Seeing the possibilities

Publication Date: Friday Mar 2, 2001

Seeing the possibilities

After lovingly restoring this landmark home, a family is seeking an adventure

by Carol Blitzer

Four years ago, would-be home buyers trooped through 381 Guinda St. in Palo Alto and saw a mess. The 1909 home, which had been lovingly cared for when the Berger family lived there, had been rented for close to 25 years to Stanford students. At less than a million dollars, the home was a bargain for people with both vision and resources to restore the shingle-style home to its full 4,400-square-foot glory.

"I just loved this house," said Jan Baszucki, who purchased the home with her husband, Dave, in 1997. "We loved the space, height of the ceilings, grandness of it. It's a classic Craftsman house, designed to be lived in. I could see what it could be like," she added.

Speaking of many older homes, architect Sam Sinnott noted that, "From the street, they look beautiful. Once you get inside they have problems." He pointed to the functional layout, circulation between rooms, light and air issues, and the basics of plumbing, electricity, heating and structure.

There were indeed many good points: the wood paneling in the living room and dining room had never been painted. The floors were the original Douglas fir; the double-hung windows, which worked perfectly, have the original, rippled glass.

Of course, the kitchen was a disaster, even with a 1970s update.

"The approach we took was to keep the spirit and feel of the house," Baszucki said.

With the help of Sinnott and interior designer Carol Jorgensen, both of Menlo Park, the Baszuckis gutted the kitchen and rebuilt it with natural cherry wood cabinets and multicolor McIntyre tiles. The kitchen tile colors--terra cotta, gold, blue greens and blue grays--reappear in hand-woven Nepalese carpets throughout the house.

Because the house's "footprint" was already maximized for the lot, the Baszuckis did not change any exterior walls. Instead, they focused on improving traffic flow and adapting for modern living with small children.

For example, what was once the utility area is now the eating area off the kitchen. The table used daily is made of terra cotta-colored cast concrete--indestructible, even by 2 and 4 year olds. The stairwell, which used to be accessible through a closet, was reversed so you now go up from the eating area to the bedrooms.

Upstairs, where there had been a virtual rabbit warren of tiny bedrooms, Sinnott suggested raising the ceiling to incorporate the attic and adding skylights to create a large sitting/play room. Around the perimeter are small bedrooms with multi-angled ceilings as well as an office. A kitchenette and laundry room made a handy changing table when the Baszuckis' second child came along.

Sinnott suggested raising the roof at the rear of the house, adding a dormer window to the master bedroom, with a cushioned window seat. It was Dave who thought of angling the walk-in closet to open up the bedroom space.

The master bathroom is done in white, with chrome pulls, a free-standing, claw-foot tub and beaded board paneling to fit with the house.

The Baszuckis were not purists when it came to restoring the house, although they were very careful to stay with the spirit of the time. "We liked mixing hi-tech elements with the original molding, the brick chimney," she said, pointing to the cable track lighting under the newly raised ceiling.

Their home, which was voted a Palo Alto historic landmark home in 1998, was honored with the Residential Preservation Award in 1999 by Palo Alto Stanford Heritage.

Sinnott would have liked to add more detailing to the fairly simple exterior, but was limited by the landmark status. He did manage to add a dentile railing on the sun porch. "It's a fairly restrained house," he added.

Although the original plan was to put in about $300,000 in improvements, the end product required more than double that amount over 14 months, Jan Baszucki said.

Last week, the house went on the market for $4.35 million. This week there were three offers made, according to Monica Corman, the listing agent with Alain Pinel, Menlo Park.

With three children under the age of 4, the Baszuckis have decided to take advantage of the real-estate market and become "equity emigres," perhaps moving to Italy or Spain for a year.

Dave had founded a mechanical engineering software firm that he sold two years ago. His contract expired in December and the only thing holding him here is his Libertarian talk radio show on KSCO. Jan is working toward a master's degree in creative writing at San Francisco State, but said she can take her laptop anywhere.

"I have terrible pangs about leaving the house. I don't think I'll love a house as much as this one. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for adventure," she said.

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