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Bright now: previously dark and cluttered, this 40-year-old California rambler is finally cast in its best light.

WHEN JOAN AND FRANK MAXWELL decided to update their 1970s rambler in Orinda, they weren't thinking beyond the kitchen. Known for her elaborate dinner parties, Joan was tired of cooking in such a dark, cramped space. "I spent so much time in there alone," she remembers. "No one else could fit."

Architect Lara Dutto had a solution beyond new cabinets and appliances. The second floor--where all the main living areas are located--"was broken up into a bunch of small rooms under this fantastic vaulted wood ceiling," Dutto explains. "The spaces needed to flow under that big, beautiful lid." To stretch the light from the living room all the way into the kitchen, Dutto removed the dining room walls, expanded the kitchen entry, and created what Joan calls the "wow wall": frosted resin panels hanging between the two spaces. "Light filters through, but the wall's opaque enough to hide my dirty dishes," Joan says.

Now the couple have the roomy kitchen and endless sunlight they longed for. "We hated so many things about this house for 33 years!" says Joan. "If we'd known how transformative it would be, we'd definitely have done it sooner."

DESIGN Lara Dutto; laraarchitecture.com.

Update with color

Above: Most of the living room furniture was picked with architect Lara Dutto's help. "We had been using my aunt's old pieces, which were elegant in my mind only because I'd loved her so much," says homeowner Joan Maxwell. "Lara helped me see that they were actually quite dowdy." The new sofa was upholstered in a neutral charcoal gray. Complementary color accents in yellow and blue unite the leopard-print ottoman and pair of polka-dot chairs.

"I was afraid that having walls come tumbling down would make the house too modern and cold, but it was the opposite. It created a more friendly, livable space."

--JOAN MAXWELL

Reveal the view

Top: Removing the upper cabinets made room for more windows. "Now, when I stand at the sink, I have a view of Mt. Diablo," Joan says. Dutto designed the storage-packed island and peninsula with a few open cubbies to display Joan's colorful cookware.

BACKSPLASH TILE: heathceramics. com. STOOLS: 20-06 Barstool Upholstered, $680 each; dwr.com.

Create airiness

Left: The frosted resin panels weren't Dutto's only brightening move. She also replaced visually heavy features with lighter ones-swapping the dark wooden balusters with steel and cables, painting the walls and trim white, and hanging a see-through pendant.

PENDANT LIGHT: Coral, $500; dwr.com. CUSTOM RESIN PANELS: 3-form.com.

Get outside

In the new breakfast nook, Dutto replaced an old sliding door with custom French doors that lead to a deck. "We leave them open all the time when we're cooking or entertaining," Joan says. The bottom half of an antique English hutch stores 24 place settings for the couple's dinner parties.

DINING FURNITURE: Saarinen table, from $2,005, and Tulip chairs with Parakeet vinyl cushions, from $1,621 each; knoll.com.

Define the entry

"When I first came to see Joan, I had a hard time finding the front door," remembers Dutto. Landscape designer Katherine Vincent called more attention to the house's entrance by installing a floating stone walkway flanked by boxwood globes. Dutto also reconfigured the deck so that it would sit underneath the cantilevered dining room and have a view of the valley.

BIGGER IDEAS

Though Dutto didn't touch the original footprint of the house, she employed a few tricks to make it feel substantially more expansive.

ELIMINATE THE OVERHEAD

Without the upper cabinets, the kitchen seems taller and much less oppressive.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

A corner window in the kitchen gives the illusion of a boundary-free space.

TAKE BREATHERS

Empty spaces--like the bare hallway wall leading to the kitchen (page 52)--balance areas with more architectural details.

RAISE 'EM HIGH

The renovated portion of the house has no interior doors or standard doorframe heights. Some extend all the way up to the ceiling.

"For almost 33 years, we'd complained that our bouse was too dark. Now Frank jokes, 'It's too bright in here!'"

--JOAN MAXWELL

DIGITAL BONUS Watch a video tour of these rooms. Blipp this page or go to sunset.com/brighthome.
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Title Annotation:BEFORE & AFTER
Author:Engler, Sarah
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:696
Previous Article:Your checklist.
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