When a Berkeley couple faced a choice between selling their empty nest or remodeling, they chose the latter. The end result is pocket-sized perfection that maximizes every square inch.
Here’s a story that will sound familiar to anyone feeling the pinch in the West Coast housing market as they stare their child-free future in the eye.
After 15 years in their 1910 Edwardian Craftsman house and raising two now-adult daughters, a Berkeley couple arrived at a crossroads.
Should they sell their beloved but somewhat tired 1,100-square-foot house, just a handful of blocks from Chez Panisse and a famous East Bay culinary district? Should they cash in to the highest bidder and simplify their lives? Or could they dig in, take everything they’ve learned to love (and hate) about their house and use that wisdom to make it the best version of themselves?
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“It’s like seeing an old flame in a new light,” says Brett Foken, founder of Decorotation, the five-year-old Bay Area design firm the homeowners discovered when they decided to stay.
Foken and her design partner Kathryn Lazarus helped their clients rekindle that spark and fall in love with their house all over again. The result was a two-year renovation. At first it was hard to see through the shortcomings of an older house that felt dark, cramped and loved a little too much. But thanks to the design team’s vision and a truckload of patience, the payoff felt more meaningful than starting over.
“When I looked back at the original brief, which was for a much smaller project, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cute,'” Foken says with a laugh. Her clients weren’t looking for a full belly, but when they started envisioning all the possibilities, such as functional storage in every room and multi-functional living areas that made the house feel more spacious and streamlined, the scope of work crept into every square inch—and then out to the 2,000 square meter plot.
Working with Chris McDermott Construction, Foken and Lazarus gutted the kitchen, adding a wall of windows and French doors to bring in new light, a built-in dining nook, a hidden laundry room and soapstone countertops. In the living room, they reversed the fireplace in Fireclay Brick tile and upgraded even the smallest details by adding push-button light switches, custom wallpaper and grass cloth, and fresh coats of moody paint from Farrow & Ball.
The clients’ two offices pull double duty as guest rooms for frequent visits with their children. Upstairs, the master suite is a delight, with vaulted ceilings and wainscoting. Outside, a complete garden refresh by Californian landscape design studio OR.CA – including a conversation circle, a dining area and an enviable Japanese bathtub – was the finishing touch.
“The value of a house is not just financial when it comes to older homes,” says Foken. “It is easy to be guided by social media and caught up in trends. We were not aware of shoulds but focused on the customers’ lifestyle, interests and the original bones of the house. We kept going back to the phrase ‘the new heirloom’. What that means to us is creating a home that will be cherished for generations.”
Living small, but on purpose, makes the home owners think carefully about what they want and need, and sets clear priorities, says Foken.
“When you live in one place for so long, it can be hard to imagine things in a different way,” says Foken. “In the end, we were able to focus on every detail and take something old and make it new again.”
See more of the house
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Get the most out of a small space
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Don’t be afraid of wallpaper
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There is nothing vain about a good vanity
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Everything and the kitchen sink
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Invite from the outside in
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A bold, yet cozy shade
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