Couple transforms duplex into spacious home

When Carolyn and David Hollrah's family needs called for a bigger house, they got one without moving. They turned their red brick duplex into a roomy home that more than meets their needs.

It was a natural for the Hollrahs to decide on inner-city Houston when they moved here in 1976. Mr. Hollrah is a lawyer. "It had to be near downtown so transportation and commuting were not added to lawyer hours," recalls Mrs. Hollrah, who works with children with learning problems. "Grass and trees and a good school systems were added pluses." Since her husband was a beginning lawyer , economics was a consideration. So, with his brother, the couple bought an old duplex on one of those tree-lined streets that also had single-family houses.

For two years the Hollrahs lived happily on the bottom floor of the duplex. At about the same time they were expecting their second child and about to outgrow the duplex's two bedrooms, David's brother decided to leave Houston. The Hollrahs wrestled with the question: Do they convert the duplex into a house or do they buy a new house?

They were immediately troubled by an anxious realtor's comment, "Once a duplex, always a duplex." But they were more troubled by the fact that all of the houses they looked at were at least $150,000 and had far less room than what they could have if they converted the duplex into a single home. "It was more economical to stay here and put up with the hassle," Mrs. Hollrah says. "We knew that when you opened up a duplex it would be a lot larger than a lot of houses."

To help them with their task, they hired two architects, Leslie Davidson and Douglas Compton. They wnated to make the renovation without changing the building too much. They wanted to have at least three bedrooms. And they wanted to prove the realtor wrong.

They did. The duplex was erased when the old stairway that had been inside the front door was removed. That space and the bedroom to the right of the old stairway were incorporated into the light, spacious living room.

A new stairway with a contemporary railing was placed on the far side of the living room. The stairway, which leads to the upstairs living room, relieves the monotonous downstairs-living-room, upstairs-living-room syndrome that mars so many renovated duplexes.

The upstairs living room, converted into a playroom, was given a new look, with unusual wall angles and an open balcony above the downstairs living room. The playroom is more out of the way than most family rooms, yet children's problems can be easily overheard.

Mrs. Hollrah says the arrangement is ideal, because she can be downstairs and hear what's going on upstairs. "Yet toys aren't in the living room. Friends come over and the kids yell, 'Let's go up to the playroom.' The main rule had to be that no toys are thrown over the balcony."

Another major change was turning the old upstairs dining room into the master bedroom with a Japanese-style bathroom built off it where the upstairs kitchen had been. Upstairs the two original bedrooms have not been changed except to lower the closet bars so that Kendall, 3 1/2, and LAuren, 4 months, will be able to manage their own clothes as they grow.

Downstairs the dining room has the same role as it did when the Hollrahs were living in a duplex. Beyond the dining room is a den on which they put French doors to the backyard. This gives a green vista from either the living room or the dining room.

The Kitchen, which opens to a deck, has not been changed, except that underneath the new stairway is now a huge kitchen pantry. Finally, one of the original downstairs bedrooms makes the fourth bedroom or the guest bedroom.

The Hollrahs, who have furnished the hosue simply, with both contemporary and antique furniture, had to live with the construction -- sawdust and all. Buty they say they made the right decision. For ont thing, the improvements cost only $25,000. More than that, they have everything they want, and the house works. "I walk around this house and can't belive it's ours," Mrs. Hollrah says. "It's a building to fit our life style without moving. It became what we wanted."

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