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1950s Ranch With an International Flavor

Submit an Entry: Old House Renovation

By mark a. reed

1950s Ranch With an International Flavor

Locals call my home The Chinese House. Click the photo for a larger view.

1950s Ranch With an International Flavor

Here is the original house style. Click the photo for a larger view.

About My House

My home is a tri-level constructed in the early 50s as one of the many diverse model styles in one of America’s first planned communities after WW II. Like most homes, each room had the typical four walls, providing me with a blank canvas.

In the first makeover, I put up a false wall with lattice dividing the living room and foyer to create a sunken living room affect with a short bridge from one space to the other. The “L” shape living room/dining room was divided by a three-arch wall to lengthen the dining space yet keeping the rooms airy. Facing brick was added to certain rooms to give them Old World charm.

What I Did

We moved into this house at the main entrance to the Village of Park Forest, Illinois (corner of Orchard Drive and Lincoln Highway) in 1981. We began the transformation of the exterior to compliment the international themed interior spaces in 1992. Currently interior themes are:

  • Moroccan front porch,
  • Greek foyer,
  • Native American upper hallway,
  • Japanese living room,
  • Spanish dining room,
  • Italian breakfast nook,
  • African lower hallway,
  • #10 Downing Street bedroom door, and
  • French bathroom.

A flag of each theme except France appear near the functional clock above the bonsai shaped shrubbery. A message board arch in front of the garage displays quotes changed twice a week to get the passing reader to THINK. The Reed logo on the garage door features a hand-painted palm tree within a circle with intersecting parallel lines.

All the decoration ideas and implementation that transformed the home into an international work of art was done by myself. Once a theme was decided upon, in my travels as a service engineer in the Midwest, I went in search for items and ideas to complete each project.

The Oriental theme began with the yellow blocks against a red background and the shoji screen shutters at the windows. The roof tiles, hand painted yellow with oil-base enamel, define the home as an imperial residence.

The five star restaurant/hotel décor experiences with a little creativity can be an everyday experience within ones own home. My objective was to create timeless themes of peace and harmony while exposing our nine children and their children’s children to unique diversity not limited to race or ethnicity.

The New Zealand architect Ian Athfield (AD 1991 – 100 Architects) said, "With houses, it’s the relationship between people that comes first. You can't start with an idea of how people should act or what a house should look like."

Tips and Tricks

  • Creating a home I could enjoy was my goal from the outset. Transform your home over the years and enjoy it rather than make the improvements just when time to sell.
  • Each room has its own identity even when the furniture is removed, therefore the room's furniture was often an after thought to the theme concept.
  • Each item was selected as a unique work of art that fit within the theme as part of a unified whole.
  • Colors were first tried on paper until the right combination was found that spoke elegant beauty.
  • A not so expensive item can be embellished, giving a richness far above its original cost.
  • If I could do this over, I would have first taken a photograph of the house and created a photo step-by-step transformation album.

Jackie Craven, About.com Architecture, says:

Learn more about the "Chinese House":

Homeowner Mark A. Reed tells more:
The house originally had a reddish colored roof and the porch was not enclosed. The evergreens were original to the landscape but was growing as one bush in each area of the yard. There was a mulberry tree next to the garage and a crabapple tree beside the evergreens near the sidewalk. Lower limbs of the large oak in the front yard obstructed the view of the house from the street.

The wide roof lines suited the renovation style of an Oriental design. The original transformation started with black and white shoji screen shutters at the windows and yellow blocks against a red background beneath the gutters. The 2x4’ blocks were spaced one block apart and angled to give a hipped roof appearance. Oriental style friezes were added to the corners of the roof. Painted the entire roof a golden yellow and accented the gutters with red. Designed arches for each of the three roof ridges that would add an architectural detail, setting the overall roof design apart from the norm.

Enclosed the front porch and created a title roof design which was painted light green. A used patio glass door was installed in the side of the porch enclosure to provide extra light onto the newly created mini-courtyard. A greenish pertained garden double gate, designed from a tri-folding divider, to establish an outer entrance to the 7x8 foot mini-courtyard.

The garage door was painted red and a logo was designed with a gold Reed palm tree within a circle with parallel intersecting lines as a focal point. A small deck was placed in front of the garage to cover an area where the driveway had sunk. To this deck was added a “welcome” arch which gave picture framing effect to the garage door logo.

Shaped the shrubbery that was originally growing as a unified whole into a bonsai style garden upon a bed of white stones. An Oriental style fence, painted red, was designed to border the shrubbery to create a contrast against the evergreens. A small pavilion with a red fence and open roof with yellow block was made to house a large clock. I mounted on the fence in front of the clock international flags representing the themes of rooms and areas in the interior of my home.

Finally the cement driveway was painted black with red borders on either side to produce the look of a carpet leading to the garage door beyond.

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