Simple and smart remodel

See how to do more with less by emphasizing open spaces, organic materials, and the beauty of restraint

Living room with columns
Photo: Thomas J. Story

Paring things down to their essence is a key component of the Japanese art of wabi-sabi. George and Mari Tischenko took this idea to heart when they remodeled their traditional home in Orinda, California, into a contemporary tranquil retreat.

The couple bought the five-bedroom house ― a basic 1970s nothing-special style ― 17 years ago.

Although altering the house had always been their intent, they learned to make the most of the cramped arrangement of dark, formal rooms.

Then four years ago, their son left for college, and that monumental life change provided the push for them to finally take the remodeling plunge.

The Tischenkos wanted to trade the fussy feel of the house for what George describes as "one big room without any heavy forms."

Mari's wish was for their home to reflect the clean, streamlined forms found in Japanese art and design, which she studies and greatly admires.

Designer Lara Dutto transformed the exterior with new stucco and horizontal bronzed aluminum channels that wrap around the structure, to distinguish it from the landscape.

The front door is composed of three kinds of glass ― reeded, frosted, and a Bendheim glass panel inset with copper paper ― providing an ethereal introduction to the interior.

Dutto eliminated the walls dividing the kitchen, living, and dining rooms.

In their place, she designed slender bronze-patina columns that give just the faintest sense of room divisions.

Sliding glass panels separate the entryway from the dining room so that "people don't just walk into this open space," Mari says. One of the panels easily glides back to make room for extra dinner guests.




  • Main entry and foyer

    A meandering stream of polished Mexican pebbles each meticulously placed by homeowners George and Mari Tischenko leads from the driveway through the main entry and foyer.

  • Master bedroom with art room

    Mari arranges flowers in the small art room off the master bedroom separated by shoji.

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