Better Homes and Gardens REMODELING
October/November 2002
Warm Up Excercises
Can a contemporary house feel cozy?
A California couple proves it is possible with
the right tones and textures.
Too much space. Too bright inside. When's the last time you heard someone complain about those problems in their home? Sometimes it happens. The master suite in Diane and Todd Garrett's contemporary home in Marin County, California, suffered from those unusual hardships.

According to Diane, the master bedroom's stark white walls and sunny southern exposure practically required her to wear sunglasses to get around.

The adjacent bathroom was as cavernous as an office building lavatory with fluorescent lighting, a tiny closet, and a lot of unused square footage. "You could have used the middle of the bathroom as a workout area; it was that big," says architect Carol Meyer, who helped the Garretts make thier suite more livable.

The house, which stairsteps down a hillside with the garage at street (upper) level and the bedrooms and other living spaces trailing below, perches like a seabird's nest with outstanding views. The sights include not only a hillside of greenery that soaks its feet in the lovely blue of the Richardson Bay, but also majestic Mount Tamalpias and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. A primary goal of the renovation was to maximize these wonderful views. "The Garretts wanted to be able to enjoy the view from every spot of the bathroom?even while brushing their teeth," Meyer says. Though the suite possessed plenty of windows and a sliding glass door that led outdoors, the scale of these openings was too small to take advantage of the views. Also, the 10 foot ceiling height left a lot of solid wall surface above the glass, making the room feel top heavy. After the installation of replacement windows and doors with the header height at the 8 foot mark, the suite's porportions seemed better balanced. Cynthia Wright, the interior designer for the project, likened the effect to having a baseball cap or visor on and suddenly removing it. "It made all the difference," she says.

With views restored and even more sunlight streaming throught the larger windows, Diane wanted to warm up the contemporary interior. "I wanted to get away from the cold impression people have of modern houses and create a warm, cozy impression," she said.

To accomplish this, Wright advised the Garretts to "quiet" the house down by replacing the stark white walls and whitewashed hardwood floors with warm, inviting tones and textures. Wright suggested installing a wall of honey-tone wood in the bedroom, and idea that nudged Diane's thinking in a new direction. At the time, Diane had been browsing through catalogs of modern European furnishings, and though she loves that slick metal-and-glass style, she felt it was too institutional and cold for a bedroom. Then she came upon a magazine that featured a buit-in wall unit in a New York apartment; it was made of wood and featured a simple design with contemporary, clean lines. "I gave Carol (Meyer) the photo and said, 'I want this on that wall,'" Diane says.

Meyer designed a custom built-in that provides plenty of storage for a television, stereo, linens, and pillows. Then she suggested installing the subtly figured quartersawn maple on wall, too.


With the addition of wool sisal carpeting, a brown leather headboard, and custom night tables with brushed-glass tops, Diane's beloved contemporary style garnered the warmth she had always wanted.

While the bedrooms basic layout remained intact, the poorly configured bath required strctural work and was gutted. Adding a much needed walk-in closet required Meyer to move a bearing wall a few feet inward and rethink the L-shape vanity. "We actually made the bathroom smaller to make the closet bigger," Diane says. Can the couple really enjoy the view while brushing their teeth? Absolutely. Expansive mirrors and extra-large medicine chests with mirror doors grant that wish in style.

The color and materials used to furnish and decorate the master bath harmonize with those in the master bedroom, creating an inseparable pair. Fonjone (a type of limestone) covers the floor and combe brune (also limestone) rises up the walls, matching hues with the bedroom carpeting. Keen observers will notice that the grooves between stone tiles echo those found in the paneled maple wall in the bedroom. With the help of short, polished metal legs, the bathroom's one-piece glass sinks and counters float above custom-designed wood cabinets, just as the bedside tables do. "All of it ties in," Diane says.

With the colors softened and the bathroom space reallocated, the suite now provides all the function and livability the Garrett's wanted, and offers a much friendlier perch from which to enjoy their views.