Real Estate

Custom-made to last a lifetime

Remodel stressed aging in place, better use of space

From the front, not much is different about Aleta Hanna's small mission bungalow at the edge of Crescent Park (what was once called University Park).

Hanna and her late husband Karl van Deinse bought the house in 1988 and raised their two sons there. The yard was lovely, given that van Deinse was a landscape architect, but the house didn't age as gracefully.

Earlier owners had added a second bedroom in the 1940s; "a third bedroom was added on as a studio along with another bathroom with access through the kitchen," Hanna wrote in an email.

Although they had talked for years about changing the floor plan to "make it more livable," it wasn't until her husband died in 2006 that Hanna decided to bring the home up to date and create a space she could enjoy for the rest of her life.

Keeping everything on one floor was key to aging in place.

Today one steps into the now roomy living room (really a great room), with the kitchen relocated to the center of the home. A wall was removed that separated the old living room from the back bedroom and the wood-burning fireplace was moved from a corner, now centered between two stained-glass windows.

The front bedroom on the left is now a library/media room, with a loft accessed by a ladder.

Many surprises were in store as they stripped the walls down to the studs. "The walls were made from scraps of bigger houses around here," Kristen Harrison, designer, says. And, although the owners had replaced some of the original foundation, much more needed to be rebuilt and termite damage dealt with.

"The house is extremely solid now," she says.

"Aleta came to me with the idea for a kitchen in the middle of the house. A lot are her ideas that I made work architecturally and structurally," Harrison adds.

The centralized kitchen, with its adjacent laundry area, overlooks the living room. It's finished with cherry cabinets, with one soapstone counter and Fireclay tile backsplash. Another counter was re-purposed from the Douglas fir flooring in the old laundry room; more of the fir was used in flooring and a new bench in the loft off the media room.

Harrison points to the construction details, noting that moldings are glued, not nailed in place, and the new windows are Loewen from Canada. The cabinet maker came up from the Santa Barbara area, measured, built, then refined on the site.

Off a wide hallway, which leads to the backyard, pocket doors separate the master suite, which contains an enlarged bedroom, a linen closet and a bathroom with a corner shower and a rounded cabinet holding a vessel sink.

Several things set limits to how far the home could extend: The house already violated side setbacks (which were grandfathered in); it was in a flood zone; and the backyard had tall redwoods and a huge red oak rather close to the house.

Harrison figured out how to extend the guest bedroom and hall by cantilevering the foundation. The solution required conferring with an arborist to make sure the oak's roots were not destroyed in the process.

Hanna participated in just about every decision throughout the year of construction. Towards the end, she brought in tiles acquired years ago to incorporate into a mosaic floor in the bathroom between the guest bedroom and living room.

"We've really taken our time with decisions," Harrison says, adding, "It's been embellished as we went along."

"But it's good to be patient, take time. (She'll) be living in it a long time," she says.


Design/Build: Kristen Harrison, Harrison Design, 43 Homer Lane, Menlo Park, 650-854-2606,

Contractor: Ron Collosi, Summit Construction, Belmont, 650-594-9442

Cabinets: Clifton R. Bartlett, Bartlett's Fine Cabinetry & Millwork, Buellton, Calif., 805-693-1617

Windows: Window Center of Palo Alto, 650-855-9357

Goal of project:

Relocate kitchen, enlarge bedrooms, add light

Unanticipated issues:

Termites, bad foundation, need to design around protected trees

Year house built:


Size of home, lot:

174 sq ft added to 1,402 sq-ft house, on 5,625 sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

About one year


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