This 4000 sq ft house was completely remodeled, and included major changes to the floor plans of the kitchen, entryway, dining room and the guest bathroom. All electricity, plumbing, heating and cooling systems, windows, doors, and roof were updated, as well as cabinets, tiling, wall treatments, window treatments, and more. The old furniture was replaced with new, and most of the art and other decorative pieces were also newly acquired. I began designing this project in January 2021. Construction started in May 2021.
When looking at this house in Almaden Valley, one can’t help but be enchanted by one of the most luscious natural backdrops in the Bay Area. Landscapes visible from the windows are green and serene, and also enjoyed by various four-legged wildlife that can be spotted grazing and frolicking on the hillside.
My clients have lived in this house for the last thirty years. She had been wanting to update their home for quite a long time and finally her husband agreed. From the get-go we were all on board with the idea that their renovation was going to be huge. I am grateful that my clients chose me for this project, and that they trusted my design plans and materials selection from the start. When everyone is on the same page, a substantial project like this becomes an enjoyable and memorable process for all. Even when facing delays due to the pandemic, working with these clients has always been an absolute joy.
The house was originally built in the seventies. My clients remodeled it before they moved in, and this was the second full remodel they have made. While brainstorming renovation concepts and styles together, there were some aesthetic requests that were meaningful to them. My client is a businessman, so it surprised me to learn that he once rode horses and worked cattle on an old family ranch as a second business. In fact, he had been quite the cowboy for his first 60 years. This is such an uncommon thing in the Bay Area and I was excited to work with him in designing a space that would incorporate these elements of who he is. She envisioned a bright inviting space that would be classy, timeless and in line with modern farmhouse aesthetics, which fit perfectly with the ranch style of the house. Neither of them wanted to incorporate a particular aesthetic trend throughout their home. They preferred an eclectic touch, featuring top quality materials that would last years and that they would not tire of. A spacious open-plan kitchen and ample storage was also on their priority list. This house style is “modern-traditional farmhouse”, or what I call a “transitional farmhouse”. To create this vibe I selected natural stones such as Calacatta, limestone, Belgian terracotta flooring and others. Plumbing fixture finishes are polished nickel, which is classy and timeless, paired with brass and oil-rubbed bronze in some rooms. To maintain a traditional look we used marble slabs with an Ogee finish, except for the outdoor kitchen and bar.
Entrance and Kitchen:
We built structural extensions in the kitchen, towards the back of the house, and in the front of the house where the dining room is. The previous kitchen had a bay window that was built in a U-shape, wrapped around a small island in the center. I pushed the wall two feet out and canceled the U-shape in favor of a more boxy structure that allowed the kitchen cabinets to fit better. On the outdoor side of this wall, we designed an outdoor kitchen with a long bar.
A look toward the outdoor kitchen and bar:
Before the renovation, as you stepped into the house there was a pony wall separating the entrance from the kitchen. When you stood in the kitchen, you couldn’t see who entered the house. As well as not being functional, the physical separation of the kitchen and entryway made both spaces feel smaller. This had to be remedied. It was clear that the pony wall had to go and that the kitchen should be opened up as much as possible.
This is what I saw when I entered the house :
And behind this wall was the old kitchen:
Doing this enabled us to utilize the space differently, creating an L-shaped kitchen with a massive island in the middle. Knocking down the pony wall also opened up the entryway and enabled an unobstructed view of the picturesque green hilly landscape.
This is what one can see when entering the house today:
The dining room was also separated from the kitchen. It was also too small, so my clients didn’t entertain their guests there. The extension at the front of the house remedied this. It enabled them to get a bigger table and place it in a way that made hosting easier and more fun. Now that the kitchen sports an open plan, and the entryway to the home is bigger, as is the dining room, the public spaces of this home are now better connected, more functional, and flow into one another more freely, all together feeling more spacious. To enhance this sense of spaciousness, we also added more height to the room. We raised the ceiling in the entrance and kitchen to nine feet. In the dining area we followed the roofline and kept the ceiling vaulted. The ceiling is covered with shiplap planks, a feature that repeats itself in other places in the house, and ties with the overall modern farmhouse aesthetic.
