Contemporary redesign gives room to breathe

Some might have written it off as yet another example of lackluster 1950s architecture: one more rancher planted among a million in the tilled, watered flowerbed of suburbia. Yawn.

The steel trim of the fireplace offers visitors a sleek and cool focal point.

Justin Fee, Knoxville Magazine

The steel trim of the fireplace offers visitors a sleek and cool focal point.

But when Paula Clancy drove past the house, sitting queenlike atop three-and-half secluded acres on a ridgetop in Fountain City, she saw her family's dream home.

"We love this neighborhood," Paula says. "It's so private and peaceful." The only problem was, their future dream home wasn't for sale.

Paula, however, strikes one as the kind of woman who always gets what she wants, eventually. For five years, Paula, along with husband Steve and 10-year-old daughter Sydney, made monthly pilgrimages to the neighborhood, always hoping to spot a "For Sale" sign. Finally, their vigilance paid off. The Clancy family was the proud new owner of - a home that was the stylistic equivalent of vanilla ice cream.

Nothing against solid-wood everything, low ceilings and tiny rooms, but they had to go. Paula, as a designer and owner of Nouveau Classics furniture store, has a very chic, contemporary style that bears closer resemblance to the Museum of Modern Art than a dollhouse. Clean lines and wide-open spaces are in; clutter and claustrophobia are out. "I really like a minimalist, open, loft feel," Paula says. "Less is more."

She got to work sketching a redesign of the house. "I drew out a floorplan of the house the way it was, with all of the rooms. Then I started erasing walls, adding the master bedroom wing," Paula says. "That's when I knew it was going to work."

The demolition began. The roof was taken off, ceilings were raised, walls were removed, windows were added, and a pool was carved into the center courtyard. They kept what they could - hardwood floors, a couple of fireplaces, exterior brick and the front door - but most everything else got loaded up and carted away. "We gutted it," she recalls. "It had great bones."

The makeover process took seven months. Then came the fun part: decorating. "I knew exactly what I wanted," Paula says. "I could see it done." Throughout the home, splashes of color and form emerge in surprising places, transforming the space from empty canvas to multi-dimensional work of art. But the resulting masterpiece feels inviting rather than imposing.

"There's a misconception that contemporary design is cold, modern, like a museum," Paula says. "That can be true, but it doesn't have to be." She explains that a certain softness can be achieved through the selection of materials and the use of natural elements. Their den, for example, is made cozier with a linen sofa, thick wool carpet, textured paint and earthy tones.

Other areas of the house visit the opposite extreme. The kitchen is equipped with actual restaurant-grade appliances for what Paula describes as a more hardcore, industrial feel. "I like stainless steel," Paula says.

In the Clancy home, it's all about self-expression, be it through a striking painting or sculpture, a one-of-a-kind furniture piece or Sydney's fun, youthful bedroom suite. But just as important to every focal point is the space surrounding it. Paula, an artist in her own right, understands this. She laughs that there have been times when she has brought something home from the store, thinking it would look great in the house, but when she put the new addition out it just made the space feel cluttered, or unbalanced.

"I like to have lots of room to move," Paula says, collapsing on the sitting room couch. "I like to have room to breathe."

Outside the oversized windows, the last leaves of summer flutter in the breeze. There's the sound of birds calling to one another, and the turquoise swimming pool twinkles despite an overcast sky. Paula says that being in the house can feel like being outside, with mere walls of glass separating them from the natural world.

The Clancy family is a busy one, but inside their home, everything is as it should be: clean, simple, free. "It just brings me peace to be in this setting," Paula says. "Looking out at the water, it just brings me peace."

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