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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 of small-house renovation where the special character of the house has been retained or enhanced, where floor plans have become more efficient without going beyond original perimeter walls, where the pressure on space has inspired spatial inventiveness. They offer basic lessons to anyone contemplating a remodel.

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 closet 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 less cramped.

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 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 hold linens.

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 current version

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 gables

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 flooring

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 of bed can also serve the living room

Photo: Concealed door in book wall opens to bathroom. Where shelving passes windows, there's lighted display space
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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