Visitors can assess that charm for themselves on the annual "Charming Cottages of Palo Alto" 2010 house tour March 26 and 27. The tour — a treasure trove of remodeling ideas — is a fundraiser for Mills College and includes four Palo Alto houses plus one just over the creek in Menlo Park.
When they bought the house in 1999, "as is" included a Wedgwood stove, metal cabinets, water heater and washing machine in the kitchen — but the dryer in the garage.
"We thought this would be our starter home," Carrie Jeffries said, but they fell in love with the neighborhood. Today a dozen kids live on the street, and the family enjoys the big summer block parties. "It's where we can always borrow an egg," she said.
So, working with architect Larry Kahle, of Metropolis Architecture in Palo Alto, they worked on expanding their home, while guarding the rooms they'd already fixed up — the kitchen and a bathroom.
"We had to find a builder who could tear down (most of the house) but shrink wrap the kitchen," she said.
During the nine months of construction, the family was able to rent a home just down the street.
Before they started, Jeffries created a massive loose-leaf notebook, gathering ideas from magazines with photos of what she liked. Soon she had detail shots of columns, stair railing, moldings, floors and other woodwork that appealed.
Today the home extends over 3,100 square feet (more than double the original 1,450 square feet) on an 8,000-square-foot lot. The formerly remodeled kitchen leads into a dining room, separated by a cabinet and two columns from what the family calls a "thinking room" — a place to sit and listen to music in front of the fireplace.
"I had eight years of living in a tiny house with two babies," she said, but when they started looking for another house, they just couldn't find what they wanted. Instead they "built a house around where we live. We're not formal people," she said.
Much of their living is outdoors, where there are raised vegetable beds, espaliered fruit trees, a play structure and a fenced-off area for their bunny. A large mature orange tree is original to the house.
Indoors, the family spends time in the new, spacious family room. A large-screen TV sits discreetly on a side wall, with all the electronics behind cabinet doors. The room's focal point is a fireplace with handcrafted Matawe tile from the Midwest, in classic Arts and Crafts blue, green and brown. A black-and-white Japanese brush painting of El Palo Alto by Drue Kataoka hangs above the mantel.
The room appears to practically sit outside, with its wall of windows and large double-glass doors leading to the yard. Even the pocket doors, which are usually left open, feature frosted glass panels to let the light flow through the house.
"I love Arts and Crafts movement, but I don't like dark houses," Jeffries said, so she and Kahle worked to create a "California Craftsman" with more light. Pale maple floors were chosen because they reflect the sunshine, and huge windows were incorporated into every room. Kahle suggested popping up the ceilings, creating a box-beam ceiling in the living room and ceilings that follow the peaked roofline upstairs.
Even the landing at the top of the stairs reflects the family's desire for light.
"We wanted the feeling of being in a tree house," Jeffries said.
One unusual element upstairs is a large balcony, which Jeffries said did not count against the floor-area-ratio. "Because of the maturity of the neighborhood and garage placement, we can't really see into our neighbors' yards," she said.
The master bedroom is not huge, but the en-suite bathroom boasts 1-inch by 1-inch slate tiles surrounded by large square porcelain tiles. "It's very soothing. I like the natural aspects of Arts and Crafts," Jeffries said.
About the only thing they didn't accomplish in their remodel was bringing their washer and dryer into the house — but she said they're just fine in the garage, which functions as a work-out room. And the house isn't big on storage, given that it has no basement or attic. Again, a loft in the garage and space under the stairs make up for major closet space, she added.
As they were finishing the project, Jeffries said she seriously considered changing out the tumbled marble in the kitchen backsplash for slate. In the end, they considered it "mission creep" and decided the nearly decade-old design stood the test of time.
The other homes on the tour include:
* an 1898 shingled bungalow in Downtown North, with expanded kitchen and exposed original raised ceilings;
* a cozy brick home built in the 1930s in Linfield Oaks, Menlo Park, formerly owned by artist Donald Louthian, expanded and remodeled without changing its basic shape;
* an historically preserved Professorville home with updated kitchen, baths and landscaping;
* a 1937 Crescent Park home, decorated to reflect the owner's interest in photography and antiques, with subtle expansion to the back of the traditional home.
Homes on the "charming" tour were chosen for their "respect for tradition and contemporary appeal," as noted on the tour brochure. Proceeds benefit an endowed scholarship sponsored by the Palo Alto Area Mills College Club.
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What: Charming Cottages of Palo Alto 2010 house tour
When: Friday, March 26, and Saturday, March 27, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Five homes in Palo Alto and Menlo Park (addresses given with tickets)
Tickets: $35 at the door, 446 Ruthven Ave., Palo Alto, or buy tickets online at www.charmingcottages.org.
Info: Visit www.charmingcottages.org.