This is how the dining room used to look like:
And here is what the addition looks like in the front of the house. The new dining room is on the left of the entrance:
For me, as a designer, each project evolves from the fundamental choice of one or two materials. This project began with the selection of gorgeous natural stone slabs that were incorporated in almost every room. It’s a 3cm (1.18") marble named Pietra del Cardoso and comes in beautiful soft hues of gray with subtle white veins that lend a sense of fluidity and movement. From a distance it looks like soapstone, but upon looking closer you see that it’s a marble. Its unique depth feels rich and calm. When my clients and I came across these slabs at the warehouse, I was immediately inspired and began formulating my vision of how this project was going to take form. We bought five slabs. We used them in the kitchen, master bathroom, interior bar, outdoor bar, and laundry room. Since the slabs are a natural material, they blend harmoniously with other natural materials. We paired the kitchen slab with some lovely Calacatta mosaic for the kitchen backsplash. The cabinets around the perimeter of the kitchen are painted white, while the center island is white oak in its natural hue. All the kitchen hardware and light fixtures are brass.
This is how the kitchen used to look like:
and here it is today from the same angle:
With a nod to my client’s unique occupation, my goal for this room was to combine a masculine country cowboy look with his wife’s desire for a more feminine, soft, and elegant look. The challenge was to maintain the perfect balance between these seemingly opposing styles, making sure that neither of the styles overwhelmed the other. Oil-rubbed bronze finishes did the trick here, as did the leather chairs and a reclaimed wood dining table. The large abstract pink art on the wall added a pop of color and a modern touch.
Before the major renovation the living room was a step-down area - the kind that was fashionable years ago but no longer is. Because the ceiling was vaulted it was easy to raise the floor to match the level of the rest of the house. The room didn’t have a focal point so we decided to build one that would not only have aesthetic quality but also provide storage solutions. We built two arched-top console cabinets on the far end of the living room that matched the arched walkway at the entrance of the room. The hallway book niche also features an arch with open shelves across the top half and storage cabinets for the lower half. When I began this project, my clients explained that the living room is mainly “her room” and the family room is mainly “his room”. Once I embraced this notion I was able to build the most ideal design for both of them. As a result, the shapes in the living room feel rounder, softer, and more delicate – from the arches on the walls to the textiles, the shape of the sofa, the leather chairs, and the straw chair which is my client’s office chair. In this room we used the same paint color and white oak for the cabinets as we used in the kitchen, to keep the ambiance subtle and to instill a sense of calm continuity. To add visual intrigue to the space, we added various textiles and patterns in the form of drapes, pillows, and a lovely oversized vintage rug.
This is how this room used to look like:
And here it is today!
The shape of the existing powder room was somewhat funky, featuring an odd angled wall that lacked functionality. We reshaped the entryway to this room, making it as square-shaped as possible. The inspiration for this design came to me when I spotted my client’s vintage dresser in their garage. This dark wooden dresser is one hundred years old. It has a Carrara top, curved wood hardware, and comes from France. I fell in love with it instantly and wanted to convert it into a vanity with a semi-vessel sink. Set upon reclaimed Belgian terracotta round floor tiles, with vertical wood planks covering all the walls, I imagined that it would look stunning. However, during construction we realized that the dresser was too narrow and would not be able to hold the weight of the sink. Though disappointed, I set to work to design a new vanity. The vanity I designed looks like a dresser and features recessed pull knobs. The semi vessel sink sits on a Calacatta slab with a detailed backsplash. I designed the matching linen cabinet similarly. My clients decided not to keep the old dresser, and since they knew how much I loved it they gave it to me as a gift. I will cherish this meaningful keepsake for the rest of my life.
Here is how the powder room used to look like:
and Ta Da!!!!
For me, meeting a professional level cowboy in the bay area is as common as spotting the Loch Ness monster swimming in my kitchen sink. I was thrilled to work with someone who was once a “real cowboy”. I learned so much during the time we spent together and was excited to discover how this niche interest of his would be expressed in their family home. They had loosely defined the living room as “her room” and the family room as “his room”, and it was clear from the outset that “his room” was going to be cowboy themed – manly, modern, inviting, and not your typical man-cave.
The fireplace is the main feature of this room. In the beginning my client wasn’t interested in remodeling the fireplace, but shortly after construction began he decided that he wanted to update the fireplace so that it would blend better with the rest of the remodeled house. I am so happy that we did it. The only limitation was that we had to keep the old wood fire burning insert. It was a somewhat substantial constraint since it meant that there was no option but to work around this existing insert. Though it was tough, I found a solution. The end result is a beautiful, solid, geometrically structured fireplace forged from dark limestone. The hearth from the original fireplace remained and was covered with the same limestone, and now functions as a bench to sit on as one adds logs to keep the fire ablaze. This fireplace is dramatic and masculine. It sports well-proportioned presence as the focal point of the family room and I love how it suits this room seamlessly. On either side of the fireplace I added storage cabinets, with mesh door panels in an oil-rubbed bronze hue, to continue the masculine aura. My client has collected a lot of original art over the years. One of these pieces is now displayed just above the fireplace mantel. On the wall to the left of the fireplace there is a window, and on the wall to the right of the fireplace we hung another piece of art. The proportions and placement of these art pieces creates just the right balance for this space.
