Lots of plant life and a breakfast deck highlight the backyard of a Samarkand cottage owned by retired nurse Irene Ewing.
Jim Bartsch

Halfway through a long career as an emergency room nurse, Irene Ewing found a home to call her own. Built in the 1920s, the 1,100-square-foot cottage in the Samarkand neighborhood exuded plenty of old-fashioned charm. But like any house that’s been up and running for close to a century, a bit of triage was in order.

Improving the kitchen became priority number one, Ewing remembers, and then the rest of the house would fall in line, including the floors, doors, fireplace, and a fresh coat of paint. Initially, she planned to tackle that long to-do list one project at a time. But she soon realized it would likely drag on, she said. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it piecemeal. I’m going to take out some equity and just get it done!’”

At the time, Ewing remembers seeing a fair amount of Giffin & Crane advertisements in newspapers and magazines. “I’m detail oriented, and I was drawn to the attention to detail I saw in the pictures of these huge estates they built,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t think Giffin & Crane would want to work on my little casita. But I called them anyway.”

Irene Ewing
Paul Wellman

The remodel started in the kitchen. Relocating the door and removing a wall opened it up considerably, making room for more counter space. She chose granite countertops — in Esmeralda green — and scored matching backsplash tiles at a vintage home-supply shop. New Quaker-style cabinets matched the interior’s craftsman theme.

Crews also refinished the original hardwood floors and built-in cabinets throughout the home, installed wainscoting, and opened up the small living room by removing shelving around the fireplace and installing a matching mantel that Ewing had found secondhand.

One of Ewing’s favorite touches is how one of the carpenters cut her front and back doors in half to create Dutch doors. When the top half of the front door is open, it draws the eye through the house to the open back door, which leads to the property’s hidden outdoor living space — a small dining deck overlooking garden walls and stone paths through grasses, shrubs, and trees assembled by landscape designer Billy Goodnick. Ewing smiled at the bees and lush greenery, pointing out orange, grapefruit, and pear trees. “I’ll probably come back as a horticulturalist in a next life,” she said.

Mostly unseen, but still important, the home got a finished garage and better ventilation throughout its crawlspace. Out front, curb appeal peaks with a new garage door and a custom driveway gate to match the railing on the front porch, which Ewing had redone in distressed bricks patterned after designs she’d seen in the neighborhood on her morning walks.

“It was a big investment,” she said about the project overall. “I just wanted to spend my hard-earned money well.”


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