How a few changes gave a Sebastopol home a completely new look
How do you give an older house a fresher look without completely changing its character?
That was the challenge designer Tama Bell took on when asked to update an older Sebastopol ranch house that was last remodeled 20 years ago.
The owners loved the house just as it was. They really didn’t want a new house or even a dramatic makeover. They just wanted to polish it up with a few cosmetic enhancements, while maintaining the warmth and familiarity of the original house, which had been in the family for years.
The changes Bell came up with are subtle and required no real construction work. No doors, windows or walls were removed or added. Instead, Bell worked within the existing footprint and architecture.
It’s amazing what new paint, floor surfaces, tile, fixtures and a bit of furniture moving can do.
“The bones were there. They just needed to be shined up a bit,” said Bell of Tama Bell Design in Sebastopol.
Anyone who has lived in their home more than a decade faces this same challenge. You may not want to make wholesale changes. Or maybe your budget doesn’t permit a major makeover.
The owner, who asked that her name not be used, said she and her husband talked to several San Francisco designers but didn’t find anyone who understood or supported their goal of maintaining much of the house as is.
“They wanted to strip it down and move walls and tear it apart,” she said. “They didn’t embrace or get the idea of preserving the old and beloved and just making it a more contemporary, lighter and brighter space. There was so much that we really wanted to preserve, whether it was pieces of furniture or just a certain feel.”
The house, which sits on 40 wooded acres between Sebastopol and the coast, had belonged to her husband’s aunt and is more than half a century old. His aunt had no children of her own so he would come over, starting in his early teens, and help her tend her cattle, llamas, chickens, horses and 350 apple trees. In the process, he developed a deep fondness for the place. And now that he is the steward, he wants to preserve it, his wife said.
The couple was dining at Handline on Highway 116 when they happened upon Bell’s office. They peeked in the window and the design caught their eyes. They liked that it had a clean and fresh look without appearing cold.
“I’m fine with modern touches but so many modern surfaces are really cold and hard. And this is not a family where the designer is going to be meeting and working with the home office personnel,” the owner said. “I am the home office personnel. I get to tell you all the horror stories. We have the grandkids and the dogs running in and out of here and nobody is taking off their shoes.”
So Bell approached the project with a light touch and respect for the legacy of house.
She started with the entrance to make it more inviting. The front of the house featured twin French doors with a brick fireplace between them. But a heavy hedge and other overgrown foliage blocked the flow to the door on the left.