If the word “duplex” conjures images of rental units, with residents coming and going before the neighbors get to know them, with each new arrival signaling another round of questions such as, “Will this guy cut the grass more than once every two months?” then Tom and Jane Navin’s home should appear remarkably elegant and friendly.

Three years ago, the couple had two sons and a third on the way. They wanted to find a four-bedroom house to accomodate their expanding family, but didn’t want to pay typical Lakewood prices.

Knowing they could pool their talents – Tom is an architect, and Jane is an interior designer and artist – they purchsed a duplex and set about turning it into a single-family home.

“This is a great way to do it,” Jane says. “You get something that would have cost $175-$200 per square foot for $100 [per square foot], and then you can put that [extra] money back into it. It’s a good bang for your buck.”

And the aesthetic power of the Navin home does indeed border on the explosive. A visual feast of textures, fabrics, color and various styles of art greet visitors. Antiques and contemporary pieces combine to create a lush Old World ambience in the front living rom. Upstairs in the boys’ room, Jane’s own modern works of art adorn the walls. In the great room, a clock collection, pine furniture and a giant chalk board on the wall give a more lived-in feel.

Jane has decorated dozens of homes in our neighborhood and in University Park and Highland Park through her company, Navin Design Group. Of her design approach, she says: “I don’t really like to classify it because I just get what I like. But it’s very eclectic.

“Downstairs, obviously, is traditional with a twist,” she says with a laugh, indicating a reproduction of a Houston artist that depicts, in a classic style, a monkey in a flowered headdress holding a pickle in one hand and a jack-o-lantern in the other. It’s bizarre for sure, but also appealing.

In order to achieve the single-family effect, the Navins knocked out a wall seperating the downstairs living area from the staircase leading to an upstairs unit. The old porch was enclosed and now serves as Jane’s office, and a new one was built onto the front of the house.

One downstairs bedroom now serves as the Navins’ master bedroom, made more interesting with arch details on the wall above their bed. A second bedroom was converted into a spacious master bath – replete with granite countertops, a stone floor, ceramic tile walls and a faux-finished wall – and a walk-in closet.

The other bath was converted into a gorgeous Italianate half bath, with Venetian plaster walls. The tub was removed to accommodate a recessed refrigerator in the adjoining kitchen.

Beyond the living area is a formal dining room with a table set for eight, and the updated kitchen, which now includes a large island and a built-in china hutch that holds Navin’s antique Limoge collection.

A huge great room was built into the back of the house, totaling an additional 625 square feet. The room has salvaged antique pine floors, a fireplace, sitting area and another, more casual dining area, set for 10 guests. It’s the room in which the Navins do the bulk of their entertaining.

What was the duplex’s upstairs unit now accomodates three bedrooms for the Navin’s boys – Brandon, 6, Jack, 5, and Conlan, 2 – their bath, a large utility/craft room and a play area.

It’s a home, in short that could easily have cost the family an upward of $400,000 if it hadn’t started off as a duplex. And to get around zoning issues, they’ve built an apartment over the garage.

The solution has allowed the Navins to stay in Lakewood, a neighborhood they love in part for its array of artists and craftsmen, who skills they use whenever they can in their own  professional projects.

The couple has now lived together in six homes in the neigborhood.

“I love the fact that you can live next to a lawyer, but you can live next to an artist also,” Jane says. “We’re nomads, but we’ll never move from Lakewood.”

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