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ONLINE: See additional photos of the LaRussa home at


Pat and Rich LaRussa's big 3,000-square-foot home artfully hides a secret.

What a guest sees are beautiful cherrywood cabinets surrounding a massive

kitchen island filled with handy drawers. There is a desk right in the kitchen

for bill-paying and household business.

What a guest probably won't notice is that everything is discreetly


Nothing looks miniature on first glance. But throughout the house,

cabinets, fixtures and clothes racks have been lowered and custom furniture

designed and built to the LaRussas' compact size.

She is 4 feet 2 inches. He is an inch taller. For most of their lives they

had been forced to adapt to their homes. Now their home is adapted to them.

``You really can't tell it, until you get close up,'' says Pat, a retired

human resources analyst at Sonoma Developmental Center. ``But it made life so

much easier because we're not climbing all the time. When we both worked, we'd

come home tired and then have to pull up footstools to get dinner ready. Now I

don't have to do that at all.''

The LaRussas figured out what other differently sized people also have

discovered: That even though one size doesn't fit all, you don't have to just

grin and bear it. Like a tailor can size your clothes, a good carpenter,

designer or contractor can tailor your home to fit you.

Designer Carole Chapman, who with her contractor husband owns Chapman Home

Design and Chapman Construction in Healdsburg, for one set of clients blew

everything up bigger to accommodate their height.

She was 6 feet tall and he said he was 6 feet 7 inches, although Chapman

suspects he may have been taller since he had to duck to walk through regular


``He had spent his whole adult life ducking through doorways and tucking in

his elbows every time he walked down a hall,'' Chapman said. ``He wanted a

house that was in scale to him.''

High ceilings

Chapman upsized the kitchen counters a half-foot taller than the standard

36 inches. She designed the ceilings to be a minimum of 10 feet high, higher

in areas where she incorporated open-beam or vaulted ceilings.

All the doorways were enlarged to 8 feet high, industry standard for

commercial buildings, not residences. A home usually has doorways that are 6

feet 8 inches high, she said.

``It's all more expensive,'' she said. ``Any time you vary from the norm,

even using standard appliances and working as much as possible with what is

available on the market, it's going to cost more.''

In fact, costs rise exponentially because the changes make the job more

complicated, she said. Sheetrockers and other tradesmen will need to work on

ladders and scaffolding.

But the cost is worth it after you've suffered backaches from bending over,

said Cappie Garrett, a Santa Rosa interior designer who had taller counters

and cabinets put into her Santa Rosa kitchen to make life easier for both her

and her husband.

She's 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall; husband Tom, a physician, is 6 feet 7

inches. Their counters range from 38 to 40 inches, with the center island a

towering 42 inches high.

``My husband rarely does the cooking, but he does do the dishes and will

use the sink in the island,'' said Garrett, who also makes a practice of

prompting clients to think about cabinet height before undertaking any new


She has even done some kitchens where there are a combination of short and

tall counters to accommodate a tall husband and petite wife.

But they have to be done with thought, she stressed. Different heights can

look dramtic or they can look jarring if not incorporated artfully.

Paying more for custom work sized to their smaller frames also was worth it

to the LaRussas, who said they had worked all their lives with the dream of

one day having a home that not only is built to their scale but is beautiful.

``We wanted to do it with grace and dignity and style,'' said Pat, who

worked closely with the late interior designer Gary Compton and carpenter and

cabinetmaker Jesus Chaves.

``Gary was very sensitive, and he just saw things. He could walk into a

room and picture what we needed,'' said Pat.

They built the ranch-style home 13 years ago, designed all on one level to

eliminate the need for stairs. In the past several years, however, they

underwent a major remodel to update the look and fine-tune the house even

further to suit their stature.

Lower counters

The new kitchen counters are 30 inches high rather than the standard 36

inches, which allows the couple to prepare meals without using footstools.

Standard-sized dishwashers, however, don't easily fit under shorter counters.

They tried lower counters in the past but their contractor had to dig the

bottom of the dishwasher into the floor, making the door almost touch the

floor when opened.

But now they have two new drawer-style dishwashers that fit easily and

attractively into the shorter cabinets.

The couple settled on an oversized kitchen island with the idea of

purposely filling it with drawers for pots and pans and other kitchen


That put more things within easy reach, cutting down on the number of times

they have to use stepstools to reach items in the overhead cabinets.

All the cabinets were equipped with pullout drawers and trays to make it

easier to reach things with their shorter arms. Chaves made use of the toe

space beneath the cabinets to build in pull-out steps that to the eye look

like drawers.

This gives them another few inches while standing at the stove to more

comfortably stir the tallest of pots.

The most ingenious accommodation for the couple is a two-story walk-in

closet. This wouldn't work for average-sized folks but is where being small

can be an advantage.

Beneath a dropped ceiling that is not even 5 feet tall, Pat has her own

racks and a series of drawers for shoes, all within easy reach.

Special desk

Stacked above her, accessible by stairway, is a twin bank of racks and

drawers for Rich, all in rich cherrywood. Another island cabinet provides

additional drawers in easy reaching distance for accessories.

Pat, who had suffered ergonomic pain during the years she had to work at

normal-sized desks, had a special desk and chair measured and built that is

just her size.

The miniature chair is only 25 inches high and 13 1/2 inches deep, which

enables her to sit comfortably at a lower, 27-inch desk with her feet firmly

planted on the ground.

The office is equipped with more 30-inch cabinets and a tall built-in

bookcase with a strong, permanent ladder on rails to safely reach

higher-placed volumes.

Counters in the bathroom and showerheads also were lowered to make life's

little tasks within easy reach of little people.

The couple said they aren't concerned about re-sale. The accommodations are

so artfully integrated they aren't immediately noticeable. And as far as they

are concerned, this is their last -- and best -- house.

``We don't have children and we plan to stay here as long as we can,'' Pat

said. ``We remodeled for us.''


You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 521-5204 or


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