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.