Leipheimer-Gunn remodel creates 'edgy' space with classic country touches

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When Levi Leipheimer invited his new cycling pal Dan Boyle over for some expert advice about sprucing up his aging kitchen, his vision was pretty limited. Maybe some fresh paint over the old oak cabinets, he figured, would at least help lift the room out of the ?80s.

But one suggestion led to another and another. When the dust settled months later, Leipheimer and his wife, Odessa Gunn, had a completely new kitchen.

?It wasn?t so bad before,? the laconic Leipheimer says, ?but it?s a lot better now.?

The race to remodel became a team effort, but in this case Leipheimer, one of the world?s top cyclists, was happy not to take the lead. Boyle?s wife, Lauren Brandwein, a designer, wound up leading Leipheimer and Gunn through what can be a difficult and time-consuming course. Undertaking a major remodel means making a plethora of decisions beginning with the most fundamental of all: Just what is the overall look you want to achieve?

The first challenge, says Brandwein, was finding a way to marry Leipheimer?s minimalist tastes with his wife?s ranch-girl lifestyle.

?The most interesting part for me was Levi?s wish to have everything clean and linear and kind of edgy,? said Brandwein. ?And yet Odessa has a different taste. She turned out to be more rustic country.?

Brandwein bridged the design gap with a look that is very modern and yet softened by a few natural elements. The dressed-down cabinets are so dark they are near black. Two strong pendant lights from Restoration Hardware over the massive limestone slab are retro and yet contemporary at the same time. The tiny glass tiles in the backsplashes, in a shade of midnight blue with a hint of green, also have a timeless look.

All those smooth, hard surfaces are softened by two key features: a series of reclaimed beams running across the open ceiling and a unique sliding door on tracks, evocative of a barn door, over the pantry that Boyle hancrafted of heavy plank boards and wrought iron.

Initially Boyle had planned only to work with the original low ceiling. But in order to remove a large unattractive recessed lighting fixture he had to remove the Sheetrock and re-frame. Once exposed, it was obvious the natural roof pitch was far more interesting and really opened up the space.

Leipheimer and Gunn, who have maintained a home base in Santa Rosa for the past decade while traveling the globe ? they also have a part-time home in Spain, where Levi trains ? moved to this larger, 5-acre aerie in northeast Santa Rosa about three years ago.

Design-wise, the house had issues. Leipheimer conceded that it was probably dated even when it was built in 1994. It was all white walls and oak.

?It wasn?t the exact house we wanted,? he said. ?It was the location we wanted.?

While there may have been too much oak inside, the cyclist said he loves the living oaks beyond his windowpanes.

?We?re right in the canopy and the views are great views here,? he said, gazing out into a thicket of leafy branches.

The property appealed to Gunn, who was looking for space to accommodate her growing family of rescued animals, which now includes two horses, goats, rabbits, turkeys, cats and dogs. But for Leipheimer, who has won the Tour of California three straight years, and four times has finished in the top 10 of the Tour de France, it is also situated in a sweet spot for cycling.

?This is the perfect spot in the county, in my opinion,? he said. ?I can go in any direction and not have to go through traffic lights.?

In the past three years, the couple has slowly made cosmetic changes to the house, like new lighting fixtures, doors and hardware. But it?s the kitchen that is the heartbeat of any modern home.

When remodeling, homeowners can easily fall into the trap of buying into bells and whistles they may not need or even use. Brandwein did what a really good designer will do ? she interviewed both Leipheimer and Gunn and came up with custom elements to suit their individual needs.

For Leipheimer, she created a handy storage drawer right in the kitchen so he always has a fresh supply of new water bottles at the ready. It is deep enough to allow the bottles to nest vertically and has a separate space for lids.

The cyclist also likes to work in the kitchen. So the limestone island features a discrete little ?office hub? where Leipheimer can pull up a stool and sit with his laptop to check e-mail and surf the Net. Brandwein also designed a handy hidden charging station for electronics right above the water bottle drawer.

If kitchen islands approximated real geography, this one would be not a tiny atoll but something closer to Australia. It?s large enough for seating as well as food preparation and conceals appliances ? a small beverage refrigerator and microwave ? and tons of storage on all four sides.

Gunn?s favorite elements are the small, 30-inch Wolf Range with snazzy red knobs for a pop of bright color.

?I love it so much I kiss it,? she says with a smile. ?Just look at it. It?s the cutest piece. So stylish and adorable and beautiful.?

Of the two, Gunn is more the cook. She finds herself preparing pastas, salads, fish tacos and other high-fuel foods for Leipheimer, who needs to pump 6,000 calories some days into his compact 5-foot, 7-inch frame to keep going. A vegetarian herself, she also whips up home-made vittles for her many animals, full meals of chicken and broccoli and rice or sweet potatoes.

Finding the wood beams for the ceiling was the best part of the project. Not just any would do. Gunn wanted the salvaged wood to have a story. They traveled down to Heritage Salvage in Petaluma several times looking for just the right ones. What they settled on was old fir reclaimed from the old Ice Harbor Dam in Washington. The sliding pantry door was milled from wood recycled from a water tank at Dominican College in San Rafael.

Boyle and Brandwein made small changes in the layout of the room to make it more spacious and functional, like removing a large glass-doored cabinet that consumed one wall. That freed up more space for the island.

Leipheimer and Gunn spend too much time on the road to entertain frequently, but they like to throw open their doors to friends a couple of times a year. That may well mean another holiday party, to really put Gunn?s stove to good use.

Said Leipheimer with a grin, ?It will be nicer to have it with this kitchen.?

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mmcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.</em>

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