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Work Hard, Play Hard

Work Hard, Play Hard
June 2015
In Hampton Park Terrace, designer Lauren Sanchez rehabs her American Foursquare into the perfect hub for both family life and her home-based business  

It’s 4 p.m. on a Monday, and one of seven-year-old Evelyn Sanchez’s two pet rabbits—Clarabelle or Claudia; it’s hard to tell which—is running loose in the yard of her family’s circa-1916 Hampton Park Terrace American Foursquare. (The house style, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often features a square frame and layout with four rooms per floor.) Evelyn’s curls fly as she dashes past, chasing the errant fur ball. A few feet away, little brother Xander sprawls on a blanket under the canvas teepee the family uses as a portable playhouse. When the rabbit comes tearing though the fort, the four-year-old is unfazed and continues happily marching an action figure across his leg.  

It’s quickly apparent where the tow-headed tyke gets his laidback attitude: parents Lauren and Jonathan Sanchez stand nearby chatting, and they’re equally unruffled by the chaos. For a few minutes, Lauren tries to help wrangle the rabbit, but when its furry body wriggles out of her grasp, she laughs and shrugs.

Clearly, in this kid-friendly household, there’s no crying over the proverbial spilled milk—or in this case, the breakout bunny. When the pet is finally back in its pen, all head inside for an afternoon snack. As the kids chow down on chocolate cupcakes, Lauren doesn’t bat an eye at the proximity of frosting-covered hands to her Eames dining chairs—the midcentury classics are “plastic and scrubbable,” she notes. Like most things here, they were chosen for both their beauty and utility, so they work with how the family lives.

Lauren’s relaxed approach is refreshing, especially given that her 3,000-square-foot abode is the hub of both her professional and personal lives: she runs her eponymous interior architecture and design firm from a one-room home office on the first floor. Just inside, her two full-time employees are still at work, crafting designs for residential and commercial clients including the recently debuted Chick’s Fry House; she’ll soon rejoin them to wrap up the business day. In addition, the busy mom co-owns Blue Bicycle Books, King Street’s beloved indie bookstore, with husband Jonathan, a writer, book dealer, and director of literary nonprofit YALLFest. Thanks in part to Lauren’s design skills, the residence—which she and Jonathan purchased and renovated in 2013—is a place where thriving careers and family hullabaloo can happily co-exist.  

But there was a time, shortly after Xander was born and when Lauren’s firm was taking off, when things were less harmonious on the homefront. Back then, the family lived in a 1,800-square-foot bungalow just across the park, in Wagener Terrace. And between the new baby and burgeoning home-based biz, their place began to give the impression that it was bursting at the seams. Feeling cramped, they started looking at larger properties a few blocks south in Hampton Park Terrace.
The house hunt took patience. “In this neighborhood, if they have good bones, they go so fast,” Lauren notes. After a few false starts, the duo got a tip from a friend that a promising fixer-upper was soon to hit the market. At first, they were put off by what Lauren describes as its “gnarly-looking” exterior: peeling paint and a chain-link fence put one in mind of Boo Radley’s house. A tour revealed more warts inside. Graffiti tags blemished original plaster walls, the trim and floors were badly worn, and busted stair pins were unsightly and unsafe.  

Still, Lauren saw loads of potential in the home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It had tall ceilings, tons of natural light, and room for my office to function,” she notes. And despite some 40 years of disrepair, it boasted vintage character in spades. Plus, the double lot meant there was space for a sizeable yard—a rare find downtown. This promising framework convinced the couple that with a little love and an expanded layout, it’d be perfect for their family of four. They took the plunge and made an offer.

Upon learning the house was theirs, Lauren drew up plans for a 1,000-square-foot rear addition and secured contractor Marc Engelke of Engelke Homes to lead the charge on a five-month, restoration-focused renovation. “Marc is the rockstar of contractors, and he’s done a ton of work in Hampton Park Terrace,” Lauren says. “I knew he could help us recapture the essence of this house.” Under Engelke’s guidance, the abode was coaxed back to a state of beauty. He and his crew fixed damaged plaster walls, restored heart-pine floors, and repaired (or, when necessary, custom-replicated and replaced) millwork. Outside, they mended the turn-metal roof and dilapidated siding. Engelke also oversaw construction of the addition, which made way for a master suite upstairs and an open-concept living room, dining area, and kitchen on the first floor.

The new space feels clean and contemporary, but details from the past maintain a connection with the original architecture. For example, flanking the addition are wing walls, which hide the steel brought in to support the new structure and accommodate its open floor plan. These walls are covered with beadboard salvaged during the renovation, and the wood still reflects the colors the house has been painted over time—a rainbow of avocados, creams, and pinks. Their rustic patina adds vintage warmth to new construction. “That’s the history of the house, and it just feels appropriate there,” Lauren notes.  

With the overhaul complete, the abode is tailored to suit the lives of its residents. Right off the front door, a formal parlor, decorated in a manner Lauren describes as “clean, bright, and Southern,” works for greeting guests—say, clients or vendors. “I like to have a place that’s always welcoming to company,” she explains. “It leaves the rest of the house free—so if the kids have a fort set up in the living room, it’s totally fine.” The parlor flows into what would traditionally be used as a dining room—but in this case is repurposed as an office, with pocket doors that can be shut for privacy.

Beyond that, the home is devoted to family life. Furnished with a mix of antiques, upholstery pieces, and midcentury treasures, it looks pristine—but as most every surface is washable, the occupants can live without worrying about damaging something precious. “People wonder how we can have a white sofa,” Lauren says. “But I can throw these slipcovers in the wash. And the white quartz countertop is resilient; not even Sharpies can stain it. It’s perfectly suited for kids and messes.”

Against this (washable) white background, the color of family life really pops, and the mood is undeniably cheerful—perhaps because there are so many sure signs that kids live here. Upstairs, paintings by Evelyn, a budding artist who attends camp each summer at the Gibbes, are framed and displayed just as carefully as works by local pros such as Mary Edna Fraser and Lulie Wallace. In the living room, bright fabric bunting handmade by Evelyn is strung from the ceiling; a holdover from a birthday party, it has become a permanent part of the décor. And of course, Clarabelle and Claudia hold court in the yard, hopping across the lawn every chance they get. “The house just works for how our family lives,” Lauren says, “and something about that feels really joyful.”