Sebastopol home undergoes award-winning makeover
There are common design tricks to make small spaces appear bigger, from open-beam ceilings and higher-pitched roofs to big windows and glass doors that let in the sun. Open floor plans with fewer walls, doors and narrow hallways also trick the eye into perceiving spaciousness.
But San Francisco Architect Cary Bernstein’s re-imagining of a dated 1980s home in Sebastopol drew on more than illusion to enlarge the living area. She dug into overlooked nooks and crannies to carve out more space without adding to the basic footprint.
The house was a weekend home for a couple with three children who also wanted room for overnight guests. The original two-bedroom, two-bath dwelling was a dark warren with multiple roof lines that failed to capitalize on the spectacular views. Bernstein hunted for square footage and turned up space for another bedroom, a bathroom, closets, a pantry, a laundry room, a loft, a mudroom and a family room using the existing foundation, with no magic required.
Reclaiming wasted space was just one of the design triumphs of “Orchard House,” so named because of its sweet setting beside what was left of an antique apple orchard, a common part of the landscape back when western Sonoma County was apple country.
The long-gabled house with dark cedar board and batten siding evokes the many farm buildings that still dot the countryside. It nestles easily and unobtrusively within the 3-acre property. But inside it is bright and contemporary and maximizes those inviting views. A wall of glass doors in the combined living and dining rooms frames a panorama that captures Mount St. Helena in the far distance.
The project earned Bernstein a Merit Award in the recent American Institute of Architects Redwood Empire 2020 Design Awards.
The biennial awards honor exceptional architectural design along the North Coast. There are three categories: Honor, Merit and Citation awards.
Capturing top honors in the residential category was Skyfall at The Sea Ranch, designed by Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects of Berkeley, and The Sonoma Residence, or weeHouse, a 640-square-foot, high-end modular home on Sonoma Mountain designed by Alchemy of St. Paul, Minnesota. (Both projects have been featured in The Press Democrat.)
Mork Ulnes Architects of San Francisco received a Merit Award for a concrete home designed for a family of five and set on a hillside on a remote 18-acre property in Sonoma County. The firm also received a Citation Award for The Triple Barn House, created for a chef and her husband, that also borrows from agrarian forms in the rural Sonoma County landscape.
Creative reuse of existing structures or foundations is the way of the future, for both financial and ecological reasons, Bernstein said. With it, homeowners can save money while also using fewer new materials and minimizing further disturbance of the land. For the Orchard House renovation, Bernstein employed all of the existing foundation, slab and subfloor, as well as the existing roof and walls in the garage and about half the framing of the main house.
“It was a surgical intervention more than a complete tear down,” she said.
The original house was a collection of jagged forms that didn’t come together and resulted in wasted space.
“There were probably three or four different roof lines and a strange combination of a gable roof and a shed roof that weren’t harmonized well,” she said. “And there were some inside corners and indentations in the house that didn’t result in usable areas.”
Bernstein said her clients also preferred a home with simpler lines.
“I was partly working with the aesthetic intent of my clients, who wanted a building that was more like the farm and agricultural buildings of Sonoma, and those buildings have very simple shapes,” she said.
Bernstein found room for a guest suite in the garage and replaced the covered parking with a carport. She was able to create a bonus loft space above the new bathroom and closets.
The garage was so spacious she also found room to insert a utility hall between the pool and the main house, with a laundry area, places to hang wet towels and shelves for dry goods and storage. The late architect Louis Kahn called this space “the servant space” versus the “served space” in the main living area, as it provides the practical function of keeping clutter neatly hidden away.
The home originally had a larger entry porch that opened nearly into the kitchen. Bernstein moved the kitchen from the entry to another corner off the great room, made the front porch smaller and created a more defined entry with a mudroom, a place to remove shoes and coats to keep the rest of the house clean.