Real Estate

More space, more light

From '70s cottage to modern home

When Susan and Tim Hibbard bought their tiny house in West Menlo seven years ago, they were thrilled just to have a place of their own. But it was only a year or so before they realized they would have to make big changes to make it work for their family, which would in about four years include a little boy.

They dug into the 900-square-foot house as soon as they closed on it seven years ago, making some much-needed cosmetic upgrades. Even then, the house resembled a manufactured home. It wasn't factory-built, as far as the Hibbards know, but it was, in fact, moved from somewhere unknown in the 1970s.

Despite the house's dubious pedigree, the couple wanted to keep the roof line similar to what was already in place and preserve two walls of the living room that provided nice natural light. They even used an old beam from the house for a bench in the entrance and a hearth piece for the fireplace.

But they needed a lot more space. Since the house is on a small lot, and they didn't want to add a story, they had to be creative. Vaulted ceilings, high windows and skylights make the house look bigger and brighter. Built-ins are everywhere, including the dining room and a clever nook for shoes and bags next to the door to the garage.

The lot is only 5,000 square feet, but a usable back yard is high on their list of priorities. They moved the front door and porch forward a little to make a bit less front yard but more in the back. This also allows Tim, the resident dishwasher, a view of the neighborhood while he scrubs at the oversized, custom sink.

The floor plan is decidedly open, with opportunities for closing spaces off. A room at the back of the house includes a barn door to separate it visually and auditorally. Tim plays cello, so it's useful to have a door on the room where he keeps it. They've also found that it's a good playroom with the door open.

Just days after they moved in, a crowd came over for Thanksgiving. The adults were able to congregate in the living/dining/kitchen area while keeping tabs on the kids doing their own thing in the back.

"It's nice to look through the whole house," Tim says.

There are skylights in both bathrooms and in the garage. Plus, the garage has a glass door, so it's almost never necessary to use electric lights there during the day. High windows along the hall to the bedrooms bring even more glow.

"You get up in the morning and you don't have to turn on the lights," Tim says. The orientation of the house that architect Ana Williamsen arranged and the high windows and skylights allow lots of natural light in and help keep the house warm in the winter.

Both bathrooms are tailored to their users. In the master bath, Susan decided to use material for the backsplash that reminded her of Petoskey stone, a fossil common in her native northern Michigan.

The hall bath, located between the two smaller bedrooms, has a slightly whimsical, but not overtly juvenile, color scheme and pattern. Again the Hibbards wanted to pay homage to the original home while upping the class factor.

The old bathroom was orange and green, and these colors appear in the new bathroom without evoking the 1970s: The counter top is a bright, modern orange and a stripe of green dots decorates the floor and continues up the wall. They saved money by using the specialty tiles in just one narrow strip instead of covering a whole wall with them.

Keeping costs down was another reason to keep the house small, they said. And the architect and contractor did a good job of working together and with the Hibbards to figure out where to splurge and where they could cut costs.

"It was a really well-coordinated project," Susan said.


Architect: Ana Williamson, Menlo Park, 650-329-0577,

Builder: Mediterraneo Design and Build, Menlo Park, 650-368-1361

Goal of project:

Build a house that's open, bright and modern while keeping a modest profile on a small lot

Year house built:


Size of home, lot:

900 sq ft before, 1,400 sq ft after, on a 5,000-sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

Eight months

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