Real Estate

At Sunset's Celebration Weekend, small is beautiful

Backyard cottage, landscaping for drought are main themes

Living in a 400-square-foot cottage might seem antithetical to the current penchant for building mega homes, but that's the trend to be featured at the Sunset Celebration Weekend on June 6 and 7.

The two-day event showcases the latest in home, cooking, outdoor and garden ideas, including a tour of Sunset's test kitchen and garden, wine seminars, and cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs Martin Yan, Chris Cosentino, Joanne Weir, Craig Stoll and James Syhabout. Garden and outdoor living presentations include water-wise gardening, designing with succulents, Tomatomania, citrus and meadow gardens.

This Celebration Weekend could be Sunset's last. Sunset will leave Menlo Park, its home since 1951, for Oakland's Jack London Square in December, its parent company, Time Inc., announced on June 2. Time sold Sunset's 7-acre Willow Road property last year to Embarcadero Capital Partners, LLC.

Sunset's own downsizing is in some ways in keeping with its tiny-cottage focus for this year's event, and it also reflects a growing interest in backyard cottages that is crossing all generational lines, Joanna Linberg, Sunset's senior home editor, said.

Some are looking to downsize while renting out their larger home in the front; others want to move their aging parents into a cottage out back, and younger generations see it as compatible with their philosophical ideas about the environment and more functional spaces.

"It's a response to the low housing stock or it's people who want to rent on Airbnb," Linberg said.

The cottage was previously displayed in Palo Alto's Rinconada Park as the Eco Home to demonstrate energy and water efficiency. The home was custom built five years ago by New Avenue Homes, an Emeryville-based cottage builder, Linberg said. Since moving to Sunset's campus, Eco Home has been undergoing a transformation under the eye and hand of interior designer Orlando Soria of Homepolish in San Francisco. Soria has turned the cottage into a functional environment that creates the appearance of spaciousness and lets in natural light.

One of the challenges was how to keep the space from seeming like a psychotic hodgepodge, since every room is visible in the open design, he said.

"I was trying to give it character and distinction and keep it cohesive enough," he said.

While the kitchen with its textured white tiles and walnut cabinetry takes up half the ground-floor space, a lounge area beneath the stairs is transformed into an inviting relaxing area with chairs and a wallpapered wall in white with metal speckles that gives the room a gold glow. The pattern is tribally inspired, geometric yet playful, he said. It contrasts with the mid-20th-century furnishings to create a more youthful look, he added.

He also added pottery that is edgy, geometric and abstract, he said, which counterbalances the furniture to make things less precious, he said.

All of the furnishings are high-end from DeAngelis in San Francisco's Mission district, he said.

"In a smaller space, you can choose nicer things," Linberg added, noting that one doesn't have to spend a fortune as one would if using the same materials in a larger home.

A full-sized table and chairs can double as a workspace and allows for entertaining.

In the living room/den, Soria has added a mix of vintage and modern furnishings. A Lucite dining table contrasts with the kitchen brass and wood, and the warm, golden tones and wallpaper in the back den.

A red spiral staircase leads up to a loft sleeping area, which accommodates a queen bed and dual bedside tables. There's a skylight for stargazing or reading by natural daylight.

The cottage also has a bathroom with a shower and a laundry room. Two sliding doors open out onto a deck and garden area, which was designed by Sunset Garden Editors Johanna Silver and Lauren Dunec Hoang. They also manage and design Sunset's test gardens. The landscaping was designed with California's current drought in mind and is covered almost entirely in pea gravel. And as with the cottage, the space is designed with an eye toward maximum impact in a minimal space.

Small areas contain drought-tolerant plants in green and silvery tones. Using masses of a few species it creates a strong sense of having much greenery, she said. The garden's geometrically shaped spaces and simple greens and silvers are accentuated by the cottage's dark, charcoal-gray exterior, which is covered using low-VOC paint, Linberg said.

The cottage also turned her mind about small-space living, she said. Before touring the home, she couldn't conceive living within 400 square feet.

"But seeing this cottage, I thought, 'You know, I could live in this space,'" she said.

Although Sunset is moving from the Peninsula, it does intend to create new events, even if this is the last Celebration Weekend, she said. One such event -- to be featured at Celebration Weekend -- is a mini version of Camp Sunset, an outdoor experience staff did with readers. The event will demonstrate building fires safely, camping and recreation equipment, outdoor cooking and making camp cocktails.

What: Sunset Celebration Weekend

Where: Sunset campus, 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park

When: Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: Advance tickets: General admission $25; seniors 60 and older $22; children 12 and younger, free. At the door: General admission $35; seniors $27; children free

Parking: Complimentary shuttles will run from Facebook Headquarters, 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park, and other nearby lots.

Info: Sunset Celebration Weekend

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at

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