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My son has a book called ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’. It’s about an old lady who complains that her house is too small, so a wise man tells her to move all her farm animals inside. She complains even more so he tells her to move them out. And, lo and behold, she realizes her house isn’t so small after all.

Well, that’s how we feel now that our renovation is finally finished and we have our house back. It never felt so spacious! Yes, the last coat of paint has dried, the boxes are unpacked, and I have promised to buy no more accessories (for a while at least). And I can at last share some photos of the finished result.

First of all, want to see what it looked like before?

Yup, featureless and old-fashioned. I can hardly believe we lived with it for 5 years. Pretty soon, it looked like this:

Horrific, right? This is known as the ‘what-have-we-done-is-it-too-late-to-change-our-minds?’ moment. To get through it, I had to keep a mental picture of what it would look like when finished, which was something like this:

But finally, after eating every last microwave dinner in our local store and working our way through stacks of paper plates, the work was done. And here’s the finished result.

Modern white kitchen travertine tile

We blocked up the doorway leading from the kitchen to the bathroom, which gave us more countertop space and somewhere to put open shelves. Then we took out the doors that separated the kitchen from the dining room and family room to create more flow through all the spaces. We really wanted to have an eat-in kitchen but weren’t willing to do major structural work. Instead, by tweaking the layout and using a cohesive scheme throughout, we really do now feel like it’s all one space.

Modern white kitchen herringbone floor tile

The goal was to have a predominantly white kitchen but to enliven it with subtle pattern in the tiles. The backsplash is silver travertine. It was quite an adventure selecting these and we nearly abandoned the idea when the first batch of tiles arrived looking too dark. But, after much agonizing – and an overnight shipment of new tiles from LA – we decided these were the ones. I’m so glad as they really make the kitchen.

Modern white kitchen

The floor tiles were cut to size and laid in a herringbone design. I had originally wanted wood flooring to ensure continuity between all the rooms, but finding a match was impossible so we went for tiles in a complementary color to the flooring. The herringbone was intended to emulate period wood floors – and also to repeat the zigzag pattern in the family room rug.

Kitchen walnut open shelves

I have wanted waterfall countertops for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, we don’t have an island to wrap them around, but they work well at the end of these runs of cabinets. The edge profile is a reverse bevel, sometimes called a sharknose edge. It gives the appearance of a razor thin edge, which is the latest trend in countertops, but doesn’t require a special cabinet. Basically, it’s a great way to cheat!

Modern Dining-room

The kitchen used to lead onto a small sunroom, which we used as a playroom. But we took advantage of the remodel to switch the layout around and we made this little room into our dining room. It’s small but the table easily fits six, which is perfect for our needs. And the best part is now we can see the table from the kitchen so it feels like we have an eat-in kitchen. The table is from Room and Board and is a licensed reproduction of the Eero Saarinen table. The light fixture is the Link suspension pendant by LZF and I’ll admit I was nervous about how it would look right up until it was installed. It’s made of wood veneer, coaxed into the most incredible shape.

Family room zigzag rug saucer pendant

Moving the dining room freed up our former dining space to be a large family room. We needed more room for the kids to play, so we kept this space deliberately open. No coffee table – we wanted as much floor space free as possible for train tracks, Hotwheels jumps and the like. The toys are all stashed in the sideboard at the end of the day. The Cherner chair was chosen because it doesn’t create too much of a visual block between the rooms – but it’s also surprisingly comfortable.

Family-room-round-mirror-shelves

We also renovated the small powder room that used to be next to the kitchen. Filling in the doorway from the kitchen meant we finally had somewhere to put a basin. Can you believe this bathroom didn’t even have a sink before?

Powder-room-inlay-mirror-charcol-wall

I have a thing for mother of pearl inlay, so was this mirror was a big factor in the design of this space. Everything else needed to be simple and modern, so the mirror would stand out. And the dark walls (Benjamin Moore Iron Mountain) were another gamble that we feel paid off.

Bathroom-rajapur-wallpaper

This is a split powder room, so the toilet is actually in a miniscule room of its own. The good news is this created an opportunity to give the walls a different finish. I’d been longing for somewhere to use this Cole & Son Rajapur wallpaper and this tiny space was perfect for it. It really lightens everything up. Good job too as before it was a bit like being in a vertical coffin! (Despite my other half’s valiant wallpapering efforts two years ago).

