remodeling a marin mid-century for a young family

September 2017 Newsletter

a simple and sophisticated transformation

Just like people, some architectural projects communicate really well in person but not so much in pictures, others are more photogenic. Occasionally, we have a happy result that is successful on both counts. For this issue, we talk to our own Stephen Shoup and Hide Kawato (principal and senior designer respectively) for just such a project: a tired mid-century-modern house has been thoroughly transformed in a recently completed remodel. There are indeed many things to like about this job. Let's get the scoop from the source: 

Located in a desirable bedroom community in Marin County, this home is designed for a professional couple with two young boys and their pet Percy, a 6-month-old mini-poodle cattle dog mix. In the outset, the homeowners expressed their desire to maintain the character of the house while modernizing the interior. In general, they favored open floor plans, but also wanted a sense of coziness with natural materials. They liked casualness and comfort, but with clean lines. Needless to say. these sounded like Stephen's cup of tea. He happily obliged by identifying these design goals: to optimize the existing spaces for the residents by activating the common areas; to improve lighting, function, and flow by opening up the interior; to create warm elegance by way of natural materials and refined details.

activating the common areas

The original kitchen was a dark galley connected to the dining room with one narrow door. The dining room was also separated from the living room with a transom partition and a pair of accordion doors which were the first things to be removed. The concept for the new kitchen is that it is open and connected to the dining/living areas but defined as a distinct volume. Originally an enclosed rectangle, a short L has been cut out to expose the kitchen to the dining/ living areas. Most of the long side walls are maintained for cabinets, and for screening the kitchen from the entry hall. Stephen explains that the cutout of the corner with the top being hung from the ceiling structure was technically challenging. Together with the dropped soffit, this hung corner helps sculpt the shape of the kitchen so that it anchors one corner of the great room. "Note the paint color of the kitchen is Benjamin Moore Silver Chain which is a pale blue, whereas the rest of the common areas are painted with Benjamin Moore Simply White."

Other highlights in the common areas: opening up the wall between dining and the back patio with wall-to-wall glass and sliders to let in more natural light; doing the same at the breakfast nook; one side of the kitchen has a continuous glass window as backsplash, while the other side has white tiles; all custom cabinets have white conversion varnish; recessed LED lights in living and kitchen; the original wood burning traditional fireplace is replaced with a new gas insert; new fireplace surround and bench are clad with porcelain tiles in mid warm grey.

to panel or not?

Stephen recognizes this is a question many owners of MCMs have to wrestle with when they are thinking of updating their house. In this case, our clients really disliked the original faded mahogany panels that covered the interior everywhere. They had a dated 50’s look and they made the house feel dark. The clients wanted white painted drywall instead.

"From our aesthetic standpoint, we tried to push back with installing new walnut panels since we liked the reference to this mid-century theme. When this house was built, paneling was thought of as an interior skin, so they were installed everywhere from floor to ceiling. In this re-design, we aimed to have a reinterpretation of paneling: echoing the original concept, but making it more strategic." Stephen wanted the panels to align with the top of windows to emphasize the horizontality and expansiveness. The precise alignment he wanted was more time-consuming than expected. But at the end, the placement of walnut panels judiciously has turned out to be a happy compromise. Now the clients really love it!

what to do with the ceiling?

Since the existing interior was dark, the designers looked at all surfaces for ways to improve lighting. The original ceiling was a wood tongue and groove supported by exposed beams painted dark brown. Hide recalls that the owners had installed a new roof not long ago. "In order to comply with Kentfield’s Green Building Code, we decided to add solid insulation panels in the infill spaces between the existing ceiling beams instead of changing a perfectly good roof." A new tongue and groove ceiling was then installed to conceal all existing roof beams (except for the top one) and the whole ceiling was painted white for a simple and modern look. This slightly lowered ceiling also made installing recessed can lights (all LED) easy.

The new tongue and groove ceiling is definitely a nod to the typical mid-century practice. The treatments of windows and doors also help reinforce the style: the sliding doors and the awning window in the dining room are aluminum framed, while the window over the sink and those at the front door are stopped in glass to maximize site lines (as was the practice when the house was originally built).

the all important entry

Again, the original entry hall was clad with mahogany panels from floor to ceiling on all sides. Now, there is a new walnut accent wall only on one side. The other walls are drywall painted white which lead the visitor up and around to the living room. The intention is to create a distinct vertical volume that marks the entry, while at the same time, enables a fluid and smooth movement onto the main level. The original entry stairs were of equal width both going up and down with a space in between. The new up stairs are much wider to establish a hierarchy. All stairs, half walls and handrails are new. The frame of the entry is existing, but the glass and the entry door have been replaced. A small mud room with a bench and pegs for coats is accessible from the garage. Not seen in the photo, a new laundry is located to the right of the mud room, tucked neatly under the new stairs.

the breakfast nook

The wall with a built-in bench and shelving is walnut. This custom feature anchors this end of the kitchen and creates depth. The space for the breakfast nook was coopted by relocating the existing laundry to the lower level (sort of against trend as most people prefer having the laundry close to the bedrooms). The designers felt the additional space gained for the kitchen was important. New glass sliders here continue with the opening up of this back side of the house to the patio with nice natural light from the north so it won’t get too hot in the summer.
Photos by Scott Hargis (captions L - R) 
Profile image: View of great room with kitchen, dining, and living areas. Stairs down to front entry are around the half wall.
1.Before: From the living room looking towards the corner of the enclosed kitchen   
2. Before: Transom partition and accordion doors separate dining from living room
3. Open and connected living, dining, and kitchen
4. View of dining area from kitchen (Note glass backsplash with no frame; awning window framed in aluminum.)
5. Walnut paneled wall integrates T.V. with fireplace    
6. Front entry (original Douglas Fir frame is wrapped in new 3/4" stock to allow for deeper stops for new insulated glass windows.)
7. View of front entry at night
8. Breakfast nook

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