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The installment plan

Palo Alto remodel accomplished over four summers

"We purchased the home because we could see the potential," the wife says. "The house is oriented to the south, so even though it was dark, I knew it could be bright and sunny. Also, the master bedroom is on the first floor, and that is hard to find."

They remodeled in four phases, giving priority to the public spaces. To not disrupt family life, construction took place only in the summer while the family vacationed.

"We did not change the square footage," says Palo Alto architect Helena Barrios Vincent, "but we did redistribute space."

The original house had a galley kitchen, and it was not only small but also dark.

"We moved the garage entrance back and transferred area from the garage, which was oversized, to the kitchen," Vincent says. "We also enclosed the exterior porch area and incorporated it into the kitchen."

The darkness issue was resolved by opening the kitchen to the south-facing living room and adding a skylight. Also, a NanaWall of doors folds open to a patio, where the floor is the same polished-concrete tile as the kitchen.

"I adore my island," the wife says. Surfaced with reclaimed planks of chestnut, it is sturdy enough to be "used and abused," she says. Stainless steel appliances and pull-out cabinetry for storage create a sleek, uncluttered kitchen. Aqua, glass subway tiles in the backsplash are aligned for a more modern look. Built-in cabinets and bookshelves are located above a desk/work area.

The living room and dining room are now open to each other and, united by a pale oak floor, form an L-shape. NanaWalls in each room open to an ipe wood deck and half-recessed concrete hot tub beyond. The ceiling in the living room was raised to a 12-foot vault, and the fireplace was repositioned and modernized.

"The Venetian stucco fireplace surround echoes the concrete kitchen floors and the hot tub," Vincent says. A skylight slit over the fireplace is positioned to track the sun across the room.

The wife's brother is the Portuguese photographer António Chaves, and a series of his colorful and dramatic work shot in India is displayed throughout the home. One picture, glued to the entire front of a sliding closet door in the dining room, transforms the portal into art. Another photograph, covering the back wall of the remodeled powder room, creates depth. A tub was removed from this space to add area to the master bath.

The front door is redwood and pivots into a small entry off the living room. Slate bricks on the walls inside transition to the outside.

In the master suite, which also faces the deck, space was re-jiggered to include a walk-in closet. The modern vibe continues in the master bath, with its stacked slate tiles and slanted, integrated CaesarStone sink. The tub is sandwiched between a window overlooking a private area — the entire property is surrounded by a high, redwood fence — and a glass wall separating it from the bedroom.

"The curved staircase used to be cramped and dark," the wife says.

"We reduced the size of an adjoining closet so we could open up the underside of the stairs," Vincent adds. Now, the free-floating oak stairs are girded on one side by a stainless-steel handrail and on the other by clear laminated glass, which serves as a balustrade. A window at the landing was added to the existing two above. The upstairs hallway where the clear balustrade continues is like an observation deck.

The major renovation upstairs was the conversion of the one bathroom into two, which service the four upstairs bedrooms. The new baths are mirror images, one with stacked blue tile, the other with orange; a shower in one, a tub in the other.

"It was a pretty tight and hectic construction schedule," Vincent says.

The wife adds, "One summer we returned before we had hot water, and we had to shower at the Y for a week but it was all worth it."



• Architect: [ Helena Barrios Vincent

• Contractor: Chris Storey, 831-338-4874

• Landscape designer: Shades of Green

• Goal of project: Transform a nondescript, dark ranch-style into a clean, light and modern home

• Unexpected issues: The stairs were a "nightmare" — very technically intricate

• Year house built: 1950

• Size of home, lot: 2,320-square-foot house on 6,060-square-foot lot

• Time to complete: About 15 months


This article appeared in print in the Fall Home + Garden Design 2015 publication.


Susan Golovin is a freelance writer for the Palo Alto Weekly.

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