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From '70s to Shangri-la

"Don't box me in" might have been Annie McIntyre's motto when she bought a 1,695 square foot, 1970 rancher in Ashland. All straight lines, low ceilings and cut-up rooms, the three bedroom, two bath house felt like a prison cell.

"My husband said, 'This one? Really?'" recalls the owner of Annie McIntyre Interiors. "Even though it didn't have any character, I saw the beautiful backyard and its good exterior bones."

As for the inside, Annie envisioned a pan-ethnic theme. "I wanted people to walk in and not define a single influence," she says. "Something surprising and interesting, with a strong sense of sensuality." Before this could happen, a poorly executed 1980 remodel that incorporated the garage into the living room needed to be repaired. The badly thought-out remodel had also added two bedroom wings without any accessibility from the home's interior.

To help manifest her vision, Annie brought in James Stiritz, owner of Dragonfly Construction in Ashland. "Our challenge was to turn a very simple structure into Annie's dream," Stiritz says. "And all on a budget which, by today's standards, was pretty tight."

Instead of adding on, the team embellished the home's linear design by borrowing from Asian, Mediterranean and Latin American styles. "Dramatic arch work on the walls changed the interior feeling to something more graceful, inviting and softer," Stiritz observes. "Generally, it's more pleasing to the eye because the lines harmonize with the way we are as humans."

Maximizing available space was next on the list. An entry with a double closet and half-wall was built to define the front door space, with a mixed grain bamboo flooring replacing the home's original white linoleum.

To the left are Annie's office-cum-guest room and a bath. The former wears colors - caramel apple and tomatillo - that energize the designer's creativity; the latter has a spring feel with light green walls, Mexican tiles and a bright Marmoleum floor. The room was widened to accommodate a 5'6" soaking tub and on-demand hot water unit.

A single space-making solution totally transformed the large living room: raising the ceiling from 7'8" to 10'2" along an east-west pitch. "In order to make these houses cheap, they incorporated abnormally low ceilings," says Stiritz. "In this case it wasn't that expensive to alter because we limited the amount of vaulting."

Annie's decorative touches include a carved Chinese armoire that hides stereo equipment and individual seating areas carved out by colorful Persian-style rugs and pillows. Sumptuous velvety drapes in aubergine add weight to the lightly-pigmented plaster walls and a camelback chocolate-colored sofa and chairs in variants of orange invite relaxing. Everywhere are Annie's signature vignettes - altars to family, friends, travel, dreams - all warmed by a woodstove that perches on a rainforest marble hearth pad.

Skylights were installed throughout the house for a sense of vertical height and a different light source. Nowhere is this more effective than in the centrally located kitchen. Once a dark hole, the kitchen is now a hub of activity with an L-shaped bar that faces a small dining area, updated appliances and smooth alder wood cabinetry with subtly-arched glass doors. "The three archways around the kitchen all meet in a common spot and reveal each other," Annie says. "It's a very feminine feeling in what used to be a straight-edged, masculine house."

More room for dining was made by shaving down a utility closet. A half-bath from husband Jeff Altemus's office became an interior door. Two new windows, a coat of vibrant blue paint and an ensemble of contemporary and vintage furniture feed the designer's inspiration.

The home's northern exposure was turned into a wall of light by trading out a slider for french doors. Also opening onto the backyard through two mull post doors is the master bedroom, luxuriously appointed with a golden modified shag rug, walls painted to complement skin tones and a dramatic, wrought-iron theme for furniture and accessories.

Textiles, tapestries and exotic statuary add a seductive edge, as does the indulgently spacious bath. "This used to be a middle bedroom that you couldn't really get to," says Annie of the room, which also houses a large walk-in closet. The floor is covered with yellow and gray Italian tiles, the glass shower and countertops are a terra cotta color and more warmth comes from the russet accent wall and ceiling. "The pebble stone shower floor and all the plants make it feel very living, very lush and full of oxygen," Annie says.

Living, lush and full describe this home's transformation from non-descript tract house to an environment that celebrates creativity, sensuality and personal growth.

Before, the kitchen was dark and the appliances were outdated and poorly positioned. Now the well-lit kitchen is a hub of activity with an L-shaped bar that faces a small dining area and acts as an attractive shelfing unit from the other side. Smooth alder wood cabinetry with subtly-arched glass doors match the new archway overhead.