How to Revive a Historic Cabin

A real estate dead-end drove a couple to the hills—
and to a historic cabin

Joanna Linberg
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The Escape Artists

This was Plan B. Plan A was for Levi Velvick and his partner Lupe Cope to buy a home in San Francisco. But after being outbid on house after house in the city, Velvick remembered the 1885 former homestead he had spotted online a few months earlier. 
The couple drove the hour and 15 minutes north to Glen Ellen to take a look.

Velvick had a hunch he could coax charm out of the place. He was right, though it took a year of weekends to strip away the dated finishes to reveal the cabin’s bones. “I really wanted to keep the integrity of the structure,” says Velvick, a product developer who moonlights as an interior designer. “I mean, I’m a scavenger. I want nothing to go to waste,” Velvick says.

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A Good Front

The couple modernized the exterior with a few coats of Benjamin Moore’s Willow CC-542 and Mascarpone AF-20. “We call it Hillside Cabin,” Velvick says. “We get here and our mind-set shifts.”

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Revival Effort

The rotting floor in the dining and kitchen area prompted the couple to replace it with wide pine planks.

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Opening up the Kitchen

After a six-year debate about painting the kitchen wall white, Cope, eager to preserve whatever they could of the home’s original features, reluctantly agreed. “It was a game changer,” says Velvick. “The space opened up and it felt like the roof was raised by a foot.” Velvick also designed a white oak cabinet with a maple butcher-block top and had a friend build it.

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The Art of the Hunt

“I could go through the whole house and tell you the story of every piece,” Velvick says. “I don’t mind the hodgepodge feeling a little bit,” he says. If an item catches his eye and is a classic, it usually finds its way to the cabin.

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The Simple Life

“I’m on that simplifying bandwagon,” Velvick says. He kept the master bedroom furnishings pared down to just the necessities—all the better to highlight the original redwood wall.

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Pine Wardrobes

In lieu 
of a closet, the couple built a pair of pine wardrobes that flank a built-in bench and the self-portrait of a friend, another prized piece.
“I met her when we were both working on a paint crew to make ends meet,” Velvick says. He sent monthly installments of $50 to the artist for years to buy it at a fair price.

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Natural Assets

What others might view as an obstacle—a hulking boulder in the backyard—Velvick considered part of the charm, laying a stone patio around it. “I wanted to memorialize it,” he says. “It’s been there for thousands of years.”

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Outdoor Overhaul

The backyard redo netted an all-in-one entertaining space with a dining area, an outdoor shower, and the MVP: a sleeping porch. An L-shaped half-wall serves as both bench and boundary. A carpet of unfancy gravel and fern and citrus plantings fill the yard.

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Finding Comfort

In summer, when the cabin heats up, the couple heads out to the 150-square-foot sleeping porch. There, they get comfortable on vintage army cots and project movies on the wall.

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Salvaged Style

A ceramic utility sink from a salvage yard adds flair to the humble materials—white subway tiles and a glass shower wall—in the bathroom. Velvick sketched an idea for the vanity and a friend built it out of wood from the property.

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Shop the Look: Textiles

Many of Velvick’s textiles come from this Seattle shop, including rolls of European hemp and linen and pillows made from antique grain bags. “The owner Pam Robinson has been collecting vintage textiles for more than 20 years and it’s the best collection I’ve ever seen.” redticking.com.

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Shop the Look: Pieces

  • Goodwill, Online: If you’re up for a marathon scrolling session, “there is always a diamond in the rough” to be found on Goodwill’s website, says Velvick. “Sometimes the site has bundles of vintage linens, and there might be one awesome sheet or towel wrapped up in a bunch of doilies. Several pieces from my art collection have also come from here along with some old Le Creuset pieces.” shopgoodwill.com.
  • Grenouille French Antiques: A fixture at most California antiques markets, brother and sister duo Fred Testu and Coco Reichborn ship containers of French goods to the States regularly. “Coco calls me when the containers come in and lets me dig through crates and boxes,” says Velvick, who has unearthed rustic tables, sets of white metal chairs, carved wood stools, and mismatched latte bowls. For details on their antiques market schedule, call 415/948-0033.