It all started with a broken oven.
When the owner of a tiny cottage on Bowdoin Street thought about replacing that oven, she realized that there were a few other things that could use adjusting: A wall cut off the living room from the kitchen, the only back door was through the one bedroom, and you could easily trip stepping down to the backyard.
She turned to Palo Alto architect Jon Stoumen to solve these problems and come up with a plan.
The results of their labors, which were completed two years ago, will be on tour this Sunday, Dec. 11, at the 24th annual Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) Holiday House Tour. This year the tour focuses on seven homes in College Terrace, including three along Bowdoin Street. The three are part of a five-house cluster, with a sixth lot behind them functioning as a "commons." All five homeowners chip in $50 per month to maintain the grassy area, repair the driveways and fence or trim the majestic oak in the center of the backyard.
Stoumen maximized the 625 square feet of the Mission Revival cottage by pulling down that separating wall, capturing some closet space in the remodeled galley kitchen, and relocating the backdoor behind the kitchen.
The owner can now maintain eye contact with her guests as she's putting the finishing touches on a meal.
"The house had real charm," Stoumen said, pointing to the little-paned windows and what he called "grace notes" -- such as leaded-glass windows.
Stoumen salvaged one casement window from a nearby Old Palo Alto remodel, and added an Italian tilt-turn window in the bedroom.
Gentle arches are repeated over the windows and doors and even over the bathtub, in the largely original bathroom that's decorated with black-and-white hexagonal tiles.
At the rear of the house, space was reconfigured to create a wall of closets in the bedroom, allowing the washer and dryer to reside near the back door, off the kitchen. The new space allowed a larger bed to go sideways, near that tilt-turn window.
The owner opted for an IKEA-inspired kitchen, with a 24-inch-deep LG refrigerator and small Maytag under-counter washer/dryer.
One unwelcome surprise in the remodel was finding extensive termite and dry-rot damage. To solve that problem, the stucco was cut off and a short wall was built around the house. Today French drains draw the moisture away from the house, which is situated on a lot with a distinct incline.
"We 'celebrated' the downspouts," Stoumen said, making them obvious and charming touches.
The house was then re-stucco-ed with pigmented plaster, which will never require painting.
Repairing the roof involved removing all the old tiles, then re-using them, including finishing off the edging to encourage water away from the house.
A final touch was raising the patio. Today one can take one step down to arrive at the herringbone brick patio, with plenty of room for a barbecue, seating area and plants, separated by a fence from the common area.
The owner opted for blown-in insulation, but balked at replacing the windows with double-paned ones, both for cost and aesthetic reasons.
Down the street, and part of the same five-house 1931 "development," is Linda Fahn's Tudor cottage, somewhat larger at 825 square feet. In Fahn's house, the arches have a point, and the motif is repeated throughout.
That arch is even seen in a recessed nook in her bedroom, which houses a large dressing table.
To maximize space in her home, Fahn had one of the original doors made into a pocket door, separating her galley kitchen from her dining room. She retained the 1930s feel with subway tile from Waterworks that covers the window ledge and has rounded edges. Her farmer's sink sits atop a limestone countertop.
The third cottage in the Bowdoin trilogy is slightly larger, with 925 square feet and two bedrooms. Much of the original is intact -- including coved ceilings, oak floors, casement windows, plaster walls and bathroom tile -- and the centerpiece is the handcrafted tile around the fireplace. Only the kitchen, which includes the dining area, has been carefully remodeled, to complement those "grace notes" of the 1930s.
The seven homes on tour range from 625 to 4,000 square feet and include:
· an 1893 Queen Anne Victorian, once owned by a Stanford professor of Latin; the home retains Victorian embellishments, including spindles, brackets, scalloped shingles and a corner tower on a pyramid roof;
· a 1904 Shingle-style with Craftsman details built by a Stanford engineering student;
· a 1931 charming cottage with a white picket fence, updated and enlarged while respecting the architecture of the neighborhood;
· a 1934 "log cabin," just uphill from an ancient oak tree, originally built as a place for a child to practice piano.
The final building on tour is the College Terrace Library, at 2300 Wellesley St., a 1936 California Colonial-style building designed by Charles Sumner and built by WPA workmen. It was seismically retrofitted in 2010 under supervision of Palo Alto Stanford Heritage.
What: Palo Alto Stanford Heritage Holiday House Tour
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
Where: Seven houses in College Terrace, and the College Terrace Library
Cost: $30 on the day of tour, at the College Terrace Library, 2300 Wellesley St., Palo Alto