Here is how this room used to look like; look closely at the fireplace:
When it came to picking out furniture, we selected two leather recliners. A top quality comfortable recliner was high on his priority list. We matched these with a soft taupe sofa and a reclaimed wood coffee table. One of the items that I absolutely love in this room is the horse saddle. It’s actually the one that he used during his cowboy days. This item is special because it’s personal and meaningful for him, and having the opportunity to incorporate this saddle in this renovated room was an honor. We designed a saddle stand to display it, and hung two original hand drawings above it.
The plaid drapes also add to the masculine aura of this room. Along the side wall we built a small cozy home bar. The original bar was too small, but by enlarging the room using square footage that was gained by moving the nonfunctional powder room (which is now the square powder room discussed above), they now have a more practical and enjoyable floor plan. The entire room, including the cabinets, are painted sage. The fixtures are oil-rubbed bronze. The countertop material is the same as in the main kitchen, though in the family room we added rough textured subway tiles, which is the only white element in this room.
This house has a long hallway, so instead of recessed lights we installed a semi-flush fixture with glass covers. Two long runner rugs visually break up the long hallway. The niche is arched and has built-in cabinetry, just like the arched niche in the living room. The use of natural white oak shelves against white painted cabinetry, in both the living room and in the hallway, creates visual fluidity, elements of interest, and practical additional storage.
Yes, I do have a "before" picture of this niche:
For my client, the office is his kingdom (as well as the family room). Though the office isn’t big it needed to be practical and able to fit a large desk, a sofa and a TV console. I furnished this room with a modern sleek looking leather sofa that doesn’t take up a lot of space due to its straight-lined form. I didn’t want to overwhelm this small room with a large rug that would cover too much of the limited floor space, so we chose a cowhide rug that ties nicely with the cowboy themed family room and the overall feel of the home. My client loves it.
Guest bedroom for kids:
If there’s one room that I particularly love in this home (although it’s hard to say because I love all of them), it’s the kids' guest bedroom. The main reason is the delightful wallpaper. I’m a huge fan of wallpapers! There are many reasons to love this room but for me it’s the combination of the textured upholstery on the beds, the modern floral wallpaper, the vintage style rug, the rugged looking nightstand, the drapes and other textiles . The way all these elements come together feels harmonious. This room has so many details, and I love how one’s gaze has to linger to absorb the finer details.
Guest bedroom for adults:
This guest bedroom was designed with my client’s older parents in mind. They visit often and my clients wanted their room to feel warm and homey. We chose an upholstered linen bed and paired it with brass nightstands and plaster lamps on either side of the bed. A trio of abstract oil-on-linen landscape paintings hang above the headboard. This art adds subtle color to the room, and looks equally traditional and modern. The bed linen looks cozy and inviting, and the vintage style rug pulls everything together in a most satisfactory way.
Here is how this room used to look like:
This bathroom was completely remodeled, starting with the floorplan. It used to have a bathtub and a wider vanity, but my clients were sure that the bathtub wouldn’t get much use. Since you never know what the future brings, or what accessibility needs may arise one day, they wanted wide access points in the entire house, including all bedrooms and bathrooms. Therefore, all door openings in their home are three-feet wide.
Material selection: This bathroom is consistent with the rest of the house's natural material selection. On the floor we laid Lagos Azul 6x12 natural stone in a herringbone layout. The walls are covered with white rough-textured subway tiles. There are Calacatta honed trims on each side of the shower, on the step, and on the soapbox. The vanity is painted a soft blue hue with hints of green, and the marble countertop ties everything together. All the finishes are in polished nickel.
The original shape of the room and its cabinets remained. Upgrades were made to the floor, the countertop and the color of the cabinets. What a huge difference a fresh coat of colorful paint makes to old cabinets! The terracotta floor tiles compliment the new color of the cabinets, and the gray countertop is the same that has been incorporated elsewhere in the house. You may not be a fan of doing laundry, but having a room like this makes laundry chores not that bad at all!
