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Cool Home: Duplex Makes Perfect Home for 7

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The F.Q. Story Historic District in central Phoenix is the very definition of quaint. Charming tudors, sweet bungalows and crisp Spanish colonials come together to form the 120-acre neighborhood where grass and palm trees act as a cozy bumper between the sidewalks and the streets.

That hominess is one reason Amy and Robert Withem committed to their corner lot, where a house that once needed a tremendous amount of TLC stands as an example of thoughtful preservation and functional, timely upgrades.

“It was a mess,” Amy Withem openly admitted about the family’s colonial-style home. “He could see through it all.”

EXPANDING FAMILY CALLED FOR BIGGER HOME
Withem was referring to her husband, Robert, a general contractor. The couple is raising five children between the ages of 3 and 14, homeschooling all of them.

The Coronado area home they had lived in for years became too cramped a couple years ago as their family grew.

“It was a cool, cute, weird little house,” Robert said of their first home, with emphasis on “little.”

So, when they came across the listing for this home, which stretched a colossal (by historic standards) 2,800 square feet, they felt compelled to check it out.

“It’s really unusual to find that kind of square footage in a historic home,” Amy said.

The Withems traded square footage for a few uncomfortable months of renovation.

They learned that the home had been converted, about 8-10 years ago, from a duplex to a single-family home. But the floorplan still felt choppy, almost like a maze, as Robert described it.

They needed more flow.

So, they got to work. Amy scoured Pinterest and Robert found ways to bring the ideas to life. And they were incredibly mindful of their budget.

They found a remnant slab of granite to upgrade the kitchen counter. They worked with vendors Robert knew to get the best pricing on other improvements, including the copper-toned-but-actually-plastic pendant globes that hang over their kitchen table.

EARTHY VIBE
And, right before the F.Q. Story Home Tour earlier this month, the couple completed a lingering punch-list of projects, which included finalizing a light fixture in one of the bathrooms.

“At first it was fun,” Amy said of the four-month renovation, which was done while the family lived in the home and required a lot of microwavable meals. “And then it felt like camping.”

But, a reference to camping seems almost fitting, since the Withem home exudes an earthy vibe, from its décor to its backyard garden to its dual entrances, leftover from its duplex days.

Arched doorways throughout the upper level of the home lead visitors from the front family room to the side living room and up into the kitchen and dining area, extinguishing any feeling of enclosure that otherwise might have been offered by the smaller rooms.

One spot where dark and enclosed is welcome is in the home’s lower-level theater room.

“It was there when we bought it,” Amy said of the windowless room. “It seemed extravagant at first, but we went with it.”

The theater room accompanies a school room and an oblong bedroom that is shared by the couple’s two boys. A small white door in the room leads to an old bomb shelter, offering a good story for the boys to tell.

PINTEREST BOARDS COME TO LIFE
Three additional bedrooms and two bathrooms on the home’s main level round out the living area of the Withem home, which also includes a new wet bar and space for the family’s “command center,” otherwise known as a catch-all for keys and mail.

“I feel like my Pinterest boards actually happened,” Amy said. “And, that window, it was made for a Christmas tree.”

The arching window she referred to sits in the front of the home, and is just the right size and shape to showcase the family’s tree.

The front yard is sweet, with a pair of tree swings and a cozy side patio complete with a fire pit.

The backyard is a perfectly intimate enclave where the Withem kids can pretend, chase cats and listen to Robert record music in the detached guest house that doubles as an office and recording studio.

The family tends to a garden they established in the back, while the youngest girls enjoy the playhouse Robert built over a break from work last year. And all of it happens under a canopy of bistro lights.

“For us, it was perfect,” Robert said of the house.