Real Estate

Upward mobility

Building up added space set 'in the middle of the trees'

"We are just high enough up so that we have a little view," Russ Molari says, pointing to the Stanford Hills to the east, seen through the redwoods that proliferate on the property. He and his wife Wanda lived in this home for about 20 years before they decided to do a major remodel.

Russ Molari says that the single biggest design concern in adding the second story, which now contains the master bedroom and bath as well as loft space to their circa late-1950s Woodside home, was the staircase: "Where do you put it? What shape will it be? How steep? How wide? How much space will it take up? How will it affect traffic flow? It's a real driver," he says.

Molari says that they were also naïve about how much of the house the partial remodel would affect. The L-shaped staircase is located in the living room, and to allow space for it they flipped the location of the powder room and a closet, so they are now tucked into a space to the right of the main entry. To meet earthquake regulations and to support the weight, they also had to replace the walls in the two bedrooms below the addition with shear walls. They put new oak floors in the living room and removed the dated brick at the base of the fireplace.

"The second floor mimics the original shape of the roof, so there are echoes of the original house," he says. Since the original is an inverted V-shape that creates a vaulted ceiling in the downstairs, the upstairs is similarly vaulted, and, in the loft, rises to about 15 feet.

"The architect wanted to make sure that we could see the redwoods as we walk up the stairs, Molari says. Therefore, they used a stainless-steel cable railing that does not obscure the dramatic view out of the living-room windows. This same cable is used to enclose the loft, so one can view the upstairs while entering the house. The loft, Molari says, has been commandeered by his wife, who loves to sit and read in the comfy space with views on either side.

In the new master bedroom a wall of windows -- the shape follows the vault, so here, as elsewhere, many windows are trapezoidal -- and a skylight ensure natural light. Molari explains that they made the deck outside this bedroom narrow so as not to darken the downstairs bedrooms. The deck is surrounded by the same cable used throughout.

The purple and green marble used on the counters and the tub surround in the master bath mimic the colors of the redwoods. Since the generous tub is next to the window, Molari says that it feels like it is "in the middle of the trees." The ceiling in the shower follows the vaulted roof line. He says that both here and in the adjoining walk-in closet with its custom cherry veneer shelving, the original idea was to have a flat ceiling, but they opted for the more dramatic pitch.

As you walk downstairs, you look through wavy glass into the office, formerly the master bedroom.

"It was a difficult decision to use this glass, because it is expensive, but it opens the house," he says.

The two bedrooms downstairs received cosmetic updates and the bathroom between them was completely updated. "My wife had fun picking out all the tiles," he says. They also removed the (pink!) tub and opted for a large shower, and put in a door that leads to the pool.

"In San Mateo (County) one of the most feared outcomes is to have to retrofit the sprinkler system throughout the house if the remodel is more than a certain percent of the house volume," Molari says. "We not only needed a bigger water meter and larger main water pipe coming into the house, we also had to install sprinklers everywhere." Soffits in the open-beam vaulted ceilings provide unobtrusive installation.

Molari says that the next project will be to remodel the kitchen and east-facing deck.


Architect: Malika Junaid, M*Designs Architects, Los Altos, 650-565-4036

Contractor: Boynton Construction, San Mateo, 650-559-0727

Goal of project:

Add a second-floor master bedroom

Unanticipated issues:

New sprinkler system required

Year house built:

late 1950s

Size of house:

Original house, 2,824 sq ft ; remodeled, 3,771 sq ft

Time to complete:

about one year

Original budget:


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