Ricardo and Daphny Ainslie happened upon the house that would become their home while strolling the North University neighborhood of Austin, Texas, in 2009 and noticing a dejected-looking man outside a compact 1920s bungalow.
“There was a realtor sitting, literally with head in hand, on the front steps,” said Mr. Ainslie, 72, a psychology professor at University of Texas at Austin who is also a writer, filmmaker and musician.
After striking up a conversation, the agent told them that a prospective buyer had just canceled a contract to buy the house. “The reason ended up being that they found so many problems,” Mr. Ainslie said, including issues with the foundation, plumbing and wiring.
PFA Design Group, on a second-floor addition of about 600 square feet that would include two bedrooms. And while the house was under construction, they decided, they would take the opportunity to overhaul the ground floor, too.
Liz MacPhail, an interior designer whom they had met at their sons’ preschool, which Ms. MacPhail’s children also attended. The project began when the Ainslies won a design consultation with Ms. MacPhail at a school fund-raiser auction, and continued when that initial meeting evolved into a yearslong relationship.
“I have to say, I was a little skeptical,” said Mr. Ainslie, who wondered if they really needed a designer’s help. “But the minute she came in and started showing us her ideas, she won me over. I thought, wow, she’s got such a great aesthetic and great eye.”
Before long, Ms. MacPhail had devised a plan to keep as many original details as possible, while moving a few walls and doorways to make the ground floor feel less awkward.
“My passion is really old homes and saving them so that they can work really hard for the next hundred years,” Ms. MacPhail said. “We think about how we can get these homes to support the ways we live now, while touching them minimally. It’s finding that balance between change and preservation.”
When they decided, for example, to cut a new doorway from the living room to a hallway and to cover up one of two doorways that led directly into the children’s bedroom, they disguised the changes by retaining and reusing the home’s shiplap paneling, which already had a cobbled-together look. And they expanded the kitchen by pushing into a space that was previously a screened porch.