Local interior designer Carmen Thomas has a great eye for art, design, and opportunity. When she and her husband Peter were looking for a new house, the perfect fit in a neighborhood she already loved called her name.
“I drove by this great Tudor and saw there was a ‘Coming Soon’ sign in the yard. I stopped, got out and knocked on the door,” she remembers.
It was a good instinct. The four-bedroom house in Roeland Park had a lot going for it: good space, solid construction, and a great neighborhood. But Thomas, who originally worked in commercial design before switching to the residential side, had a broader vision of what the house could be.
“It looked very different when we bought it, but I could see the potential. I wanted to open it up so that the kitchen, dining room and living room could flow together and become a bigger space for entertaining.”
Thomas modified the floor plan on the first floor to do just that. She eliminated the wall between the kitchen and dining room to create an open feel in both spaces. Reconfiguring a bedroom on the first floor on the back of the house enlarged the living room and allowed space for a game room that connects to the sunroom where the couple hangs out and watches TV.
“Before, the only access to the porch was through this bedroom,” notes Thomas. “The new layout makes much more sense.”
Not that it didn’t come with some sacrifice.
“We lived through the first three months of the renovation. Peter really loves the house and he wanted to stay in it through construction,” she remembers. “But finally we moved out to live with my in-laws. That made it much easier. Jill and I always recommend that clients move out if they can,” she says of her design partner in Tran+Thomas Design Studio, Jill Tran.
During construction, Thomas concentrated on the interior design. Originally a fine arts major with a passion for photography, Thomas relied on a primary palette of black and white that allowed her to easily incorporate the art she finds at local art fairs, First Fridays and the River Market and her own photographs into her rooms.
While the kitchen is comprised of sleek white cabinets, classic tiles and black cabinetry that grounds the island, the dining room swings with a vibrant mix of bold, graphic wallpaper, Lucite chairs, and bold brass lighting, both vintage and modern. Taking out the wall between these rooms allows an easy flow from drinks to dinner.
Peter trusted Carmen with most of the design decisions but had concerns about the mudroom just off the kitchen. “The garage was detached, so we created this space to connect it to the house,” says Thomas. She took advantage of the opportunity to install additional cabinetry to supplement her kitchen storage and add an additional refrigerator. But it was the spring green paint that concerned Peter. “I just kept saying, ‘Trust me!’ Now he loves it.”
Upstairs Thomas created a new master bath off of the original master bedroom. “It was just a flat roof. It was calling out to be a bathroom and closet,” she says. The designer created a dream bath with a steam shower and standing soaking tub, but one of her favorite features is underfoot. “Heated floors are the best,” she says of the radiant heat under the tile floor. “It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to install and it makes a huge difference.” In fact, the bathroom has become one of her favorite spaces in the house. “I love the light up here,” she says. “Tudors can be dark, but this room is always sunny.”
On this renovation and with her clients, Thomas believes in the smart and effective use of space. She lined the upstairs hall with cabinets to create much-needed storage. An existing closet was the perfect spot for a full-sized washer and dryer.
Unfinished attic space allowed the couple to create what Thomas jokingly calls the “she cave.” “It’s a lounge, office and workout room,” she laughs. A large closet holds the treadmill, while the pitched roof allowed the designer to tuck built-in cabinets under the eaves. “There’s never enough storage space,” she notes.
With the renovation complete, it would be reasonable to think that Thomas would be happy to focus solely on her clients’ projects, but she and Tran are constantly evolving. “Jill and I are always pushing the envelope. We’re getting ready to launch our own furniture line!” she says. Local design enthusiasts will be watching Tran+Thomas to see what is “coming soon.”
Lori Bowen at Designers Avenue Upholstery
Barbara Holt at Sterlinghouse