Using salvaged materials and savvy design ideas, musician Melody Brown and husband Casey renovate a century-old duplex in Salt Lake City.
By Val Rasmussen
After four years of cramped New York City living followed by a ten-year worldwide music tour, Juilliard-trained classical pianist Melody Brown—along with her husband Casey Welch—completed a new composition: a historic home renovation in Salt Lake.
Many first-time homebuyers might run from a dilapidated 3,200-square-foot 1906 duplex, but not Melody and Casey. The couple looked past the home’s lead-based paint, cramped layout and questionable foundation and saw mature trees and a convenient downtown location. Plus “it had clean, simple exterior lines,” Melody says of the Victorian-era, commercial-style building. “With good lines, we could achieve a loft feel that’s modern and industrial.” And they could create it themselves.
“We spoke with several contractors, yet none were interested in using reclaimed materials and didn’t understand our aesthetic,” Melody says. “So we decided to do it ourselves.” While juggling the schedules of Melody’s tour dates as one-fifth of the sibling piano quintet The 5 Browns and Casey’s development and construction career, the duo spent two years renovating both sides of the duplex. They dug out a basement, added a rear addition, removed walls, stripped horsehair plaster and sanded down seven layers of old lead-based floor paints. “We had grand ideas, but once we spent most of our time and budget on a new foundation, we had to rethink how to achieve a modern, expensive look with a tight budget,” Melody explains.
The couple shopped local. They browsed boutiques and online resale outlets. Local steel vendors and salvage shops began to know them by name. And at the end of the process, Melody and Casey had the salvage-savvy, contemporary loft they dreamed of as well as words of advice for others who may be tackling a similar redo of their own.
“Here there was dirt covering about 700 bricks that we dug out,” says Melody, who relaxes with Casey and dog Morty on the new front patio. “When we laid out the patio, we were about 150 bricks short.” They turned to George’s Architectural Salvage in SLC for help. “When we showed George the bricks we needed to match, he immediately said, ‘Yeah, I have those in back.’” George also traded Melody and Casey’s old front door for a new one. Casey designed front canopies using reclaimed steel salvaged from local mills, and the newly painted brick house now features double-pane windows the couple acquired at a local fundraiser.
Melody and Casey expanded the kitchen by removing a main wall. Now, gleaming surfaces like a fridge covered in Plexiglas (which cost only $60) and stainless steel cupboards reflect natural light through the galley layout. “We first considered using all white cabinets,” says Melody of the sleek-lined Ikea cabinets, “but decided stainless steel ones on the bottom would look more cohesive next to the stainless washer and range.”
The duo reused the wood from 30 bowling alleys available from an Ogden teardown for kitchen countertops and stairs.
After removing a lowered ceiling and exposing clerestory windows, Casey and Melody kept the windows minimal, devoid of casing and muntins typically found in turn-of-the-century residences. Ikea pendants and a stair railing made with pipe and cable introduce an industrial edge, while Melody’s grandmother’s mirror, sister-in-law’s hand-me-down table, and pre-owned retro dining chairs define and refine a vintage-meets-minimal look.
Old junior high school bleachers provided flooring for the master bedroom. “We had to sand out graffiti names and remove chewed gum,” Melody says of the local online purchase. Family heirlooms—like this hutch used as a headboard—anchor the simple addition.
By digging out a basement, the couple created space for a laundry room nook, lounge area, bathroom and guest room. A window well large enough to allow the duo to move Melody’s piano inside delivers sunlight to the guest quarters. Meanwhile, a DIY wall mural adds a punch of color. “We spent my birthday water-coloring sheets of 8 ½” by 11” paper,” Melody explains. “We chose the one we liked best and had it blown up.”
”The bathroom was the only room in the house that didn’t have natural light,” says Melody. By removing an existing pantry, the couple increased the square footage of the space. Next, they positioned a clerestory window in an interior wall to reflect light from the dining room into the bathroom. “That one window changed everything.” New plumbing, paint, fixtures and tile shaped the bright and modern design.
To provide adequate space for the main-floor kitchen and dining area, the couple located the lounge area downstairs. There, a board-formed concrete wall backs an entertainment center. Melody adds, “We used commercial carpeting here because it cost less than residential carpet and the low pile feels modern.”
“Because it’s such a small space, we wanted it to be an extension of the house’s style,” Melody says of the backyard. “Sod didn’t make sense here.” After researching modern gardens, they excavated and leveled the yard, then added concrete squares, gravel and ground cover purchased from local grower Butterfield Gardens.
Homeowners Melody and Casey Brown
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