A 1970s Bi-Level Or Split-Level Remodeling Advice Guide

Bi-Level or Split-Level Remodeling Tips For Homes Built in the 1970s

Split-level homes, also known as bi-level or divided-entry homes, are a very American home style. They first became popular in the 1940s and 50s as soldiers returned home and demand for suburban houses was high. Split-level homes tend to be small, in terms of square footage, and lend themselves to hilly or narrow lots. After falling out of favor, the split-level enjoyed a resurgence 1970s.

There's something fascinating about a split level home. The way the interior space flows with the change in floor level creates a partial separation of spaces that seem visually connected from one level to the next. On the inside, split levels are fun, but not entirely functional for the way we live today.

That being said, there are ways to update a split-level to create a space that is perfect for modern living. Some, like adding an addition or tearing down walls can be pricey, but in the end, you'll have a functional modern home, with a great contemporary look and feel.

Here are some tips and ideas for both interior and exterior remodeling projects that can turn a dated split-level home into the perfect space for modern family living!

Updating The Exterior of a Split-Level Home

This 1980’s home had a significant addition completed, transforming it from a bi-level home into a 2-story.

Unfortunately, split-level homes built during the 1970s tend to be a bit bland on the outside. Remember, these were often starter homes for young families, and as such, there was not much emphasis on using top-quality finishes. Many built in the 70s used T1-11 siding which are plywood sheets with vertical grooves spaced 8-inches apart on the upper floors. The windows tend to be single hung, and old style garage doors face the street, as the largest (and ugliest) continuous surface in the front of the home.

The look of an older split-level is anything but contemporary; however, this style home is ripe for modernization. Bi-Level or split-level homes have many of the most essential components already built-in.

Start with the siding. Modern homes typically feature two surface types. The predominant is generally smooth and clean. Stucco can be used to achieve this look, and it's reasonably easy to stucco directly over T1-11. Anytime you're looking to modernize your home, carefully examine ways to make the exterior walls smooth. The second surface that can make a big aesthetic impact and is also typically easy to install is natural stone. Think “Fallingwater.” This Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece exhibits the perfect balance between these two textures. A split-level home has the structural breaks to make this look complete.

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This home in Westport, WI was updated with a garage addition. A split-entry or bi-level home, it was transformed to a contemporary masterpiece with large windows and extensive decks to take advantage of views.

Next are the windows. Contemporary homes never use single hung windows. However, this is the most common type of window found in divided-entry homes. Many are often “colonial” style featuring grids that divide the window into small “lites.” Upgrading windows to a more contemporary look, for example, using casements, or horizontal sliders can modernize the look.

Roof color and material can go a long way towards updating the look of your home as well. Roof color is an important feature when it comes to modern home design. It's an important design element that can make your exterior remodel really pop. Some roof colors simply don't work with a contemporary design and an old shingle roof doesn't often provide clean, smooth lines. To complete your exterior update, think about a new roof in a dark color. If you're looking for a real contemporary pop, consider switching to a seamed metal roof.

To add some bling to your updated design, don't forget exterior lighting. Lighting is one detail that can make a huge difference. Modern design focuses on lighting, and split-level homes have some great lighting opportunities. Including:

  • The pathway to the front door

  • The overhang of the second level. Use recessed lighting to highlight the new stone facade under the overhang.

  • On either side of the front door. Use large fixtures to make a statement. Another option is to include a new front door with sidelights, a great modern look.

Finally, the garage door is the most extensive uninterrupted feature on the front of a divided-entry home. A Modern garage door can transform the front of your home more than almost any other element. Consider a modern door with translucent flat panels. They're beautiful in both daylight, and when backlit at night.

Step Inside: Updates to the Interior Design

Start by defining your needs. When it comes to this type of home design, it can be pretty unforgiving of mistakes, so really think it through clearly.

The original split-level design was based on Frank Lloyd Wright's Arts and Crafts style architecture. Simple, comfortable, and open. Because split-levels were designed to be lower cost homes, the design was intended to blend form and function and blend with nature.

The interior design of split-level homes is intended to have a lower, informal level (designed for Dad), a middle, more formal level (centered around Mom), and an upper level with bedrooms and private space. While you can alter this layout, it may take an experienced designer to make changes that will work well.

If you're planning on adding space with an addition, do this work first, before making any interior changes. Design any additions behind the house. Because this style of home is designed to fit into a narrow or sloped lot, additions away from the rear will make the home look awkward.

The most effective additions are those that convert garages or basements into livable space. These type of remodels require no changes to the footprint or architecture. Also, sunrooms or decks built in the rear of the home can effectively work as the bones for an addition.

Finally, remodel the inside of the house. This style of the home lends itself well to open concept living, so removing walls is a good start. Find a designer who will work to blend the interior design with the exterior of the home. Look for inspiration in the Arts and Crafts design style – keep your home design simple and flowing.

Remember, these are basically "mid-century modern" homes. So look to include natural materials like wood floors, granite counters, tile, stone and it's typically best to keep materials light in color. Split-level homes often don't have many windows. Think about maximizing natural light, by adding windows and how you can incorporate light into the design. Avoid anything to “eclectic.” Keep it clean and uncluttered.

If your doing a complete remodel, don't overlook the foyer. Most home styles feature a foyer that gives guests a clear path to the living space. Split levels have two stairways inside the door. Repair this flaw by opening the entry directly to the living room by removing walls, or by creating a clear pathway to the lower den by matching the flooring in the foyer and on the stairs.

Split-Level homes can be updated to create a modern living space to meet the needs of today's lifestyle. Work with a professional design-build firm that is familiar with the style and can offer you suggestions and explain the options to meet your needs best.

If you're planning on remodeling your split level home in the greater Madison, Wisconsin area, give the experts at Degnan Design-Build-Remodel a call at (608) 846-5963. We're always happy to answer any questions and ready to help you create your dream home!

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