Real Estate

Back to basics

Honoring a traditional home in the modern era

Sandra Tucher and her husband Christopher loved their new home on the edge of Professorville, but hated what previous owners had done to it over time.

"It was really odd," she says, noting that the fact that it was so ugly meant there wasn't that much competition in 2004 for the 1920s home.

What was so odd? The gold spray-painted doorknobs, the added molding that kept the bathroom door from closing, a funky kitchen with a jutting-out window, the outdoor cement stairway that led to a third-floor unit.

"The previous owners did a lot to make it saleable, which we had to rip out," she says.

But once they acquired the house, the Tuchers set about turning it into a family-friendly home, while honoring the architectural traditions. Often that meant simplifying what was added.

They hired local architect Joe Gutierrez, who "helped us get the most out of it but not violate the integrity of the house," Tucher says.

Ultimately, they pared the 3,900-square-foot house down by about 300 square feet.

In the kitchen, for instance, the half-hexagonal jutting window was pulled back to a straight line, with a cross beam added to support the exterior wall.

No upper cabinets obscure the clean lines above the two separated sinks; commonly used items are stored in drawers or in a few shallow cabinets. Some things are stored in a small pantry or in the basement.

Tucher pored over books, seeking information on what would be appropriate for a 1920s house. That's how she ended up with classic white marble counter tops, quarter-sawn oak lower cabinets with no toe kicks and white subway tiles in the bathrooms.

"When we first got (the marble counter), we got stains on it," Tucher says, recalling an incident involving Wiener schnitzel and olive oil. "Be we never stained it since."

"You can roll pizza dough. ... It's very practical," she says.

Her minimalist look extends to the SubZero refrigerator, with its clear glass door that lets you assess what you want before you open the door, as well as stainless-steel sinks.

Tucher chose an all-gas four-burner Wolf range with a griddle ("the dual-fuel was clunkier") and a two-drawer Fisher Paykel dishwasher. The family mostly uses the top drawer.

The dining room was unchanged, but molding was replicated and used in the kitchen to tie the rooms together.

In the living room, new tall French doors and windows open to the backyard. The only other change was adding a new gas fireplace.

A bathroom became a walk-in closet, and a small closet was turned into a bath, complete with black-and-white floor tile in a basket-weave pattern, a simple sink and a large shower with white subway tiles.

"I like the cleanness of it; it's easy to wipe down, keep clean," she says.

Some odd little touches remain from the original house, although they aren't always used: The door to the old laundry chute is in a hall (but leads nowhere): In a row of hallway doors, the first couple are really for style.

Tucher says the second story was a "disaster area" with its odd balcony, stairs and a door. Today that space is a bathroom with period pieces. "I was salvage queen. I found lots of old stuff, re-nickled fixtures," she says.

The steep stairway was redone and leads into what was probably the original attic. After punching out dormers to bring in light on the second side, and adding beams for support, the space is now used as a family room, a second office space and what Tucher refers to as "homework central" for their three children. The whole space was insulated and the ceiling opened, with arched shapes echoing other arches in the house.

"We didn't want new shapes," she adds. "We tried to repeat angles, nothing new. Sometimes we went backwards to capture what was here."

"The whole area had to be re-joisted -- the bath, laundry room, landing. We needed more cross beams," she says.

Once the house was shipshape, the family turned to the landscape. They added a vegetable garden and a circular patio with a firepit. Because of the large trees, including two oaks and three redwoods, no grass would grow, so they put down redwood mulch.

"It's really peaceful out here," she says, glancing at the white-flowering dogwood.

There's just one major project left: replacing the original garage.

"The garage is falling apart, but until we get the kids' college expenses figured out we won't be making any repairs," she says.


Architect: Joseph Gutierrez, Architectural Alliance, Sunnyvale, 408-530-1738

Landscape designer: Steve Witte, Jim Lord Landscaping, Redwood City, 650-299-1003

Favorite salvage spots: Ohmega Salvage, 2407 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-204-0767; Urban Ore, 900 Murray St., Berkeley, 510-841-7283; Wholehouse Building Supply, 1955 Pulgas Road, East Palo Alto, 650-328-8731,

Goal of project:

Make a family-friendly, simple, traditional home

Unanticipated issues:

Needed to add supporting cross beam in kitchen

Year house built:


Size of home, lot:

Was 3,916 sq ft, taken down to 3,647 sq ft on a 15,000-sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

About a year

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