Amazing cottage makeover

A clever addition spans a driveway to create one beautiful, airy home from two tiny cottages. See the transformation

Before the gap was bridged

Thomas J. Story

Before

These two tiny houses, each measuring 640 square feet, sat next to eachother for more than 80 years. The one-bedroom cottages were smaller than any other homes in the working-class neighborhood of Albany, California, and it seemed the only way to expand either one was to build up or start over. 

That was until artist Michael Shemchuk drove by. Now the house is a colorful, contemporary gem, with a stunning dining room where the driveway used to be. 

The well-parked dining room table

Thomas J. Story

A well-parked dining area

In a nod to the past, a driveway-size band of concrete still runs through the middle, now serving as the floor of the foyer and dining area. 

The enclosed former driveway hosts a dining area that opens onto the kitchen and rear garden. It features a cascade of crystals hanging amid low-voltage track lights.

This flat-roof space almost didn't happen; city officials resisted enclosing the driveway "until we realized it was scaled to the width of a Model A and was too narrow for modern car doors to open," Shemchuk says.

Find out how they made the living room feel larger.

Resources: Harvest dining table and benches from Ted Boerner (to the trade only; 212/675-5665). MonoRail lighting with Cam heads from Tech Lighting (847/410-4601). Range hood from Wind Crest (877/387-6721). Range by Viking (888/845-4641). Romeo Moon pendant light from Flos.

A creative floor plan

Thomas J. Story

A creative floor plan

Shemchuk and his wife, interior designer Kathy Farley, had outgrown their small studio home. He took one look at the two houses for sale on the same property and connected the dots: "The bones were there. All we had to do was put them together."

To the delight of neighbors, who wrote letters in support of the project, the remodel is low, unobtrusive, and in scale with the rest of the homes on the narrow street.

The combined house is still modest in size at 1,760 square feet.

An open living room

Thomas J. Story

An open living room

In contrast with the two original structures, which were divided into small, cramped rooms, the new interior is wide open and bright.

Steel posts and beams replaced the original driveway-facing walls. It's a good example of the "not-so-big house" approach, where small spaces open to one another to lend a more expansive feel. "There's no wasted space," Shemchuk says.

A pistachio-colored living room wall butts into a gray-taupe wall covered in "poor man's plaster": gray-tinted gypsum-board compound sealed in varnish. One of homeowner Michael Shemchuk's abstract works in pigmented gypsum hangs behind the couch (visit www.mshem.com to see more of his work).

Get a look at the kitchen next.

Resources: Stacked oak table designed by Artdecor. Ursula sleeper sofa in FrankFabrik from Ted Boerner. Custom couch pillows in Streamers fabric in Coffee Bean by Great Plains from Kneedler Fauchere (to the trade only; 415/487-6180). Wool jute rug in wheat from Pottery Barn ($79- $399; 888/779-5176). Mobile, homeowner's own.

Cool and bright kitchen

Thomas J. Story

Cool and bright kitchen

Besides capturing the driveway area, the house also grew into the backyard with a kitchen addition extending from the rear of one of the original units. Clerestory windows to the east and west let in even more natural light.

The kitchen's color palette is like a muted Monet painting; in a true artistic effort, Shemchuk and Farley custom-mixed the floor stain and several paints.

A symphony of cool pastels ― robin's egg-blue walls, smoky lilac cabinets ― infuses the home with fresh colors.

See another view of the kitchen.

Resources: White 3- by 6-inch field tile by B&W Tile. Rolling island designed by Artdecor (510/527-3904) and fabricated by Mark Turpin (510/469-6784). GE Profile CustomStyle side-by-side refrigerator in stainless steel ( www.geappliances.com or 800/626-2005). Vertical-grain ash cabinets designed by Artdecor. Cabinet hardware from Häfele (800/423-3531). Bianco Carrara marble countertops from Creative Stoneworks (510/428-2202).

Innovative sliding doors

Thomas J. Story

Innovative sliding doors

In the kitchen, a pair of floor-to-ceiling doors made with gray-washed Alaskan cedar 2-by-6s hangs from wall-mounted barn-door track to hide the washer and dryer and the broom closet.

See their solution for bringing light into the bathroom.

A bright bathroom

Thomas J. Story

A bright bathroom

The kid's bath, which uses frosted glass blocks to let in light while obscuring visibility, makes a bright and humid home for happy houseplants.

The family also enjoys greenery in their cozy outdoor space.

Resources: Square 2-inch tile in Green Sea from Daltile (800/933-8453). Essex glass block from Glass Block Designs (415/626-5770). Slate floor tile in Brazilian Grey-Blue from Import Tile (888/843-5959). Custom ipe wood bench designed by Artdecor, fabricated by Mark Turpin. Wellcomme elongated toilet bowl from Kohler (800/456-4537).

Outdoor seating area

Thomas J. Story

Outdoor seating area

A metal-framed daybed sits on a small patio next to the back deck. A young espaliered fig is displayed against the dark exterior wall (Licorice, item 517-7; Pittsburgh Paints).

"We could have built a new house with multiple stories," Shemchuk says. "But our goal was to have something quiet ― in both size and style."

Are you inspired yet? Discover even more creative ideas.

Resources: Metal daybed from West Elm (888/922-4119). Daybed fabric from Sunbrella (336/221-2211). Striped pillows made from Baystreet fabric in Grass green from Outdoor Fabrics (800/640-3539). Metal table from flea market.

Connecting two homes

Thomas J. Story

A fit with the neighborhood

The remodel is low, unobtrusive, and in scale with the rest of the homes on the street. The light-diffusing glass brightens the interior while creating privacy.

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