Floor layout changes were minimal in this room, except for the porch. Before the remodel the porch was closed off and became a neglected unused space for many years. There wasn’t much to do with this space, so we allocated two-thirds of it for a walk-in closet. The window, in the remaining third, now allows air flow during those hot summer sights in Almaden Valley. We mounted shiplap planks to the ceiling, just like we did in the dining area.
All the furniture was newly acquired. The dark wood four-poster tapered bed, with a softly curved cream colored fabric headboard and footboard, is absolutely gorgeous. The pastel-hued rug adds color and texture. Linen sheets and blankets, with India-inspired patterned pillows, tie gracefully with the rug. On each side of the bed we placed an oak dresser. The brass mirror works well with the other brass elements in the room. We custom-made a pair of swivel chairs for my clients to sit and watch TV. The beautiful wicker standing lamp adds another layer of texture and warmth, and the grass cloth window shades are also made from natural material. Finally, almost all the art in this house was re-framed to bring it more up to date. The end result is magnificent.
Here is how this bedroom used to look like:
Reading area before:
In terms of floor plan, we decided to keep the vanity nook but opened up the tub area and altered the shape of the window. The tub used to have a step, and was enclosed in a curved ceiling, that drew inspiration from Italian design – but it didn't match the rest of the house. Here:
Look at this beautiful room now:
To remedy this we tore down the structure. Once this area opened up completely, the charming outdoor landscape became immediately visible. To maximize the window-view-as-living-art concept we didn’t hang curtains. It now looks like an ever-changing picture, bringing the outdoors and natural scenery inside.
The entire materials selection for my clients’ home began with this bathroom – specifically at the moment we found some marvelous stone slabs. From the get-go I knew that I would pair these slabs with white Calacatta tiles, brassy hues on the floor, and taupe colored handmade ceramic tiles on the shower walls.
An oversized Calacatta slab covers the massive tub, the backsplash area under the window, the shower bench, the soap box, and around the edges of the ceramic tiles. Vertical shiplap covers the bathroom walls. The vanity and cabinets are built from white oak. Plumbing fixtures are polished nickel, while the light fixtures and the hardware are brass. A large vintage rug, in antique pink, blue and beige, lays in the center of the room and adds an elegant presence, and a blue velvet vanity stool adds a gem-colored pop to the space. We added linen curtains in one of the windows, to add texture and to create a warm ambiance.
Here is another before, so you can understand the transformation:
Most of the newly built extension is at the back of the house. We expanded the porch and added a roof, to enable my clients to enjoy sitting outdoors all year long while staying protected from sun and rain.
There were two boxy looking shapes of the building that protruded from the front and back of the house. Covering them with natural stone added rugged texture, color, and visual interest. We painted the rest of the exterior of the house in a taupe tone, which works with the natural quality of the stone and the black window frames. The light fixtures are oil rubbed bronze. The posts that support the added porch are painted a few shades of darker taupe, which works well because it comes from the same color palette. We decided to paint these posts, rather than stain them, so that they would be easier to maintain for my clients. On the ceiling we used shiplap planks painted white, which continue inside the home .
The most fun feature of this home is the outdoor backyard kitchen bar. We built a small kitchenette with a wine fridge and a sink, and a long bar for my clients to entertain friends and family. Due to the bar’s close proximity to the home’s indoor spaces, whoever is at the backyard bar can communicate with those inside the house. The natural stone slab that was purchased at the onset of this renovation fits right in with the beautiful surrounding stone on the exterior walls.
This ranch house in Alameda Valley was such a joy to design and I am thrilled that my clients have found both functionality and self-expression in their newly renovated home.
I love looking at before and in progress photos, and I have hundreds of pictures of in progress for this project, so I thought I should share a few with you. Let's start from the exterior:
This is how the house used to look like:
The contractor took away the entire roof where the additions are to reinforce it and raise the ceiling:
Here is the back of the house before they pushed the porch out:
But the most amazing thing of all, is the view....
seriously, it was hard to leave.
Building the arches:
This was a very exciting day:
By now you know how much I LOVE natural materials and especially marble:
Sourcing art while admiring the view:
There are so many beautiful tiles I used for this project, like the laundry room floors:
The guest bath floor and walls:
And my favorite: powder room floor!
There are so many details when designing a project of this scope. Not only the new addition, layout, and materials. It's also about sourcing the right hardware, the right art, and the right pillows and linens for the beds. Since my clients and I trusted each other from the beginning, it made this process so enjoyable.
Photographer: Vivian Johnson