Real Estate

Modernizing a Menlo Park townhouse

More space without pushing out the walls

When Jack and Susan Marsal decided to remodel the Menlo Park townhouse they'd lived in for 18 years, they didn't know where to start.

"We knew that we wanted to update it, but didn't quite know how to go about it," Susan Marsal says.

That all changed when they began working with interior designer Joseph Hittinger, who helped them identify their needs and meet their goals -- all within eight months.

The Marsals live close to downtown and love their neighborhood, but their house wasn't working efficiently for them. With two teenage children, they needed more storage space. They also wanted to freshen up the interior, install new lighting and remodel the kitchen and bathrooms.

"Our biggest challenge was that we couldn't increase the size of the townhouse," Marsal says. "But Joe managed to give us all the storage we needed and then some."

"The space was there, but it was not being used properly. It was a matter of finding the dead space and putting it to good use. Six inches here and six inches there can make a lot of difference," Hittinger says.

The first thing the designer did was to demolish a half wall between the living room and dining/kitchen area, opening up the space to create an airy ambience. "It's amazing how much that changed our entire downstairs," Marsal says. "Everything looks so much bigger and yet the space is exactly the same size."

The original kitchen was gutted to make way for a contemporary room with Shaker-style cabinets in Alder wood, black granite countertops, glass-tiled backsplash and stainless-steel appliances by Miele, including a wok cooktop. Hittinger created additional storage by raising the old ceiling and adding taller cabinets.

Slate floors replace hardwood and complement the bamboo flooring in the living room. Built-in custom cabinets in the dining area provide additional storage but also neatly turn the room into a multi-purpose one. When not used for dining, the table can be utilized for office space, thanks to a bank of power switches neatly hidden behind a drawer front.

The remodeled bathrooms feature birch cabinets and CaesarStone counters.

The downstairs guest bathroom also serves as the laundry with front-loading washer and dryer concealed behind closed doors. Susan particularly loves the large countertop for stacking clothes, achieved by borrowing space from a former closet.

But the thing that brings the biggest smile to her face is the upstairs linen closet on the landing. "It's just so beautifully designed and makes everything seem so easy," she says of the streamlined closet with large drawers that allow a glimpse of what's inside before opening them.

The master bedroom suite was designed and furnished with serenity in mind. "It's very comfortable and calming," Marsal says. The birch cabinetry in the bathroom is teamed with limestone walls and floors with river rocks in the shower stall.

The Marsals say their project came together very easily because the designer and contractor worked hand in glove and they knew what to expect beforehand. Susan concedes that she couldn't visualize the end result when they first discussed the remodel, but Hittinger rationalized every design aspect and solution with them. The only real change the couple made was to substitute Alder wood for birch cabinets in the kitchen. "We love the birch in the bathrooms and it gives a rich, warm texture. But we wanted something less busy in the kitchen and we're thrilled with the result," Marsal says.

New lighting and custom furniture give the house a fresh, contemporary look. Roman shades that drop from ceiling height made the rooms look larger. And double-pane windows throughout the house give better insulation. Hittinger converted a sliding door from the kitchen/dining area into elegant French doors that overlook a beautifully remodeled garden and patio area with fire pit, serene fountain and creative trellises and arbors.

Summing it all up, Marsal says: "Little things can amount to a lot. Everything from cooking, laundry and just plain living seems so much easier now because everything is so well organized."


Building contractor: Warner Custom Homes, 4185 Snyder Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-579-3288

Interior design: Joseph Hittinger Designs, Los Altos, 650-468-9090,

Landscape design: Will Johnson, 650-595-3868

Landscape contractor: Modica Landscaping, Redwood City, 650-365-2134,

Goal of project: Update an 18-year-old townhouse and provide better living and storage space

Year house built: 1988

Size of home: About 1,750 sq ft

Time to complete: 8 months

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