On a secluded street in Salt Lake City, a young family replaces its derelict dwelling with a modern home that’s small in size but big in livability and colorful character.

When Katherine Chandler and her husband Jeffrey Sherlock craved more elbow room for their 1911, 836 square-foot house located in the heart of Salt Lake City, the couple asked Renovation Design Group’s Annie Schwemmer to explore the possibilities of expanding the tiny home’s space and livability. The architect’s assessment wasn’t good news. “We discovered that the house was structurally unsound, and we recommended rebuilding it instead,” Schwemmer recalls.

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Homeowners Katherine Chandler and Jeffrey Sherlock sit with their toddlers Thomas and Alice on the front stoop of their new home located in Salt Lake City’s East Central neighborhood.

The report didn’t rattle Chandler and Sherlock. “As soon as Annie told us, we were completely on board,” Chandler says. Nor did the news motivate them to move from their beloved and secluded street where many other family members reside. “We weren’t attached to the house, but we are super attached to the location,” says Chandler, referring to a small cluster of homes on a narrow street in the city’s East Central neighborhood.

Living extends to the outdoors from the back of the home. A second-story balcony serves the primary bedroom while a shaded deck expands entertaining space beyond the indoor living and dining areas. A small, landscaped yard offers grassy space for the kids to play.

Before designing the couple’s new house, Schwemmer asked them to list everything they wanted from the home and to highlight the must-haves. “Of course, the location was non-negotiable,” Chandler states. “We also had to have lots of natural light, three bedrooms and at least two bathrooms.” Additional wants included an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) and a large dining area for them to entertain their neighboring clan. An open floor plan and simple, modern style also topped the list. “After living in old houses with warrens of tiny rooms, we were ready for something different,” Chandler says. 

The playroom’s wall of folding glass doors can be fully opened to the main living area or pulled closed to confine the space while keeping the kids in full view.

Measuring less than 4,000 square feet, the small property drove the compact size of the new three-level home’s footprint measuring a mere 1,000 square feet. Zoning requirements and a desire to complement the neighboring dwellings also impacted the plan. “With its upper level tucked into the roofline, the new design maintains a similar size and feel to the surrounding homes,” says Schwemmer.  “It also introduces a subtle modern sensibility marked by simplicity and subtraction of materials and elements so it doesn’t overwhelm. The architect teamed with contractor Zac Hicks of Bluebird Renovations to create the home. Hicks constructed the walls using 2-inch ZIP panels for improved thermal performance and used Boral TruExterior nickel gap exterior siding painted in a surprising hue. “We wanted it to be blue, just like the original house,” says Chandler, whose passion for color punctuates the project at every turn. 

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Built on a narrow street and small lot, the home features a pitched roof, clean-lined architecture and edited materiality that complements the neighborhood’s scale and other residences.

Exhibit No. 1: A glass-paned front door that dazzles with its coat of red-orange paint. “It’s the color of the Golden Gate Bridge and makes me smile every time I enter the house,” Chandler beams. The door hints at the spirited decor waiting inside, while offering a glimpse of the home’s welcoming interior. “The glass door and ample windows brighten the entry with wonderful southern light and create interesting patterns and shadows,” Schwemmer says.

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The two-story entry features an eye-catching staircase defined by the simplicity of its open black railing and wood-clad steps. Upstairs, the primary bedroom and bath are joined by two other bedrooms and a bath. The home’s lowest level serves as an ADU.

To the right of the uncluttered entry, a clean-lined staircase boasts blackened steel rails and wood-faced steps. “It’s really simple, just a cascade of wood and nothing fussy,” Chandler says. To the left is a steel-framed glass enclosure that fronts the main level’s open living area. “The custom-designed, fabricated glass wall folds back similar to doors that open to patio spaces,” Schwemmer says. The enclosed space was initially intended to be Sherlock’s home office, but by the time the home was completed, it became a playroom. “We had one child during the permitting process and a second right after we moved in, so it never had the chance to be an office.” Chandler says with a laugh.

The front door, painted a brilliant shade of reddish orange, opens to the entry and open spaces of the home’s main level.

Farther back in the home, a light-filled kitchen shares the main level’s open floor plan with a notably large dining area. “We host up to fourteen family members once or twice a week,” Chandler explains. Nearby, a spacious sitting area is anchored by a large fireplace clad in dark acoustic tiles detailed with cream stars randomly placed by interior designer Susan Taggart, who worked closely with the homeowners on their new digs. “Susan was amazing and did a really great job reigning me in,” Chandler says. 

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The main level’s open floor plan provides the look and livability the young family craved. Savvy seating and flexibility accommodates effortless entertaining. White walls serve as a neutral canvas for daring design statements including a tile-clad fireplace, vivid blue kitchen cabinets and multi-hued dining chairs. “I love bold colors,” confesses Chandler.
As seen from the kitchen, the main living area is anchored by the large fireplace and includes a glass enclosed area used as a playroom for the kids. “We call it the cage,” Chandler chuckles.

The window frames, for example, are black rather than bright orange as Chandler originally envisioned. “Susan convinced me that would just be too much,” she chuckles. The kitchen island, however, features a must-have blue that makes Chandler giddy. “It’s inspired by an amazingly blue home that sits next to Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Garden in Morocco,” she gushes. White walls, maple floors and simply formed fixtures  serve as a quiet backdrop for this and other colorful statements that animate the interior, from furnishings and finishes to custom cabinets and tile. “I absolutely love handmade tile, and for me, it was the most fun part of creating the house,” recalls Chandler, who collaborated with Taggart on making eye-catching selections. 

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The open kitchen and dining areas lead to the backyard’s patio and shaded deck to expand the interior’s livable space outdoors. Furnishings and lighting were selected to foster the interior’s simplicity and modern style. Chandler designed and made the pottery pieces displayed on the kitchen’s open shelves.

Savvy storage also recurs throughout the house, including the entry and mudroom’s built-in cabinets. “Adequate storage was the key to making this home feel larger,“ Chandler insists. The same is true of space-saving elements like a floating bathroom vanity and a streamlined storage bench that sides the fireplace. These, along with abundant windows, high ceilings and an uncluttered decor, foster an open and spacious feel despite the home’s modest size. And for the young family of four (soon to be five), it is exactly what they wanted—and needed. Chandler beams, “We have toddlers and it is chaotic much of the time, but the simplicity and spaciousness of our home makes living here such a joy.”  

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The walls and floors of the main level powder room are completely tiled in white penny tile—including rounded corners. The floor has a drain if the open shower is used.
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Chandler chose handcrafted zellige tile from Clé to wrap the primary bathroom in a deep green hue with a subtle aquatic feel.

Photos by Scott Zimmerman

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Hand-painted wood floors and a wall of built-in cabinets deliver practicality and bold shots of color to the mudroom. The Flirt hardwood flooring is from Mirth Studio.

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Brad Mee
Brad Mee is the Editor-in-Chief of Utah Style & Design Magazine.