Single parents create happy new homes after divorce
By H.M. CAULEY Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 05/29/08
With the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it's no surprise that many of Stephanie Andrews' design clients find themselves starting over again. Unlike the recent grad who's just rented a new apartment or newlyweds moving into a starter home, the newly single often come with bits and pieces of their past to sort through, as well as a passion to put their own imprint on their surroundings quickly.
"There's so much psychology that goes into designing a home," said Andrews, owner of the Candler Park-based Balance Design. "Newly single people want to explore who they are and put that in their house. It's a chance for them to show their own personal style."
There's also something liberating about putting together a home without anyone else's approval. "They have full control and there's no need for compromise, which is very freeing for them," said Andrews. "They can have fun. About the only compromise they may have to make ends up being the cost."
For divorced parents, there's the additional desire to make a house a home very quickly for the children. And there are considerations such as where the family will spend time together. Where will the kids do their homework?
Here's a peek inside three Atlanta residences where single parents have put their own style on a new space.
Getting more for less in Doraville
Graphic designer Gabrielle LeBlanc's post-divorce budget made finding a new home in her 8-year-old's school district a challenge. But after 18 months in a Dunwoody apartment, she uncovered a 1960s brick ranch in Doraville that needed a bit of TLC."I knew I could make it work," she said.
LeBlanc ripped out carpeting and refinished the wood floors. She painted the trim and ceilings; installed new light fixtures; and added her own small details, such as replacing the wall switch covers. Her thriftiness extended to the furnishings. An inexpensive, three-tiered chandelier she found at IKEA got an upgrade when she added rows of crystals. A friend donated her kids' old crayon-covered art table that LeBlanc refinished to show off the wood. Instead of payment for a job, she traded her work for a futon. And she picked up some framed artworks for $1 at a yard sale.
LeBlanc scoured stores for decor deals and snagged several. A crescent-shaped table with repairable scratches was $90 at Ballard Designs. A low, glass-fronted buffet in the red dining room came from Crate and Barrel. A green suede sofa was a steal from World Market. Inexpensive cube shelving from IKEA created a storage unit for her son's toys.
LeBlanc warmed the house with personal items. Framed photos of New Orleans, her hometown, line the halls. A portrait of her grandmother, painted by her grandfather on their wedding day, graces her home office.
"I wanted a fresh slate," said LeBlanc. "And I liked being able to create my own space without having to ask anyone's permission."
Kids come first in Avondale Estates
Attorney Sheryl McCalla gave her real estate agent a short list of requirements when she went house shopping five years ago. She wanted to be close to her job in Midtown and near the intown school that her two children attend. Though the three-bedroom house in Avondale Estates wasn't an exact fit, McCalla knew it was a terrific place to start over after a divorce.
"I was looking for a family friendly house in a nice neighborhood," said McCalla. "Here, we can walk to the pool and playground and I have the support of other parents in the neighborhood."
The 1950s house had already undergone an extensive renovation, including the addition of a second floor and an open kitchen and family room. "That was key, because I wasn't in a position to do that kind of work," said McCalla.
In the large foyer, the base of the staircase leads to the second floor and into the family room as well. A former living room, with a fireplace, is now the red dining room. McCalla turned the old glass-enclosed porch into the art room, where her kids are free to paint on the walls, floors or windows as their creativity moves them.
The expanded kitchen has cherry cabinets and an island where the kids can do their homework while McCalla cooks. A corner eating area has a banquette for cozy seating. An adjacent small room holds all of the kids' toys and several musical instruments, while a former first-floor bedroom is now the TV room.
McCalla decorated her son's room with a space theme and had an artist paint her daughter's favorite flowers and garden scenes around her bed.
The move meant buying all new furniture. "The only things I had were a king-sized bed, two night stands, a dresser and an exercise bike," said McCalla. But she took her time tracking down the large wood dining table, with chairs and bench seating; a beige sofa and two chocolate chairs around the family room fireplace; and a round dining table in the breakfast nook.
The kids' artwork on various walls and framed playbills from New York shows that McCalla's parents collected are constant reminders of family connections.
"Simplicity was my goal," said McCalla. "But it was also important to make the house comfortable. And it had to feel like home."
At home at Dad's
Attorney Doug Kertscher started his search for a post-divorce house for his two young children by drawing a 10-mile circle around their primary residence. The perfect place turned up in the form of a 6-year-old house in Morningside.
"The house had been well-maintained, which was important because I work a lot of long hours, and I didn't want to have my children with me while I was fixing the roof," said Kertscher.
The three-story house came with enough open spaces for his children to run around and several areas that double as adult and kid areas. In the library, book shelves are lined with Dad's collection on the top rows; all of the kids' favorites are within their short reach below. A large rectangular ottoman opens to reveal a toy chest.
Kertscher was also insistent that the bedrooms be on the same level so the children would be close by. "And I wanted their rooms to have neat things," he said. In his boy's room, there's an outdoor theme with stars on the ceiling, star lights and camping knick-knacks. His daughter's room, painted in pinks and greens, has stick-on fairies and her name on the walls. The third level of the house has one big room outfitted with a desk and computer, including two kid-sized chairs that double as recliners. Another corner holds a drawing area and chalk boards where the kids can get creative.
A sun room houses the entertainment center in front of an over-sized chaise lounge big enough Kertscher and his tykes. "This is where we do our night-time reading," he said.
Kertscher furnished the house with new pieces, including the large-screen plasma on the wall of the living area, and what he describes as "strong, male colors."
"They're blues and grays, with some greens and reds, that are strong but still warm," he said.
Most of his attention was devoted to creating a home that was functional for him while also being a comfort zone for his kids.
"It was very important to have a place where they'd want to come," he said. "They love coming to Daddy's house; sometimes they'd rather come here than go to the park. And I've been really happy about that."
Tips for making a house a home fast:
• Instead of ordering furniture, ask about buying a floor sample that you can take home immediately. Not only can you get it right away, you may get a discount.
• Shop for ready-made items, such as curtains, drapes and bedding that can punch up a room in minutes.
• The biggest bang for your makeover buck is color. Select a color scheme that will flow throughout the house and make you feel good every time you enter.
• Make it personal by displaying your favorite items that have good memories.