Real Estate

From single-story ranch to two-story modern

Two-phase project allowed family to live in during construction

When Adam Hawley and Suzan Szollar married and bought their little house on a corner lot in The Willows in 2001, it seemed j-u-s-t right. But by the time their second child came along, they were bursting out of its two-bedroom seams.

Even with the children sharing a room, there was no room for out-of-town guests or a home office.

"We knew we wanted to remodel and expand to get bedrooms for everybody and a guest room/office space," Hawley said.

But instead of that expansion/remodel, they ended up tearing down "all but a few walls and the foundation on one side," he adds.

Calling on architect and Willows neighbor Carl Hesse, they needed to assess just what they were allowed to do in a flood zone, with one side of the house on a slab at grade level, but a "lot technically underwater in a flood," he said.

"We were tripping over the rules," he adds, noting that they either had to keep the remodel small or make the whole house flood-compliant.

In their frustration to get what they wanted, Hawley and Szollar started looking at properties for sale in the neighborhood. "We looked for another house not in the flood zone," he says.

After looking for 18 months, they decided to bite the bullet and rebuild on their lot -- all while living in the house. They chose a contractor who agreed to wall off one side while he worked on the other, then would switch to complete the project.

Hawley and Szollar had traveled extensively and were very attracted to modern homes built around a central courtyard.

"It's like an oasis," Szollar says, adding that they wanted their home to be as light and airy as possible. "The less walls the better," she said.

While they could not achieve an actual courtyard, given the shape of the corner lot, they could create a wall of glass in the new great room, overlooking the side and back yards.

"We were surprised by how much we use all of the house and yard," she adds.

The large kitchen features Szollar's favorite, a Thermador induction cooktop (they were introduced to induction cooking when they borrowed a couple of burners while cooking in the garage), as well as two Bosch dishwashers, stacked Whirlpool double ovens, a Samsung refrigerator with a magnetic surface and Grohe faucets.

Even with a budget of close to $1 million, the family needed to make wise choices: All of their kitchen and bathroom cabinets are from IKEA; their large red couch in the great room was custom-made, saving at least half the cost; the chandelier over the dining table was found on a Chinese website.

Their splurges included the kitchen backsplash tile, made of small multicolored glass squares.

"It gives a little splash of color and makes it more interesting," Hawley says.

Custom-made stools were imported from Italy, and the kitchen lights are British hand-blown glass.

A pantry beyond the kitchen not only offers storage for foodstuffs, but includes a wine refrigerator and a long countertop to keep appliances handy.

Between the entry and the new kitchen/great room wing is a square office, with two bright green walls to liven things up. From the entry through the great room, flooring is engineered black walnut. That segues to polished concrete in the downstairs guest room.

"We were afraid it would be too cold, but since it's literally the slab we could do it cheaply," Hawley says.

Rounding out the downstairs spaces is a laundry room/electronics area, a mud entryway with custom-made benches from Etsy, a garage with built-in storage shelves and a dog's room (for shelter during bad weather).

Upstairs, built around an atrium and adjacent to a balcony, are three bedrooms -- the first is shared by the children now, the second is a play room and the third is the airy master bedroom with uncovered windows that look out to trees, his and hers closets and a skylight over the tub in the master bathroom.

After nearly two years of construction, the family is quite content with their new digs. But there are always things they might have done differently: Szollar says she would have made the windows lower because she's short, and she would have liked more variegated color in the bathroom tile. Hawley says the powder room door is aligned perfectly with the office door and exterior window, so people walking by can see in.

But the couple is very happy with their "Villa Azur," which they've named their new home.

"It reminds us of being on vacation in Europe," Hawley says.


Architect: Carl Hesse, square three design studios, Palo Alto, 650-326-3860,

Building contractor: Dana Kitaura, Kitaura Construction, Redwood City, 650-245-3156,

Tile: AlysEdwards Tile & Stone (available at All Natural Stone, Burlingame, 408-544-9600),

==BGoal of project:==

Add bedrooms, enlarge kitchen, create great room -- all in modern aesthetic

Year house built:

Originally 1949, rebuilt 2012-14

Size of home, lot:

Was about 1,700 sq ft; now 3,000 sq ft on 7,400-sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

Just over 2 years


About $875,000

Freelance writer Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

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