space for the children they hoped to have. It was the right neighborhood—they both loved the tree-lined streets of Nakoma—and they figured that if they bought the house, they would fix what they didn’t like. And they did. They just didn’t realize that it would take them sixteen years to make the house exactly what they wanted. “It took a long time to figure out what the right thing to do was,” Ina says. Some of the changes they made right away. They painted the exterior white so that the brick matched the wood siding, a tremendous improvement. They replaced the roof and cut down the cedars. They renovated the master bathroom, tore out red shag carpeting and stripped off old grass-cloth wallpaper to otherwise make the place their own.


Photo by Martha Busse

But it took years to tackle the bigger issues. The awkward entry bothered Ina and Alan from day one. Not only was it difficult to greet guests, but the foyer also didn’t facilitate traffic flow into the large and otherwise comfortable living room. The couple also subsequently had two sons, Arthur, now thirteen, and Isaac, nine. While the house had originally had four bedrooms, previous owners had turned one of them into a master bath. That left three bedrooms, one of which Ina, a corporate gift consultant, used for her office. That left two, one for the boys and one for the parents. The boys, who are four years apart in age, shared a room well. But Ina and Alan thought that each of their sons needed his own space as they grew older. So, after years of discussion and changing ideas about what they needed and what made sense for them and their house, they did it. Downstairs, they added a foyer to open up the entry and the living room, and they remodeled the kitchen. Upstairs, they added a master bedroom above the garage. Outside, they redesigned the landscaping and installed a Japanese-inspired rock garden and other Asian-influenced features. The process was a little more difficult than they had imagined. The whole family stayed in the house during renovations, although they removed much of their artwork and other belongings. The first floor was pretty much off-limits because of the foyer construction and kitchen renovation. Upstairs was torn up, too. Ina’s former office was getting a few cosmetic touches in preparation for Arthur’s takeover. And the former master bedroom was in the construction zone. That left one room besides the bathrooms. “We lived in one bedroom, all four of us, for three or four months,” Ina says. “We sat on our bed and ate out of the crockpot.” But it was worth it. Ina still can’t believe how much she loves the garden and how well it works with the house. The kitchen is bright and functional. Afternoon sunlight streams through a bank of south-facing clerestory windows in the new master bedroom, which was designed so that the old master bedroom—now Ina’s office—didn’t lose a corner window detail that Alan loved. In all, they didn’t add much square footage, but the changes added an immeasurable livability to the home, thanks in no small part to the new foyer that transformed the entire first floor. “Before the remodel, we didn’t use this room,” Alan says, gesturing toward the living room furnished with comfortable couches, a grand piano and children’s art, with a focal-point picture window looking out to the neighborhood. “That entryway changed the whole house.” Jennifer Garrett is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

Madison Magazine - February 2007
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