Never say too small to remodel.
Never say too small to remodel
No matter what you call them--cottages, bungalows, or cabins--many
little old houses have a certain appeal of their own: a reminiscent
charm, an attractive setting, or simply an unbeatable price. Remodeling
them for maximum livability without major addition requires creative
plans that work within their compact square footage.
We show three distinctive examples ofsmall-house renovation where
the special character of the house hasbeen retained or enhanced, where
floor plans have become more efficientwithout going beyond original
perimeter walls, where the pressure onspace has inspired spatial
inventiveness. They offer basic lessonsto anyone contemplating a
Mendocino: reaching up and out for light and air
The 25-year-old cottage shown here and on our cover sits on two
pleasant berry-strewn acres in northern California. Until a few years
ago, however, the pleasantness stopped abruptly at the front door.
Inside, the 1,500-square-foot house was dark and confining, its
knot-holed redwood paneling having aged to a deep, almost black tone.
Small aluminum-framed windows did little to relieve the darkness and
much to thwart the architectural tradition of the Mendocino coast.
Architect Obie Bowman of The Sea Ranch and his wife, Helena, bought
the cheerless house and set about filling it with light and livability.
Their plan centered around a new 17-foot light tower on the southwest
side of the living room, with rooftop vents for releasing summer heat.
Bowman held costs down by staying on the former structure's
foundation, yet made the house feel larger by raising the ceiling to the
height of the original roof, pushing out the light-tower dormer, and
removing a kitchen wall. Outdoors, adjacent to the old front door, he
created an angled deck that's bounded by lattice panels. A
wisteria-covered frame defines the entry.
Napa Valley: working with a house's original character and
sense of place
The decaying 900-square-foot farmhouse in the Napa Valley had one
important asset: it looked as though it belonged there Built in the
1890s, it's the kind of simple frame structure that used to be a
common sight on California's back roads but is now fast
disappearing. Its raised front porch and a front door flanked by
double-hung windows powerfully evoke an earlier era.
Inside, it was a mess. Plumbing and appliances were primitive. The
bathroom was too far from the bedrooms, and you had to walk through it
to get to the back yard. Most walls needed rebuilding. Closets and work
surfaces were minimal.
San Francisco architect William Turnbull and his winery partner
Reverdy Johnson had the job of making the house habitable for the
Johnson family without oblitcrating its architectural character. They
decided to revamp the floor plan slightly, turning the old bath
(adjacent to the kitchen) into a dining porch with sliding doors to the
outside and French doors to the kitchen and living room.
The house originally had four bedrooms three along the north wall,
one on the south. They removed the latter, adding the extra space to
the living room, and converted another bedroom into the new bathroom.
They enclosed a back porch for use as a master bedroom, bringing
the finished interior space up to 1,296 square feet.
The two small bedrooms remaining each needed storage space, so it
was built in: the beds themselves serve as cabinets, bookcases, night
tables; you see some details in the photographs at left. In each room,
a system of built-in cabinets and closets frames the doorway to the
depth of the door's swing, making the entry to the room a sort of
walk-through wardrobe. Turnbull turned the south wall of the living
room into a miniature library by building in counters, a desk,
bookshelves, and a window seat. He removed a shallow closethttp://www.worldmarket.com/category/dining-kitchen.do to the
right of the fireplace and in its place put an interior window to the
kitchen. The glimpse of a space beyond makes both rooms seem larger
than they are. A big new multipaned window in the kitchen doubles the
amount of light brought in but respects the carpenter-built tradition of
the original windows.
Honey-colored vertical-grain fir cabinetry, recalling the clarity
and spareness of Shaker furniture, repeats the color and texture of the
flooring and unifies the various rooms.
Santa Monica: life in a chambered nautilus
"It was a little like putting a new drawer inside an old
bureau,' says architect Buzz Yudell about remodeling his tiny
570-square-foot cottage. "You could hardly have called it a house
when we bought it. The four walls were just about all we could use.
But the price was right.'
With the help of partner John Ruble, Yudell and his wife, Tina
Beebe, a graphic designer, looked for a way to make the interior seem
They chose a single strong shape--the ellipse--to define the living
area, then placed kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and bedroom around it.
The ellipse is actually a curving partition san jose remodeling contractor of gypsum board over stud
framing, with cutouts for built-in seating and openings to bedroom and
dining room. The cutouts help to open up the living area--without
gutting the space in favor of creating a single, undifferentiated room.
The unusual shape of the partition is a visual surprise; the
sharpness of the contrast between exterior and interior almost jolts the
visitor into thinking he has entered a different world. The cutouts
also lend an enriched sense of volume simply by revealing the thickness
of the partition. A skylight over one end of the built-in seat
backlights part of this sculptural-looking partition.
Fitted behind and partly exposed to the living-room ellipse, the
bedroom is as compact as a ship's cabin or a Pullman car. Its rear
wall, curving inward slightly to echo the curve of the living room,
contains floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with another unexpected detail: a
concealed door in the book-storage wall forms a "secret
passage' to the bathroom. Built into the wall opposite the books
(the back of the durved partition) are a bed, a desk, and drawers to
A tightly organized kitchen opens directly to the dining area,
which in turn opens to the living room.
To enhance the exterior's cottage-like quality, the owners
installed windows and doors salvaged from other bungalows that were
demolished in the neighborhood.
Photo: 1,500 square feet, Mendocino.
Small windows, shady overhangs made for a gloomy interior. No
more: see remodel opposite
Photo: 900 square feet, Napa Valley.
Dark, peeling paint and an unnecessary railing obscured the
reposeful charm of this small farmhouse. See pages 96 and 97 for the
Photo: 570 square feet, Santa Monica.
Haphazard construction and unmatched windows gave a tacked-together
look. The remodel-- shown on pages 98 and 99--is a startling contrast
Photo: Vented light tower rises above roof plane of Mendocino
cottage like a stylized dormer; its window echoes lines of existing roof
Photo: Opened-up kitchen wall lets dining area share light from new
kitchen windows; knee-braced opening keeps to cottage style
Photo: Raised ceiling of living foom shows original roof trusses.
Under stacked windows of new light tower is 4- by 9-foot couch with
built-in bookshelves at ends
Photo: Built-ins make the most of 8- by 12-foot bedroom. Her bed
is part of platform with storage cupboards at each end, trundle
underneath. Closets and cabinets frame the doorway opposite--only 12
feet from original double-hung window
Photo: Self-sufficient bed has drawers for sheets and blankets,
plus a shelf that slides out of headboard to become night stand
Photo: Crisp outlines of porch posts and trim accent
straightforward rural character of restored Napa Valley farmhouse
Photo: New interior window by fireplace allows glimpse of kitchen,
uncramping both small rooms and letting in light from scaled-up version
of old kitchen window. Fir cabinets and moldings match softwood
Photo: Graceful curves of steps to living room door hint at
geometry within. Carefully proportioned bungalow windows resist
horizontal flattening of eave line
Photo: Ellipse dominates the living spaces, completed outdoors by
curve of steps. Bookcase wall is more gently curved
Photo: Curved partition has cutouts for seating. Deepest cutout (far left) is bedroom; seat at foot ofbed can also serve the living
Photo: Concealed door in book wall opens to bathroom. Where
shelving passes windows, there's lighted display space