Real Estate

Now and Zen

Self-guided balance between modern and relaxed

When Steve Harris started watching HGTV to expand a longtime interest in design, he never imagined that his home would later have its own moment of TV stardom. His "15 seconds of fame" on the DIY Channel in March 2013 was a product of extensive design work carried out completely on his own -- and with no formal background in interior design.

Over the past two and a half years, Harris has remodeled his kitchen and three bathrooms, installed hardwood flooring on the first story of his home and carried out smaller renovations including updates to the fireplace and lighting fixtures. Though he hired contractors to complete the work, he took charge of the design and choice of materials and appliances, coordinating each project without the help of an architect or designer.

The result was a balance between cozy and contemporary, created by pairing warm tones with sleek surfaces in his home that he describes as a fusion of midcentury modern and modern Japanese. With this eclectic mix, also featuring notes of African art, Harris made it a priority to "keep everything flowing ... from one space to another" while moving "in a more modern direction" overall, he says.

Harris set out with three main goals: to improve functionality, to modernize the overall look "without making it look too modern and cold" and to maximize the space and openness of his home. He sought cohesive design, "a lot of details that all fit together," he says. "It's that cohesiveness that makes a space feel larger."

His goals were put hardest to work in the kitchen, remodeled last fall. The overhaul spawned from a single detail: the countertops, which Harris wanted to raise to a more comfortable height and replace with quartz, the project's "central design element." For each project in his home, he began with a single material as inspiration, he says, and used its color and feel to determine the room's other materials and fixtures.

With the new countertops came an overall brightening of the kitchen, achieved through white cabinetry, as well as warm yellows and energizing greens in the sparkling backsplash tile.

At the same time, brushed-metal drawer and cabinet handles -- bars, as opposed to knobs -- helped guide the room in a more modern direction. All appliances were upgraded to brushed steel as well, including a new range with a curved grate in place of traditional burners.

Working with general contractor Grant Gustavson and Steve Thatcher of Thatcher Woodworking, Harris opted for a semi-custom cabinet installation, applying new doors and new paint to original frames. However, he made slight modifications to increase storage space, including conversion of two small drawers into one elongated drawer.

The white doors -- four with translucent glass -- were a breath of fresh air compared to the original maple cabinets and flooring.

To help guide his design and material choices, Harris frequented showrooms and appliance stores throughout the planning process, particularly Kitchens by Meyer. For tiles, he shopped online.

"I really believe in samples," he says. "Anyone who designs should budget for samples."

Samples helped Harris discover the perfect bathroom floor tile, the "central design element" for the remodeling of two full bathrooms in early 2013. The light gray stone created the Zen aura Harris desired, and guided his choice of pearlescent amber mosaic tile for the short backsplash along the countertop of the master bathroom, the project that earned Harris his DIY Channel moment.

Custom ebony drawers by Thatcher replaced the dated maple cabinets below the sink, increasing storage capacity through U-shaped shelves that fully utilize space around the pipes. The same drawer design was installed using a teak stain in the smaller second bathroom, in which Harris also created more openness by replacing the bathtub with a stone-tiled, walk-in shower.

Complementary color palettes and mutual Zen simplicity created the harmony that Harris hoped would "flow" between the two bathrooms and downstairs to the kitchen as well. With all three rooms now remodeled, they unite through brushed-metal fixtures, streamlined cabinet design and calming tile colors.

"All the design that went into (each project)," he reflects, "and there's nothing I would change? I'm pretty pleased."


General contractor: Grant Gustavson, San Jose, 408-996-3668

Flooring: DG Floor Coverings Inc., Redwood City, 650-299-1676

Cabinets: Steve Thatcher, Thatcher Woodworking, Los Gatos, 408-358-2388

Project goals:

Improve functionality, modernize look, maximize space

Unanticipated issues:

Finding a suitable refrigerator; replacing shattered oven glass; creating custom door

Year house built:


Size of home:

1,640 sq ft on 2,945 sq-ft lot

Time to complete all projects:

2.5 years


Kitchen: under $30,000; both full bathrooms: under $50,000; hardwood floors: $12-15,000; fireplace: $6-8,000


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