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Before remodeling, they dug back into the house's roots.

Before remodeling, they dug back into the house's roots

Oral histories and old family photographs helped unlock the past of this Craftsmanera house in Piedmont, California. Built in 1907 by architect Louis Christian Mullgardt (1866-1942), the house had suffered various remodelings that had altered and diminished its character.

When owners Anita and Robert Stein bought the house in 1971, nearly all of the interior board-and-batten redwood walls had been painted white or covered with gypsum board. In the process, many of the original battens had been removed. The kitchen, pantry, and maid's room were gutted by remodeling in the 1950s, while other portions of the house suffered from general neglect.

Tracing the structure's previous owners, the Steins were able to locate all five, invite some to the house, and learn first-hand of past alterations. These contacts unearthed photographs of the first owners and confirmed numerous architectural details that had been lost, including corner benches with wing-wall bookshelves in the living room.

Berkeley architect William R. Dutcher helped restore much of the house to its old glory. In the living room, he pulled off the gypsum board and found "ghosts,' outlines of the missing wing walls, on the redwood beneath. Other ghosts identified the basic pattern of the kitchen area. Following these faint lines and the vintage pictures, Dutcher was able to draw a reconstructed floor plan (Mullgardt's plans no longer exist), then restore elements like the benches, dentils on fireplace hearths, and plate rails in living and dining rooms.

The kitchen area was revived with a more functional, open plan. A half-wall separates cooking and breakfast spaces. New French doors lead to a wooden deck. A built-in desk and a new fireplace--replacing an original, small brick hearth--set off a library and sitting area beyond. In the basement, Dutcher created two bedrooms, a bath, and a recreation room.

Work remains in upstairs bedrooms and on the exterior, where the Steins hope to replace the aging staircase and better integrate a 1938 garage addition.

Photo: 1914 Vintage photograph shows part of first family to own the house gathered in the living room. Note corner windows, built-in bench

Photo: 1975 Gypsum board and paint cover redwood walls and ceiling. Shelves and French doors to patio replace original corner benches and windows

Photo: 1987 Restoration brought much of original woodwork and Craftsman-era details back to life. Portrait of house's original architect, Mullgardt, graces mantel

Photo: On frieze, introduced by current architect, painted squares form stylized dragonflies, echoing a popular art nouveau motif

Photo: Half-wall marks where original small kitchen ended. Library beyond freestanding fireplace was early maid's quarters

Photo: Leaded-glass cabinet doors and heart redwood paneling in dining room date to 1907; plate rails are faithful reproductions
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1987
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