On a block of mainly single-story Eichlers in Palo Alto's Meadow Park neighborhood, one home catches the eye. It isn't just the fenced-in front yard, with its stepping stones among the pebbles, leading up a curved path to the orange front door.
Nor is it the warm cocoa exterior, contrasted with touches of white and black.
Perhaps it's the gentle evolution of this 50-year-old Eichler into the 21st century that architectural designer Leena Kharkar-Kalakkad has achieved — without making it leap off the block.
Kharkar-Kalakkad has lived in the home since 2004 with her husband, Dinesh Kalakkad and two sons — all the time itching to make changes. Last year she finally got her chance to transform what she called "a total dump" into a stylish, colorful interior space, with rooms that flow easily while affording definition and privacy.
"The architectural design was perfect, but the look of the place, appliances were very outdated. It was painted completely white. It lacked spirit," Kharkar-Kalakkad says.
A key piece of her design was to turn the carport into a new living room, raising the floor level to the rest of the interior, and extending the Pergo floors. A short niched partition and a partial, faux stone wall separate the living room from the front door and entry hall. Living plants in front of the stone wall resemble a small atrium.
While desiring to update her Eichler, Kharkar-Kalakkad sought to honor its roots as well. She was able to add glass to openings in the old carport roof, streaming light into the new living room through skylights and clerestory windows. Two long, narrow windows face the front.
The new living room flows into the dining room, with a support column left intact. On the other side of the wall is the brand-new kitchen, with modular cabinets with frosted glass panels and a Corian counter from IKEA.
"It's cost-effective and looks so elegant," she says. She saved even more by installing the cabinets herself.
The unusual backsplash is made of 13-inch ceramic tile strips that resemble stone, contrasted with three stripes of red-toned glass tiles, which she found at Porcelonosa in San Jose. Stainless-steel Bosch appliances complete the contemporary look.
One of Kharkar-Kalakkad's challenges was to improve the circulation of the house, and maximize use of all spaces. She achieved this by opening a wall in the hallway and installing Shoji-screen sliding doors.
To create more privacy, she changed the opening to the master bedroom, and replaced the built-in closets with free-standing ones from IKEA. She sees this as a temporary solution, and hopes to add on a master-bedroom suite in future.
The bedroom opens to the back yard, where she's made many changes, beginning with re-using much of the old concrete patio, building a low wall around a large tree. "My boys call it a fort and play there a lot," she says.
A new patio is made of tinted concrete pavers. "I tried to make a Zen garden," she says, adding "again that is a future project."
Inside, Kharkar-Kalakkad once more tapped into IKEA for inspiration, with a rectangular sink over a cabinet on legs. Even the mirrors and lights came from IKEA. In the second bathroom, she created a vanity from stacked benches, topped by an oval Porcher sink.
One wall was removed in the long hallway, enabling her to place free-standing closets near her expanded children's room as well as moving the washer and dryer closer to the bedrooms. Pocket doors at each end of the hallway assure privacy in the bedroom wing, which now include a "mud room" and a guest bedroom.
To contain costs, Kharkar-Kalakkad was selective about where to put her resources. Each Shoji door cost $1,400, but accomplished just what she wanted. "I'm not going to compromise" [on some things, she says.
"Initially I wanted rimless doors, but that hiked up the cost. I could live with sliding doors," she adds.
"I managed to get an entire remodel done under an excellent budget, but it doesn't look like it. ... and I kept in the spirit of Eichler," Kharkar-Kalakkad says.
Designer: Leena Kharkar-Kalakkad, Design Anthology, Palo Alto; 650-224-8451
Building contractor: Robin Sung, 408-993-8642
Kitchen appliances: Atherton Appliance & Kitchens, 695 Veterans Blvd., Redwood City; 650-369-1794
Tile: Home Depot Design Center, San Jose
Shoji doors: Hana Shoji, Oakland, 510-842-1041
Goal of project/design challenge: Convert carport to living room; improve floor plan; add new kitchen
Unexpected problems/hidden costs: Had to work around "secret" columns between closets
Year house built: 1957
Size of home: 2,040 sq. ft. (added about 300 sq. ft.) on 8,000-sq.-ft. lot
Time to complete: Three months for living room, 3 1/2 months for rest of house
Budget: $140,000 for remodel, $50,000 for landscaping