Real Estate

A seamless second-story addition

A nontraditional solution in a traditional neighborhood

What do you do when you intentionally design a house for two and then realize it's too small to share with visitors? In the case of one Palo Alto couple, you bring your award-winning team back to the drawing board to add a second-story guest suite.

When Lorrie Castellano and Roger Fisher built their 1,895-square-foot one-story stucco home in 2004 on a narrow lot on Byron Street in Professorville, it was all about them. She had previously lived in a Victorian in San Francisco, and he was used to contemporary. They were living together in a Southwestern home nearby on Melville when they decided to downsize and design a new home with a modern, efficient style where, Castellano says, "There is a consistency with everything, and that is a very calming feeling."

They hired Lindy Small as their architect and Drew Maran Construction, a local green builder. The end result is a striking stand-out in a neighborhood filled with century-old homes. The house won an American Institute of Architecture Design Award and has what Small describes as "a very consolidated type of design ... organic and sculptural."

The modified L-shaped open floorplan wraps around a courtyard with southern exposure. Floor-to-ceiling aluminum windows and doors provide walls of glass that bring in natural light to the great room, adjoining master bedroom and office, and connect them with the backyard seating area and fountain.

Ipe latticework acts as a privacy sunscreen outdoors, whereas indoors maple cabinetry complements the concrete floor and kitchen counter. The couple selected sustainable design elements and modern furnishings, opting to mix neutral tones with bold splashes of color here and there.

The couple's children are grown, and when grandchildren came along the small second bedroom and full bath located off the glassed-in entryway felt limiting. Fisher figured adding a third bedroom and bathroom upstairs "would improve the resale value of the house," so the architect and contractor were asked to come back on the job nine years later to create a seamless second-story addition.

Between the required setbacks and two long barrel-vaulted light scoops that punch up into the flat roof and provide a row of clerestory windows running the length of the house, there really was only one buildable spot.

Small made "a surgical incision" in a raised platform that served as a reading nook in one corner of the great room and took out a wall. She then added a vertical post to support a beam, and created a floating staircase with a gray-painted steel base that's "cantilevered off the wall, and the (white oak) treads are wedge-shaped to make them more graceful," she explains.

Above the staircase a triangular set of rectangular windows look out on mature oaks, the same trees that frame the new bedroom upstairs where the ceiling slopes up to a band of windows placed at the highest point on the south side of the house.

An orange painted floating wall separates the bedroom from the bathroom. The wall ends about 1.5 inches from the ceiling, and on one side is rimmed with glass, allowing more light in.

In the bathroom a tiled shower stall stands next to the vanity, which is mounted so it floats on a wall finished in a soothing sage green. Built-in wooden storage units cover another wall. The oak floor has radiant heating.

More than a year after completion decorating is still in process, but with a foldout couch in place the space is already serving its purpose: "The addition makes it a three-bedroom/three-bath house, which makes it more versatile if we ever sell," Castellano says.

Fisher adds, "When we initially planned the house, we built it knowing we'll never leave here, but we at least have the option of selling it."


Architect: Lindy Small, Orinda, 510-910-0186

Building contractor: Drew Maran Construction, Palo Alto, 650-323-8541

Landscape designer: Bernard Trainor & Associates, Monterey, 831-655-1414

Goal of project:

Add second story to existing house

Unanticipated issues:

Limited building envelope

Year house built:

Original house in 2004, second story in 2013

Size of home, lot:

2,193-sq-ft home on 5,625 sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

5 months

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