Of course, I’m still tinkering with the rooms and re-styling them daily. But it’s so great to be moved back in. I’m grateful that we had a great architect (David Seidel) and general contractor (Brad Doran) to get us through the project on time and on budget. They made sure we thought through every detail in advance and that the work was impeccable.

So, next stop, the master bathroom. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll take a few months’ breather first…

Photography by Chris Gaede Photography.

It’s been a while since the first post in my house tour series, so it’s high time for another one. If you recall, my goal with this series was to show how real people live stylishly, and how different homes can really show the personalities of their owners. The home we’re touring today is no exception.

We’re visiting Sarah and Danny’s house in the East Bay, near San Francisco. Sarah and Danny’s story is a familiar one for many young families. Having spent years living in San Francisco itself, the time had come to escape the big smoke. As if having a two-year-old wasn’t enough reason to start looking for more space, the chaotic housing market in San Francisco made buying a first place in the city even more perilous. So Sarah and Danny headed for the hills – literally. They ended up buying a mid-century modern home high up in the El Cerrito hills, near Berkeley, with the most fabulous views over San Francisco Bay. In fact, it was the view that convinced them there was more to life than city-living.

Of course, the house itself played a big role in convincing them too. Sarah says they both instantly felt at home here. It’s easy to see why.

Dining room

Sarah describes their style as ‘global modern’ and I couldn’t agree more. Hardly surprising when you consider what these two do for a living. Danny is a horticulturalist and Sarah works for a global non-profit, a job which requires traveling to Africa and Asia. The house is filled with the couple’s collections of exotic plants, orchids, fossils, stones and statues. Yet, it’s still a welcoming house, suitable for a toddler (and some chaotic, toddler-filled parties!)

Diningroom

At the heart of the home is a huge, open kitchen and dining room. The latter area is a perfect example of the couple’s style. But, although it looks like everything came from some far-flung place, in fact there are several canny local purchases here too. The vintage floor lamp was a gift, but the pendant shade was from Z Gallerie.

Dining room

And this cute little guy was from World Market!

Elephant

Most San Franciscans would kill for a kitchen like this. Sarah and Danny repainted all the cabinets, but the floor plan was in place when they moved in. I like the huge crystal – citrine quartz, from Living Green in San Francisco – and the way it glows like kryptonite under the lights. The art on the left (just seen) is actually a photo of graffiti in SF (a little reminder of urban life?) The orchids are all by Danny. If, like me, you can’t keep an orchid more than two weeks you’ll appreciate how handy it must be to have a horticulturalist around the place. (Email me if you have inquiries about the orchids).

Kitchen

I expect this kitchen made leaving San Francisco a lot easier. There’s even room for the couple’s little girl to have her own toddler kitchen in the corner.

Kitchen

The living room is very mid-century with those vast windows (overlooking the Bay). It’s truly a place to chill out and enjoy the view. Sarah says they often feel like they’re on vacation when relaxing in here. Like the dining room, this space uses a clever combination of finds and buys. The green glass lamp base was actually salvaged from a street corner.

Living room

The gray brick fireplace is original to the house. The orange dogs are from Pier One.

Living room fireplace

And the 50-year-old Buddha was a gift from a friend who bought it in Vietnam.

Buddha

Here’s a closer look at the orange Staffordshire dog. Quite the cheeky pup, this one!

Dog

And here, posing for the camera, is the reason for the big move! Sarah and Danny’s daughter proudly shows off her bedroom, which is a treasure trove for little girls. I love those little suitcases – they’re from Noodle Soup in Corte Madera, just north of SF.

Nursery

Sarah and Danny chose deep greens and oranges for their walls. The effect is restful in the master bedroom.

Bedroom

And welcoming in the entryway.

Entry

Outside, there’s a patio for BBQ-ing and a lawn for playing. Plus, there’s another benefit of moving out of the city: sunshine!

Backyard

And so, back to that view. Quite apart from the space the new house provides – perfect for hide and seek, apparently – it’s easy to see why Sarah and Danny were able to move away from San Francisco. They may have left the city behind, but the view meant it was never out of sight.

View

Since I started blogging, I’ve gained an appreciation for the importance of personal style in interior design. Even the most flawlessly-executed design is incomplete without the owner’s unique mark. There has to be a sense of history, a character, a feeling that life is lived within those four walls.

