As a renovator and designer, I am asked all the time how to update older homes. They can be intimidating, expensive, and have awkward challenges that really require you to think outside the box. Split-level homes like ours can be especially challenging with all the different levels. But I am here to show you how to do it without breaking the bank!
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What is a split level home?
There are different types of split level houses, Bi-levels and Tri-levels and even some differences between those two categories. But basically they are called a split-level house because the home is generally separated by multiple levels joined by small sets of stairs. This architectural style was very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. As such, they often need some creativity to give them a modern look and update them for how we live today.
My first split level
While our current home was not our first, it was our first split level home. And if I am being honest, I fell in love with it long before Barry. Even though the entire house felt dated, I could see it’s potential and it was begging me to love it!
Our house is a tri-level and has a living room, dining room, and kitchen on the same level as the front door. Three of our four bedrooms and two of the three bathrooms are on the upper level, off a small set of stairs to the right of the front door. Our main living space is a few steps down from our kitchen and has cathedral ceilings. Down the hall from the large family room is the stairwell to the lower level (soon to be a finished basement) and at the end of the hall on the front of the house is the fourth bedroom which we use as our home office. There is also a half bathroom and laundry closet as well as garage access off this hallway.
Over the last 10 years we have been leisurely renovating our beloved 70s house into a modern split level house. This is most likely our forever house as it has a location we love and plenty of square footage for us.
Split Level Home Remodel Ideas
Where to start is often the most difficult question. I encourage people to start with what I call the lipstick phase. This is the phase where you paint the walls, maybe some doors and trim, swap out a few light fixtures and replace items that are actually broken. Then settle in and see how you live in your own home before you go making any big decisions like a kitchen remodel. This will give you a clear idea of what updates will be the best fit for you and your family.
Painting is one of the best ways to make a big impact and add a modern touch. I like to use light colors on most walls and add some personality with accent walls.
Paint old brick and paneling! Dated brick can really age a house. Our fireplace was no exception. It did not have historic looking red brick but rather dated 70s orange brick.
Painting the fireplace was a GAME changer! Using an almost white on the brick and a dark color on top really made our high ceilings feel even taller and made the fireplace a focal point rather than an eyesore. Not to mention it creates a great color-blocked look and modern design.
Open Floor Plan
This is sometimes the most difficult part of older homes and may not be achievable without blowing out walls and a lot of money. But if you cannot tear walls down or it’s simply not in the budget, try changing half walls or drywalled areas to railings, glass, or taking out entirely if possible. We took down a half wall between the split level kitchen and the living area and replaced it with a cable railing. This simple change created a much more open feel.
Small Kitchen Updates
If a new kitchen isn’t in the budget, look into painting the cabinets. Some cabinets are an easy DIY project to paint. Or contact a local paint company to refresh your cabinets like we did.
Updating countertops can also be a good idea when remodeling a space. Even if you can only update cabinetry to a different color, this can make a big impact! We updated our wet bar in this manner and added custom lighting. You would never know this awkward space once had faux leather countertops, lol! No, but seriously, it did.
Older homes often struggle with storage space. The closets tend to be smaller as people used to own less things. To compensate for smaller closets, I recommend adding built-in storage with closet systems. Sometimes all a closet needs is a little bit of reconfiguring to reveal ample space.
For Barry’s reach in closet we revamped it with the IKEA Pax system.
In the upstairs hallway, I gave the linen closet better purpose with the IKEA trofast system and lots of oversized bins to store linens and sheets.
My closet was the first to get a makeover and let me tell you, it was the best decision! We again used the IKEA Pax. If you are considering a small walk in closet makeover, I highly recommend reading this first.
Bedrooms are my favorite room to remodel! Upgrading bedrooms are an easy way to make affordable updates. They usually only need a coat of paint, maybe some new flooring, a new light or fan and modern home decor. A great place for beginner DIYers to start.
If you have small rooms for bedrooms, consider adding built in bunk beds. While this is definitely a more custom option, it has vastly changed how we use our guest room. Bunk beds were a childhood dream of mine, so I have no regrets!
Swapping out dated flooring for fresh new wood or LVP is a great way to remodel a space! Most modern homes offer durable flooring options like LVP and hardwood. So do yourself a favor and ditch the carpet for a more long term and modern solution. I only have one room left in the entire house with carpet and it’s going…..this year! I already have the wood to replace it! In the main level we have hardwood flooring while the rest of the house has laminate and the basement will be getting LVP.
Even both sets of stairs have been remodeled with new hardwood treads and fresh risers.
The stair upgrade made a world of difference in the new front entry!
These unique spaces usually have little room for personality, but trust me, it’s possible! Despite their small space, hallways connect all the spaces of your home. And if they are in the main entrance of your home, they set the stage. Do not underestimate the power of a new front entrance!
Both our upstairs and downstairs hallways have been remodeled in slightly different styles. In the upstairs I went bold with a dark color paired with board and batten walls. There were definitely doubts from the internet on this one, but in the end it was a great idea! Surprisingly it makes the space feel much bigger and it’s a great place to display art or gallery style photos.
The downstairs got a glow-up as well with similar board and batten but different materials and a lighter color. Since the ceilings in this hallway are not a full eight feet, I wanted to keep it light. The best part is, this makeover only cost a few hundred dollars.
Big ticket items are what I would call major changes that either cost a lot of money, involve moving interior walls, changing a kitchen layout, moving a load bearing wall, or moving plumbing. We have tackled a few of these.
When we renovated our master bathroom and my closet we moved some walls around to give it better flow and a new look. The bathroom was very tight before and was open concept to our bedroom which didn’t work for me.
We also had new windows installed for better efficiency.
Don’t forget the exterior of your home. This one is sometimes more daunting than the interior, but I have several ideas for your split level remodel that will not break the bank.
Paint the exterior. Like our fireplace, the house’s exterior felt dated. The house color was dingy and didn’t match the interior of our home. A fresh coat of black paint instantly elevated the exterior design. And the best thing is this was much cheaper than new siding! Note, our house has aluminum siding and for best results I don’t think it is recommended to paint vinyl siding.
A few years ago we upgraded our garage doors when the existing garage doors were on the fritz. We chose a modern style with small windows running down the side. Not only does the new garage door give our house modern curb appeal, it adds so much natural light which we never had before.
The back of the home is just as important as the front and this was not left out by any means. The back of the house received a backyard makeover with landscaping and a new patio.
Later we added some summer fun with the stock tank pool.
Most recently we added a hot tub. You can see more details on that and all the behind the scenes in my Instagram story highlights.
What’s left in our split-level renovations
Our home office will be getting a makeover this year. We both use it more than ever now and how we function in here has changed a little since we first set it up.
The basement is also mid renovation. Last year we added the wine cellar and this year we will be finishing the rest of the basement and turning it into a home gym.
While one guest room was upgraded recently with bunk beds, the other guest room on the second story still needs new flooring and decorative elements.
On my long term wish list is a garage renovation since I am constantly out there working. And a laundry room makeover because no one likes doing laundry in a closet. But both of those are low on the priority list right now.
Currently we are working on a family room and dining area remodel at my mom’s house. You can follow along with that project in my Instagram stories 😉
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