Revitalized Midcentury Rancher

Savannah homeowners return a '50s rancher to its former glory with salvaged materials and color.

RWAP-richard-leo-johnson-stumpf-kitchen-living-room_s4x3 Photography by Richard Leo Johnson

Savannah-based designer Celestino Piralla of CSCP Consult Design maintains an undeniable passion for all things modern. The Venezuelan native grew up embracing purist principles passed down from his grandfather, renowned architect Zoltan Piralla. Not surprisingly, when Celestino and PR guru Cornelia Stumpf stumbled across a midcentury modern abode that had undergone only a few renovations, they quickly halted their Savannah home search.

Besotted with the home's open plan, large windows, original features and its straightforward architectural elements, the pair saw past plenty of imperfections and embraced the idea of restoring the architectural gem. "Midcentury modern architecture is often overlooked," says Cornelia. "Nevertheless, these buildings are historic and deserve their place in architectural history. They represent one of the best periods in design."

Left vacant for more than two years and tired from decades of disregard, the 1,852-square-foot rancher was in need of attention. "The home looked like it had been neglected for about 20 years," says Celestino. "We had to peel back a few layers from the '70s, but overall, the structure had great bones and had maintained its authenticity."

This project exceeded standard expectations. Each and every modification harkens modernist principles and reinstates the home's iconic midcentury ethos. "The goal was to return the house to its original architectural language and allow the modernist concepts of comfortable, rational and practical to dictate the feel," says Celestino.

In its former state, the kitchen's cabinetry was not salvageable. While the basic kitchen layout was maintained, additional base cabinets were added for storage.

The Scope of the Restoration

With form and function as primary considerations, Celestino and Cornelia brought the home up to speed over the duration of a single year.

  • Add a 5-inch lift to create a level foundation.
  • Remove wall-to-wall worn shag carpeting to reveal the original concrete floors.
  • Integrate the living room with the adjacent space by removing a wall.
  • Relocate dual sets of sliding-glass doors to the exterior facade.
  • Dismantle acoustical "popcorn" ceilings to expose the home's tongue-and-groove wood framework.
  • Paint ceilings white with an eco-friendly paint to lend an open, airy feel.


Browse Pictures of This Amazing Restoration

Tackling the Kitchen

In the kitchen and dining area, Celestino and Cornelia scrubbed the existing slate floors and let them set the tone underfoot.

They kept the soffit lighting and gave its original bold orange hue a fresh coat of paint. "The kitchen hadn't received upgrades or any substantial maintenance over the years and needed major attention," says Cornelia.

Unable to salvage the existing cabinetry damaged from a flood, Celestino and Cornelia opted for flush-mounted glass cabinet faces mounted atop aluminum frames for a sleek look. "The cabinetry maintains the same clean, unobtrusive vocabulary as the rest of the house," says Celestino. Base cabinetry painted taupe visually anchors the room, while blanched upper cabinetry void of pulls maintains seamless design.

When it came to the appliances, Cornelia insisted on keeping the fully functional circa-1954 GE wall oven — and its turquoise hue — allowing it to serve as the primary focal point from every vantage. "Preservation and reuse are the ultimate forms of recycling," she says.

Efficiency and low-energy consumption were the chief determinants for new appliance selection, but the couple sought appliances that wouldn't visually detract from the home's overall character.

"I saw it appropriate to integrate green ideas into the space whenever possible," says Celestino. Sustainable cabinetry, a low-energy induction cooktop, a dishwasher that utilizes less water than comparable models and a compact energy efficient refrigerator ensure this space is practical and stylish. Celestino finished off the look with chic quartz countertops in white that won't scratch or stain.

With its understated design elements, the house serves as a blank canvas for furniture, art and accessories. Mavens on all things midcentury modern, the couple had no trouble filling the space with items they love.

Instead of cluttering the home with many small, unnecessary items, Celestino and Cornelia allowed a few chosen pieces to make a big impact. From the bright red Saarinen womb chair and the George Nelson cigar wall pendant to the genuine Harry Bertoia bench, every inch pays homage to midcentury decor.

While each entity reflects a revered modernist era, the overall look reads as collected. "Not one single piece of furniture or artwork was selected to 'match,'" says Celestino.

Consequently, in a city known for its historical Greek revival and neoclassic architecture, this residence remains firmly grounded in its modern roots. "Restoring and saving these wonderful midcentury homes achieves not only a rewarding design result, it also preserves history," says Cornelia. "I hope this renovation inspires people to look beyond dated carpet and ugly wallpaper and do the same."

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