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Rethink Space for the Way We Live Today

Undividing to conquer space problems in an older home,

Q: We love our old house (l892) too much to move, even though the way we live is very different from life when the house was built. Over the years, we've made a lot of adjustments, such as adding a family room and a bigger garage. Now we're facing the kitchen, where the breakfast room is separate and a butler's pantry divides it from the kitchen. If we take down the walls and make one large space, what will that do to the overall resale value of the house -- if we ever do decide to move?

A: Not the question you should be asking. You should be asking: How much more will we enjoy this house while we are still living in it?

I have the answer: a lot! And -- to your question about resale value -- so will anyone who considers buying a Victorian-era house. As you point out, life back then, with ample household help and less stress, was a far cry from life today, which is all about do-it-yourself, crowded family schedules, two working parents ... you fill in the rest.

Charming as a butler's pantry may be, if you don't have the butler to go with it, let it go. Bringing your spaces together will do the same for your family. But you needn't sacrifice your home's vintage charm in the process. Designer Jeannie Fulton, of Ulrich Inc., handled exactly your situation when she helped a family renovate their l898 home. Now the kitchen flows into the eating area and as Fulton says, it "really works for today's energetic and busy lifestyle ...warm, comfortable, inviting ... and open space for socializing."

She underscored the new all-in-one space with hardwood flooring, repeated the warm wood tone of the work island in the dining table and hung almost matching light fixtures in both spaces. Worth noting: The lights' metallic shades echo that dramatic copper range hood. Also worth noting: how a pro mixes white-painted wood cabinets with the glazed cherry island (all custom from Wood-Mode)

Q: Is it possible to pick up trends just by studying design pros' work?

A: After perusing the two multi-million penthouses that hosted New York's famed Kips Bay Decorator Show House this month, I can say "yes," unafraid. Unfolding in the dazzling new Aldyn residence, recently risen over the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side, the 40-year-old tradition had a distinctly untraditional look this year, with floor-to-ceiling windows and minimalist interior architecture. Making it look like the home was a challenge taken up by more than two dozen of the nation's top interior designers (and landscape designers -- the penthouses each came with outdoor terraces and pools).

Some designers ignored the drop-dead contemporary attitude and filled their spaces with natural textures and surprising color -- here's the trend: chartreuse, apple green, poison green, lime or kiwi; by any name, that was the color of the Kips. Charlotte Moss led the natural textures brigade: One wall of her "English garden" was covered with faux boxwood, the others in trompe l'oeil wallpaper that looked like weathered barnwood.

Jamie Drake (interior designer to New York's Mayor Bloomberg) also opted for wood planking, but his library sported the real thing -- in green, of course, but decidedly leaning toward teal.

Scott Sanders teamed teal with chartreuse in his retro-Miami living room, and Tom Filicia enameled walls yellow-green and draped doorways in a green and turquoise print that smacked of the l950s.

Not quite everything was coming up green. There was a surprising lot of brown, from an illusive cocoa in Neal Beckstedt's sitting room to Alexa Hampton's slick enameled khaki-brown bedroom, with a ceiling canopy, hung pattern-side down.

With the two penthouses selling for a rumored $16-17 million, you get it why the designers were thinking green and doing it up brown.

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