Real Estate

Digging down

View of the Bay extends to this Sharon Heights basement

Alan and Libby Beasley wanted to add a story to their Sharon Heights rancher. They automatically assumed they would be building up. Architect Gary Ahern had another idea, and it kind of blew them away: digging down.

The lot is naturally sloped and provides great views of the Bay. But before the remodel, the backyard was difficult to access; when their sons were younger, it was like a hiking expedition for mom and boys to get to the play structure.

Ahern saw an opportunity to solve two problems with what he saw as a single, simple solution.

Alan and Libby could hardly believe it would work. "My concern was it would be dark," Alan says. They wanted the new floor to be bright and airy like the main floor of the house. And neither quite understood how the construction would be done. Ahern assured them he does this kind of thing all the time. His solution was to dig from the front

door and under the house to excavate the basement.

It brought the Beasleys what they were looking for and more: a "big boy romper-room" for their growing sons, as Libby says, and a backyard perfect for entertaining and playing. Even the "basement" has views of the Bay.

To Ahern the solution was obvious. Half the house was already hanging out over the backyard. A second story would just make the outdoor space even less accessible, he says. Instead, he saw a place for the family room and guest room the family wanted, plus a spacious, shaded and picturesque patio.

When the work started, the Beasleys weren't sure how big the addition would end up being. "They kinda just kept digging," Alan says. The interior addition is almost the width of the main floor. The patio is shaded by the area of the main floor that had hung over the yard.

The bottom floor got what amounts to a full guest suite, replete with walk-in closet, bathroom and laundry area. Next to the family room, and with a view of the patio, is a kitchenette with wine "cellar" -- a locking, climate-controlled room slightly bigger then a full-size fridge.

Libby, an interior designer, got to keep the home's Spanish style, which echoes that of her girlhood home in Palo Alto. The design's use of arches and tilework help maintain the effect.

One of the most visually appealing parts of the addition is the distressed Douglas fir beams. Because the basement has concrete floors and radiant heating, there's no need for ducting. And it allows the ceiling to be especially high for a basement.

Alan likes the method used to achieve the distressed effect almost as much as the beams themselves: "They beat the wood with police batons!" he says excitedly.

The main floor, which hadn't been changed much since it was built in 1961, got a makeover, too: they expanded one of the boys' bedrooms so that they're now about the same size. They completely remodeled the kitchen and added a breakfast nook that transitions nicely to the outside.

In the process of the remodel they found out that the roof wasn't designed to support the Spanish tiles that the previous owners had installed and was sagging in places, especially the garage. The old wiring was also found to be dangerous and was replaced. Fortunately

this wasn't a large enough surprise expense to throw the budget off too much, Alan says.


Architect: Gary Ahern, Focal Point Design, Menlo Park

Builder: Jeff Gentry, Gentry Construction, Inc., San Carlos

Foundation/basement contractor, concrete floors: Bill Brown Construction, San Jose

Interior design: Elizabeth Beasley, Elizabeth Beasley Design,

Goal of project:

Add a guest bedroom and family room

Unanticipated issues:

Walls weren't built to withstand the weight of the Spanish tile roof, so they were buckling; garage ceiling was sagging, so they needed a new roof. Outdated knob-and-tube wiring could have caused fires and had to be replaced.

Year house built:


Size of home, lot:

House was 3,000 sq ft, now 4,600 sq ft, on a .4 acre lot

Time to complete:

16 months

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Tioga Drive
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Ingenious treatment resulting in wonderful new ways to continue to enjoy an older home that needs improvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Amazing what can be achieved if the city steps back.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Beer and brats: Ludwig's German Table coming to Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 3,481 views

Who Pays for Palo Alto Schools
By Steve Levy | 38 comments | 1,938 views

The Other Greenhouse Gas
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,787 views

College Tours
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,045 views

Let’s blame car drivers, not the pedestrians wearing black clothes!!??
By Diana Diamond | 10 comments | 827 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 33rd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 29. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

Contest Details