Open Concept Remodeling Ideas For a 1960's Split-Level House

Open Concept Remodeling of a Split-Level Home

Back in the 1950's and 60's, it was what President Kennedy called the New Frontier. Out went ornate Victorian furnishings and "Sputnik" looking lighting and sleek "Mid-century" modern furniture was the hot new style. Of course, it wasn't called that at the time, it was just "modern." It was the space age and our parents and grandparents were enthralled with the new style and technology of the era. Suburbia was growing and tract housing was taking root following the success of Levitt & Sons mass-production building process that led to Levittown on Long Island. It was during this time that the split-level home began to emerge in the Madison, Wisconsin landscape. It's common to see split-level homes that were built in the 1970's and 80's that are a value for first-time homeowners and empty nesters looking to remodel an existing house into an open concept home.

The new style appealed to a wide range of buyers because it was a new, exciting design that was larger and grander than the smaller ranches and modest bungalows that were dominant in many post-war neighborhoods. At the time, it was an affordable home that could be built on a smaller lot than the sprawling ranch homes that came before.

The split level is not considered a modern design, but it still offers plenty of benefits to homebuyer's today. Here's a little history, and some ideas for updating this classic mid-century design for 21st-century living!

First, Some Background on Split-Level Housing

No one is sure who designed the first split level, but it's believed to have evolved from the ranch, which was in turn inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s low-profile Prairie homes and minimalist Usonian houses. The split level was designed to divide public and private spaces using short half levels.

According to Stuart Cohen, architect and co-author of the book Great Houses of Chicago, “the split was originally designed to build on a sloping site, but the interior visual connections it created were so popular, it became part of a new style.”

As more families left the cities for the suburbs after WWII, many wanted houses that were grander than those purchased by homecoming veterans under the GI bill. Split levels looked more substantial, yet their stacked design was compact and could be affordably built on a smaller lot. The typical tri-level layout consisted of a lower level family room and garage, mid-level entry and public spaces and upper-level bedrooms and baths.

The style peaked in the 70's after the sitcom The Brady Bunch debuted in 1969. Mike and Carol Brady's home was the quintessential split level and Americans saw how this style worked well for their large blended family.

Cosmetic updates such as lighting, paint colors and painted cabinets can transform a split-level home to an object of beauty, at a fair price.

The Positives of Split-Level Design

Many homeowners who live in a split level, love their homes. Because the design is a little out of favor, split levels tend to be affordable. There are many different split level designs and most offer a spacious feel that can include cathedral ceilings in the upper-level living space, and a family room and bath on the lower level which is perfect for the kids. The lower level of most splits were built partially or fully above ground to take advantage of natural light. While there are many variations on the design, the basic mid-level entry with upper-level private spaces and lower level public spaces is typical of the design.

There Are Some Drawbacks To Split-Levels

As tastes changed in the 80's and 90's houses became grander. The split level with its 8-foot ceilings and small closets fell out of favor. Today, many homeowners are looking for a state-of-the-art home with architectural character, the split-level often doesn't fit the bill.

Splits typically feature smaller windows, a shallow-pitched roofline and a rather plain exterior often sheathed in wood, stone or brick which doesn't offer much curb appeal and appears somewhat dated. This can often turn off potential buyers who fail to look beyond the exterior.

Bringing A Split-Level Into The 21st Century

This home was transformed from an upside-down split-entry home into a two-story home worthy of the 21st century. Click on the photo to see more and download the case study PDF with before/after photos.

Split level homes are great candidates for remodeling. They're among the most affordable home styles out there, precisely because they are out of favor. Fortunately, in terms of the interior, many features are sought after today, for example, they often feature cathedral ceilings in the upper-level living area along with an open concept.

Remodeling the exterior of the home can make a big impact and bring them into the 21st century in terms of adding curb appeal and architectural interest. For example, creating a grand entrance with columns and a peaked roof over the front door can add interest. Giving your home a new look by installing larger windows and cedar shingles can also update the look and let in even more natural light.The key to any remodeling effort is to enhance and update the existing design rather than changing the character of the original split level design.

In terms of the interior, some split levels can be modernized by opening up various areas of the space. For example, creating a deck off the dining area or kitchen and opening up the space with French doors can add an indoor/outdoor feel to the space increasing light. If your home has the original kitchen, updating the design and opening it up to the rest of the house and adding an island can create a space that is functional, stylish and desirable when it comes time to sell.

If you're considering a split level home, speak with a qualified professional design-build-remodeler. While they can sometimes appear dated, split levels offer great value and flexibility when it comes to updating the design. It's a classic home style with a long history that is primed and ready to be brought into the 21st century! With some simple remodeling, you can create a modern, warm, welcoming home that you and your family can enjoy for many years.

As a first-time homeowner or empty-nester a split-level home is often a good value and with the right remodeler, it can be an open concept showplace home. It is also a great document to have on hand for prospective buyers if you ever choose to sell your home. If you have questions about designing a split-level home, schedule a call with the experts at Degnan Design-Build-Remodel.

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 1/3/2019.