Exposed rafters and original floors help retain the character of the 1860s carriage house.

Exposed rafters and original floors help retain the character of the 1860s carriage house.
The Inquirer

Sunday, October 7, 2001

Doing her geometry
Tamara Myers' vintage house was a cramped triangle, it took a sledgehammer and sorcery to make space.

By Judy West | Photography by Catherine Tighe

Living in a triangle isn't easy. Tamara Myers realized that soon enough when she began renovating her 1860s carriage house in Germantown.

"It's a difficult kind of space to live in," she says, "because for the most part you really can't use traditional furniture."

The space Myers now calls home was originally the sleeping quarters for the man who took care of the horses, which essentially means that it was not designed with long-term nesting in mind. Fortunately, Myers is not daunted by old houses. As a general contractor with her own firm (Myers Constructs), she has been in the building business for more than 20 years. Most of the homes she works on, with partner Diane Menke, are at least a century old, and often the problems she tackles have to do with making historic buildings fit a modern lifestyle.

Take the kitchen. Myers took one look at the add-on walls and overhead cabinets the previous owners had wedged into the space, and brought out a sledgehammer. Then she opened her bag of design tricks and conjured up an open, workable layout.

First, she made the counter a few inches wider than is standard. "That pulls you away from the triangle a bit and makes it more comfortable to work," Myers explains. It also makes room for cappuccino makers, food mixers, four-bagel toasters and all the other countertop clutter vital to modern life.

A hidden cupboard behind the cabinets houses the vacuum cleaner, the ironing board and "all those boxes you get when you buy appliances."

In the living-room area, Myers got even more ingenious, fashioning a built-in bookcase that takes advantage of width instead of height. With limited vertical space, and an unrelenting passion for books, Myers made the shelves double deep. "That way I don't have to have all my books stuffed away in boxes," she says.

Spend long enough in the tidy dwelling and you start to feel as if you're on a well-appointed yacht. There's a neat, shipshape quality to it all, with every inch of space rigorously considered. The white beadboard throughout enhances that pleasingly nautical air, and even some of the hardware resembles what you might find on a boat.

An inveterate scavenger, Myers rescued the kitchen sink, a $1,500 model, from one client's trash, and designed her bathroom to work with pieces of granite left over from another job site.

She also worked with what she had when it came to the beadboard that sheathes the bathroom walls. "It's a fairly knotty beadboard, so I decided not to fight it. With that many knots, if you try to paint it, they keep coming through anyway, so we just whitewashed it." The result is refreshing, with a scrubbed-down, Scandinavian-bathhouse feel.

Though there was no other logical place for the bathroom, Myers hated that it had no natural light. As a solution, she carved out a transom window above the tub, to let in light and air. "Those little windows are one of my trademarks," she says. Coming up with clever design fixes seems to be another