A 'vanilla box' changes flavors in a family-focused redesign

Donald and Jackie Gusic in the study with their dogs Honey, left and Clementine.

Six years ago, architect Jackie Gusic and her husband, Donald, a civil engineer, bought a house they described as a "vanilla box" with the goal of transforming it into an ideal home for their family.

The Gusics, who met at Drexel University, have two children, now 10 and 8.

The fact that the house, in Upper Providence Township, Delaware County, was on an acre and had a stream running through the yard helped seal the deal.

"We lived in the city and wanted to move to have more green space and be in a good school district," says Jackie. (She is originally from upstate New York; Donald is from West Virginia.)

During their long house hunt, she says, they concluded that because nearby Media was the county seat, it would remain a vibrant community, unlike many towns they had visited.

"There will always be lawyers and other people who have to be in Media," Jackie says.

She and business partner Tina Geary run their architectural firm, inHabit LLC, from an office created on the first floor of the Gusic house, in a portion of the 400-square-foot addition that Jackie designed for the ground level and second floor.

"The house was your basic 1960s-style development house," she says. "I don't even think you could say it was modern, postmodern, or anything."

As Donald recalls, "One of the first things we did was remove all the carpet and repaint the walls."

When a visitor asks about their soothing, mossy green color, he laughs and says: "I don't pick colors."

As you proceed into the family room, a warm, fragrant wood fire greets you. There is ample wood on their property for him to keep the fireplace stocked, Donald says, noting that he and Jackie installed a wood-burning insert and removed the brass doors of the previous owner's gas insert.

The family room, which includes Jackie's sewing machines and equipment, also seems to be a favorite play place for the family's two dogs, a Shiba Inu named Honey and Clementine, a mixed-breed hound they recently adopted

Upstairs, Jackie's design reconfigured space that formerly held a tiny kitchen and dining room and a separate living room. A huge bay window in the living room that faced south was a big asset of the original design.

Behind their dining table now is another bay window that faces north from the expanded kitchen, part of the addition.

"Now there is a view through the house. . . . You can see through the two windows from the back to the front," Jackie says.

One of her goals was to make the ceiling appear higher, so Jackie designed "scissors" trusses of white wood to support and accent a 12-foot cathedral ceiling over the dining table.

The old kitchen island was replaced with a Carrara marble-topped counter with seating at the end.

"We didn't want to eat in a row," Jackie explains. "We wanted to be able to look at one another."

The Gusics are busy with youth athletic leagues: Jackie coaches soccer; Donald coaches baseball. The family needs a large table to accommodate lots of people after sports outings.

Accomplishing that aim is a white oak slab table with metal legs that can seat 20.

"We had a spaghetti dinner for 20 people on Jackie's team the other night, and we do this all the time, as well as entertaining our families," Donald says.

The small former kitchen became a generous pantry, where floor-to-ceiling shelves hold everything from cookbooks to packaged food and bottles.

To create the 900-square-foot living room, Jackie removed a load-bearing wall. The space now features green support columns that can be seen from the kitchen.

The living room also has a wood-burning fireplace and comfortable furniture.

"Everything I designed was with the idea of how our family would use it," Jackie says. "We created a house that is perfect for us."

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