If you've looked at houses long enough in St. Charles County or other suburban areas, you've probably seen plenty of two-story great rooms. They let in light, provide for a dramatic entry and make the whole house feel bigger.
You've probably also seen plenty of atrium ranches, where the steps to the walkout lower level are open against a backdrop of windows.
Well, when Gary and LaVerne Brittan built their "final" house, they designed it to contain the best of both.
In their St. Charles ranch, you enter into a small sitting area that looks down onto the great room below, which has a two-story wall of windows with amazing views of the woods and creek behind it (and on our visit, a deer ).
"We thought we could be like most homes and have a living room up here and a living room down below, but why would I need two big TVs, and why would I need two sofas?" Gary says.
"We like the open space," LaVerne says. "We really just didn't need two living rooms. So when we are entertaining, the upstairs and downstairs flow together." And it really is a great house for entertaining, with a pool in the back and plenty of outdoor furniture with a fire pit. In the past, they've had volleyball nets and other games set out for when guests come over.
The kitchen upstairs is large, with a generous dining area overlooking the living area below. In that living area is a seating area with a big TV, fireplace, bar, billiards table and an area originally designed for table tennis. "We don't play that anymore," Gary says. Now, it's an open space with a piano, perfect for mingling.
The Brittans bought their 1-acre lot in 1996, and Gary set about designing their dream house. He designed it using cutouts from display homes.
"When you go to display homes, they always have a one-page drawing/simplistic blueprint of the home with dimensions for each room, layout of the house, where the stairs are – bathrooms, doors, closets, etc. ... I just cut out the rooms I liked with the dimensions and shapes I wanted from different display homes – and then (like a puzzle) put the pieces of paper back together, added my changes to whatever suited me and gave that to the architect." The architect was Larry Spraul of O'Fallon, Mo., who happened to be the architect on last week's "At Home" story as well.
The couple has made a few updates over the past 23 years, mainly replacing carpeting and turning an upstairs porch into a three-seasons room, perfect for cozying up with a book or looking out into the woods.
Also in that time, Gary has added his thrifty touches of artwork. "I'm cheap," he says. "I didn't pay a lot for any of this stuff."
Much of "this stuff" (the artwork), he created himself. For instance, a collage above the main windows in the living room was made from Styrofoam packing containers he glued together, affixed magazine photos to and painted. It is definitely a conversation piece. Other original works include two pieces downstairs that use masks on canvas.
"My mom and sister are creative," he says. "So I guess I got some of that from them."
He and LaVerne don't always agree on artwork. Sometimes he likes something that she doesn't, but it goes up anyway, and vice versa.
"We compromise," she says. But the unique design of the house is something they can both agree on. "We love it here."