The first thing you notice when you walk into Simon Shelston’s cottage is the river. Enter through a set of glass double doors framed on three sides by windows, and your eyes zip right over the big open kitchen and the living room beyond. They settle on a 16-foot sliding door in the very back of the house, framed by drapes that give it almost a theatrical look. This wall of glass offers a view that instantly telegraphs summer — a quiet narrow stretch of the Russian River lazing past, a wall of thick redwoods and pine on the opposite shore.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it, as they say. Sebastopol designer Tama Bell did just that with the crowning feature of Shelston’s river getaway. Let the view take front and center stage.
“When I walked in, I saw the river and that was it for me,” said Shelston, remembering the first time he saw the little house. It’s otherwise architecturally forgettable, but is set on a sunny, open 10,000-square-foot lot with a big backyard running out to the river’s edge in Monte Rio. “I hated everything about it but the river.”
Shelston, director of sales for a high tech company, has a home in San Francisco's Mission District. But this Canadian native craved a weekend getaway where he could relax with friends and teach his 4 1/2-year-old daughter how to swim, fish and kayak.
He saw beyond the poor design to the possibilities. Three floor to ceiling windows and a patio door offered a peek-a-boo view.
But a fireplace was wedged between them, not the main attraction for a summer place. He enlisted Bell to help him turn this dowdy place into fun central for an inclusive circle of friends and family.
He actually liked the fact that the 1,300-square-foot house, built in 1955, was charmless, making it a clean canvas.
“The floor plan was odd. It sort of looked like a sad little tract house,” said Bell. “At some point it must have been a cute river cottage, and then they added on.”
Because the house is on septic, they couldn’t add bedrooms or bathrooms. Bell tore the existing space down to the studs and blew it open, starting with the entry.
Before, the house appeared like an L with an attached garage. The entry was hidden off to the side, engulfed between the garage and a wing of bedrooms and bathrooms. The front door opened into an uninviting dark hallway
Bell filled in that lost space between the wings with an extended living area and welcoming front door, all in tall glass.
The new high pitched roof created a big kitchen designed for casual gatherings, including a central island for prep with a durable granite surface that mimics the less resilient marble.
In keeping with Shelston’s informal vision for the house, Bell gave it a faintly beach cottage look, with exterior shingles in a soft gray-blue.
Inside she worked in some tongue and groove on the walls, and whitewashed them in neutral colors.
Bell was going for the look of a vintage river cottage, as if it had been updated rather than completely rebuilt.
Overall, only 300 to 400 square feet were added, but the space feels much larger.
Things to keep in mind when remodeling
The Big Picture: “Big Picture” planning, or the lack of it, can make or break a renovation project. Dial down what you are aesthetically trying to achieve. Think about the structure and the setting. When you have the “Big Picture” in focus, individual design decisions become easier to make and the desired result more attainable.
Space Planning: Smart space planning is the soul of a home. Consider your existing floor plan to determine what is and what is not working and why. It is the perfect opportunity to make your space function and flow better.
Prioritize: Once you have your design vision set, decide what is really important to you and prioritize, based on your budget, to determine where you can cut and where you can splurge. A perfect example would be a high end splash in the kitchen where you are working with smaller amounts, and more reasonably priced tile on the floor. Think bang for your buck.
Furnishings and Accessories: Shop smart. Everything doesn’t have to be expensive or brand new. Ready made items such as curtains (think Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware), vintage finds and consignment stores (think Re-Healdsburg) can be wonderful resources. All are part of the “hunt” and make a space timeless and more interesting and original.
Source: Tama Bell, Tamabell.com.