|Palo Alto Online Real Estate
Uploaded: Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 3:57 PM
Staying true to original vision
Remodel updates Palo Alto home while honoring Birge Clark
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|Near Middlefield and Oregon Expressway is a house originally designed by a Palo Alto legend and recently remodeled by the two professional designers who now live there.
You could guess as much from the outside, where a stone path winds through a succulent garden unlike that of any neighbor, lining up with steps, then a porch, then a two-tone fašade with subdivided windows dominated by simple, evocative linear patterns.
Owners Dan Harden and Heidi Schwenk met in design school. The remodeled house includes a studio and is accented by works of art from a variety of styles, many made by family members.
"Creativity and design are a lifestyle for us," Harden says. Schwenk, who took up interior design earlier this year, specializes in creating "functional as well as inviting environments."
Finding the right contractor to complement that expertise was a challenge, but family friend Bernie Flather was just the ticket.
"We didn't want to taint the friendship with a construction project, and I would say this is probably one of the best experiences I've ever had," Flather says. "I'm better friends with them now than I was at the beginning of the project. There's a lot of teamwork in the house."
"It was a great blend of style," Schwenk adds.
Their backgrounds led to an exacting focus on detail -- the remodel even included a shelf for orchids off the kitchen.
"I designed that," Schwenk says. "It was the perfect light."
The remodel entailed modernizing the whole interior of the house, including cabinetry, doors, windows, tile and electrical work.
"Power wasn't good in the house -- it was dated," Flather says. "The house itself is beautiful, but the infrastructure wasn't up to par."
The large house includes a home office, multipurpose room, living room/home theater and six bathrooms.
"Depending what mood you're in, you can choose," Harden says. "The bathrooms could not be more different from one another." The master bathroom features a shower with river stones and a luxurious soaking tub made of volcanic limestone.
Also upstairs are bedrooms for two sons and a master bedroom.
"The rooms are over-sized," Schwenk says.
"Right-sized," Harden counters.
The house was originally designed by Birge Malcolm Clark as the sister house to his personal home. Clark, called "Palo Alto's best-loved architect" by the Palo Alto Weekly, designed more than 400 structures in Palo Alto, Harden says.
This particular house was built late in his life.
"We believe he wanted to get away from Spanish style and do something a little more modern and funkier," Harden says.
The team worked hard to remain true to that vision.
"It was really important to us to keep the character of the post-industrial period," Schwenk says.
"We went back to what we felt the original intent of the house was. Everything fits and feels right," Flather adds. "I'm really proud of that house."
Clark's son, Malcolm, turned up during a recent Palo Alto Woman's Club kitchen tour and gave his blessing to the changes, Flather says.
The family hopes Clark would have felt the same way.
"I find there is a providence in the fact that this architect had a vision of what modernism was," Harden says. "I get some delight thinking he would approve of it."
The house centers around the courtyard alongside and behind the house, which includes a firepit, party table with integrated barbecue and central fountain that Harden calls the "axis of the house." Similarly, a line bisecting the stove marks the center of the kitchen.
"It makes you feel calm in the space because there's balance," Harden says.
For the remodel, the family moved out to a rental nearby and were able to keep close tabs on the project.
"We thought originally, 'Let's do the kitchen,'" Harden says. "Months later we had moving trucks here."
Now that the work is over, the family is here to stay.
"We have no reason to go anywhere," Harden says. "We've made it a home that is a joy to live in."
Architect: Catherine and Dan Farber, Fergus Garber Young Architects, Palo Alto, 650-473-0400
Contractor: Bernie Flather, BG Flather Construction, Inc., Redwood City, 650-364-4300
Cabinetry: Exotic Woods, Oakland, 510-436-5702; Village Collections, Belmont, 650-802-2185
Landscaping: Special Gardens, Inc., Redwood City, 650-364-2499
Goal of project:
Whole-house remodel, preserving original architect's intent while creating an ideal living space for the family
Year house built:
Size of lot, home:
Added 160 sq ft to a 4,000-sq-ft home on 13,000-sq-ft lot
Time to complete:
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Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jan 9, 2013 at 11:04 am
Very nice, warm interior.
Posted by musical, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jan 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm
Two simple questions: how many permits/inspections were required, and what were the tax consequences? Someday a remodel is on my horizon.
Posted by Remodeler, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Jan 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm
Last time I remodeled, we got a bill from the tax assesor's office for an increase in property tax only TWO WEEKS after the project was finished!
That was over ten years ago. We are remodeling the kitchen and baths again, but not the exterior this time, and I am dreading the bill already. Last time it was a 30% increase, although according to real estate agents, it did NOT increase the value of our house much at all.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jan 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm
If you have all of your ducks in a row, you should only need one permit. The catch is that there will be various city departments involved in approving your plans --- all depends upon what work you're planning to do.
And the number of inspections is first determined by the extent of the work you're going to do. If you are planning to expand the square footage of your home, then there are going to be at least 2 additional inspections for the concrete forms, re-bar, setbacks, etc. There are also inspections for electrical (which will be more than once if you're changing your service panel), framing, sheet rock, etc. In other words, the number of inspections cannot be predicted without knowing the full scope of your project.
The value of your project as submitted when you fill out your permit paperwork is what will be communicated to the tax assessor's office.
Posted by musical, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jan 11, 2013 at 3:48 am
Thank you Crescent Park Dad. No firm plans yet. Just mulling the possibilities. Gotta sell eventually, and probably better to fix it up rather than sell it as a fixer-upper. And I may as well fix it up sooner rather than later, so that I can live in a nicer place for awhile. Or maybe it's just a tear-down.
@Remodeler, I can see a large tax increase for a small value increase. If you did a $30k job on a $1M house, but you bought so long ago that the the assessed value was only $100k, your new assessment jumps to $130k, a 30% increase, even though you added only 3% to the market price. I think that's the way it works, but don't really know.