Real Estate

'Carmel' cottages in Palo Alto

Homes designed by Marcus Stedman star in PAST Holiday House Tour

When one thinks of the Palo Alto architect of the 1930s, Birge Clark's name quickly comes to mind.

But few realize that Marcus Stedman and his brother Jim were building dozens of charming cottages during that period and beyond.

Palo Alto Stanford PAST Heritage plans to give the Stedmans the credit they deserve on this year's Holiday House Tour on Sunday, Dec. 13, when five homes designed by Marcus in Old Palo Alto will be featured.

Susan and Jack Choquette recently renovated a quintessential Stedman home, near Jordan Middle School. The home was purchased in 1978 by Susan's parents for her grandmother, who lived there for 11 years. When Susan returned to the Bay Area, she purchased the two-bedroom, one-bath home from her folks.

But even a single woman felt cramped in the original kitchen. She called in Tom Carrubba, from Square Three Design in Palo Alto, to expand the kitchen and update the bathroom.

But she didn't stop there. Without changing the footprint of the 1,513-square-foot home, Carrubba created a seamless transition to a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath home with a productive kitchen.

Carrubba found the project, which they referred to as the "Hobbit House" at Square Three, challenging -- in a good way: "Most of the house has vaulted ceilings, and the top of the roof rafters are sitting lower than anything you'd do today," he said. Even the doors and windows were at a lower-than-standard height.

But they managed to change the roofline a little in the back bedrooms and accommodate the daylight-plane requirements, even though the house was set close to the side property line.

Foremost in their minds was keeping Stedman's touches -- rough-hewn beamed ceilings, pegged hardwood floors -- while creating a more functional home.

Other than relocating the front door to capture a little space in the entry and adding skylights, the living room is exactly as it was when Stedman designed it: A beehive-shaped brick chimney dominates one corner, and built-in bookcases fill one wall.

A sliding exterior door was added to the dining area, giving easy access to the new wooden deck.

To enlarge the kitchen, a little space was captured from a bedroom and the garage.

"Having a new kitchen was important," Choquette said, especially now that she and Jack are married and have three children, 3-year-old Joe and 5-month-old twins, Matthew and Margaret.

Because the house was so dark, they opted to paint the kitchen white, with white Corian countertops and white traditional cabinetry -- a nice contrast to the old yellow-and-black tile.

"We tried to update the kitchen but keep within the style of the house. We didn't think stainless-steel appliances would look right," Choquette said.

All of the original hardware, crafted by Silvestri's Iron Works from Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park, was retained, as well as all the doors and even the door jambs.

In the new wing, the same ceiling design and finish was copied so well, one really can't tell where the new part begins.

A half bath, with light from a skylight, features a pedestal sink. Next to it, the master bathroom was finished with white tiles and blue trim. Once more, white was chosen because "we wanted to make it look as big as possible," she said.

The front of the house, with its wavy brick facade and low shake roof, is still easily identifiable as pure Stedman, unlike the Choquettes' nearby neighbors' homes, which have been extensively remodeled.

The tour exits through the master bedroom to the spacious, grassy back yard, where a play structure was recently added to the landscape designed by Carol Vander Meulen of VVM Designs in Livermore. A concrete brick path leads one back to the front entrance, through a side patio.

Marcus Stedman, a Palo Alto High School graduate who returned to the city in 1931 with a degree in architecture but no job, built houses on spec during the Depression. He was joined by his older brother James, a Stanford engineer, in a firm later called Stedman and Stedman.

All the homes on the holiday house tour were built between 1936 and 1939, when the Stedman brothers worked together, with Marcus designing and Jim building. Most of those completed during this time were in Old Palo Alto, but a few were also in the Lindenwood neighborhood of Atherton.

After 1947, the brothers went their separate ways, but homes designed by Marcus can still be found in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Portola Valley, Woodside, Atherton, Menlo Park, Hillsborough and even the Sierras.

What: 22nd annual PAST Holiday House Tour

When: Sunday, Dec. 13, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Five homes in Palo Alto; addresses supplied with tickets

Tickets: $25; send self-addressed, stamped envelope to PAST Heritage, P.O. Box 308, Palo Alto, CA 94302; tickets will indicate home addresses. On tour day, tickets may be purchased at 2280 Byron St., Palo Alto.

Info: Call 650-299-8878.

Membership: Membership ranges from $25 for individuals to $500 lifetime and comes with a free ticket to the house tour.


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