Real Estate

Light motif

Transforming a mid-century home with low ceilings

by Susan Golovin / photos by Dasja Dolan

Laura Ulam bought her circa-1962 Sharon Heights home in 2012 with the intent to redo it. "It's the fourth house I've remodeled," she says.

The three-bedroom, two-bath house had been maintained, but esthetically it was "pretty bad," she says, describing it as "dark, with low, 'cottage cheese' ceilings."

The home now is the same size, but it was completely gutted. "We raised the living-room ceiling to a 10-foot vault, replaced all the windows and doors, completely re-did the bathrooms and kitchen, put in a tray ceiling in the dining room, raised the hallway and bathroom ceilings from 7 to 8 feet, and replaced the laminate floors with wide-plank oak." In addition, the landscaping was completely redone.

Ulam chose to use the same materials throughout the house, white-painted custom cabinetry and white Carrara marble, thus creating an uncluttered, clean appearance. The dominant use of white creates an airy feel.

A wall between the kitchen and dining area was removed, opening the L-shaped space that is the kitchen and dining/family room. Since the kitchen space provided limited opportunity for windows, one of several new skylights is located here.

"The different ceilings in the three areas help define the spaces," David Terpening, architect, says. An oversize Carrara marble-topped peninsula separates the kitchen from the dining area. The marble is also used on the kitchen counters, as subway tiles for a backsplash, and as an inset of mosaic tile enhancing the wall behind the stainless-steel Thermador stove. The dishwasher and refrigerator are faced to look like cabinetry. The beadboard that backs the glass-fronted cabinets adds to the country feel, as does the deep, farm sink. A zebra-pattern throw rug adds contrast and humor.

"We took down the trellis to bring in more light," Ulam says. "The lot is a half share of a 10,400-square-foot lot (a single lot with two houses on it). The whole block is like this." As a result, the back yard is long and narrow. Strategic fences create cozy and private areas for the decks off the dining room and master bedroom.

A built-in bookcase resting on cabinetry dominates one wall of the family room. "I wasn't sure that I would like the beadboard here, but it works," she says. The Pottery Barn curtain rods are only about a foot long, and thus are more decorative than functional. The divided light windows along the street-facing wall and the side wall can be shielded by woven shades.

In the powder room off the hallway, the marble appears as countertops, as well as on the herringbone-patterned floor. The wallpaper is from Fallow and Ball in London. "The green trim on the front door matches the wallpaper," she says. In fact, you can see the wallpaper from the outside, through the windows on the new, double front door.

The skylit hallway leads to the three bedrooms. The master bedroom walls are sea-foam green, and the adjoining bath features Carrara tile on the wall and apron on the side of the tub. A wall that narrowed the entry to the bathroom was eliminated.

One daughter's bedroom is done in robin's-egg blue, and another's in turquoise with raffia wallpaper. Ulam thinks that the latter room was probably originally the den since this is where the fireplace is located.

"Most of the furnishings are from my former home," she says. However, there is all new lighting throughout the home, and she did buy several light fixtures on the Internet -- the hanging lamp over the dining table, the sconces at the entry to the kitchen, and the library lights over the bookcases.

"I did eliminate one skylight," she says. "It was over the front porch, and it was very dated looking." Bluestone was the choice for hardscape, and the house is clad in board-and-batten new siding.

"This house is a good example of how much you can update and enhance with a remodel," Terpening says. "You don't have to take the whole house down."


Architect: David Terpening, 825 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 650-328-6300, Terpening Architecture

Contractor: Michael Mack, Mack Construction, Half Moon Bay, 650-726-0499

Landscape designer: Maura Palmer, Restoration Gardening, Saratoga, 650-387-9665

Goal of project:

Complete remodel of mid-century home

Unanticipated issues:


Size of house:

1,610 sq ft on 5,200-sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

seven months


about $250,000


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