So today I’m starting a new series that peeks into the real life homes of our friends and family and appreciates not only some wonderful design choices, but also their highly individual styles. When you ask people about their homes, you find that there are stories behind almost every item. It makes you realize just how valuable our homes are to us – and not only in financial terms. Something worth remembering, especially in times like these…and especially for those of us obsessed with interior design and all the materialism that goes with it.

Anyway, enough of the philosophy and onto the houses. In this first post, I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos of a fabulous San Francisco house that combines great taste with a highly personal twist.

Living room

The house belongs to friends of ours, Alison and Eric and their two kids. It is an Edwardian home built in 1917, not dissimilar to ours in layout. It survived the 1989 earthquake intact so has nearly all its original moldings and rooms. This is the living room. The bookshelves were installed a few years back, replacing some very 90s granite, to cope with the family’s growing collection of books, games, art supplies etc. A wood fireplace surround was removed at the same time and the simple stucco one put in its place. This is pretty much the only significant remodeling that was done – and although it’s clean-lined and modern, it works because it still keys with the style of the house.

Living room

You can tell this is a creative, sociable family that loves art, music and travel (if you’re on their holiday card list you’re left in no doubt about the creative part!) The print above the fireplace is from a Louise Nevelson show that Alison’s father curated about 35 years ago – and it’s signed by the artist. I love it because it echoes the bookshelves perfectly.

Bookcases

The chairs either side of the fireplace are a stroke of genius. The red one is from IKEA. But the yellow one is actually a piece of art acquired in Germany over a generation ago. It’s made of an industrial spring and apparently is wonderful for lulling babies to sleep (as several babies in the family have discovered over the years). All I know is that these chairs are not good for the later stages of a party: after a few drinks the red one is impossible to get out of and the yellow one is impossible to stay in!

Bookcases

The painting over the sofa was another one from a show curated by Alison’s father more than three decades ago.

Living room

Here’s the dining room. This is a real lesson in color. The walls are a beautiful, vibrant green. The color has been continued onto the ceiling to show off the moldings, wainscoting and coved ceiling. You find these in a lot of the Edwardian houses in the area, although this is a particularly good example. The two Asian posters were from a flea market in San Francisco and are reproductions of pre-Mao Chinese advertisements, while the Air France one is from Paris. I asked about the tablecloth too and apparently it’s from Cost Plus!

Dining room

The stunning lamp was made by Alison’s step mother, Dez Ryan. You can see more of her lighting designs here. There are some real stand-out pieces – check out the Mint Condition collection. I like the way this particular one looks so perfect alongside the Nelson Saucer Bubble Lamp over the table. Here’s a closer look.

Dining room

Like our place, this home has a sunroom at the back of the house. Here the space has been painted this glorious sky blue. My photography really doesn’t do it justice (I’ve said before that these rooms are impossible to photograph). But you can get a hint of the architectural detail in these pictures below. There’s beautiful wainscoting all round the room. Often, homes in the area have this left as dark gumwood, but I think the white is much nicer.

DSC_0434

Many of the photographs here were taken by Alison’s sister during her travels in India.

Office

The stove and cabinets have all been left as they were when the family moved in. But the cabinet doors were all refaced by KitchenWorks. I love all the pots hanging down – I’ve only ever seen this done in enormous country kitchens with a central island but it works here.

Kitchen

From the kitchen you get a good view of the stained glass above the door. Again, this is original to the house. You can’t see it all but it depicts a windmill and hillsides. Apparently there are very few in the city that had this type of bucolic scene.

Hallway

Lots of the houses around here have these carved details in the stair railings. Ours has heart shaped cut-outs (Pennsylvanian apparently)! I’m guessing they’re influenced by the Arts and Crafts style that was popular at the time, even for Edwardian style homes.

Stairs

So, that’s the end of the tour. Hope you enjoyed it. I think this house just has so much personality. You can see how it would work for kids as well as entertaining (and, having experienced both, simultaneously, here, I can vouch for that!) This is not a place to tiptoe about and whisper in shushed tones. It’s a place to yell for more gravy on the table, thump out a few tunes on the piano (visitors that is, I believe this family is actually quite talented in the music department) or to help yourselves to cocktails. And here’s to that kind of interior design!

And, speaking of entertaining, I’m off to Julia‘s blog party again to see what everyone else has been up to this week.

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
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