Add space without overwhelming the house

The owners of this small house in Marin County, California, wanted more room. Architect Neal Schwartz helped them see that going up with a master retreat was the best option. Because the 1950s ranch house is built on a slope, Schwartz had a challenge: how to expand vertically without making the addition seem top-heavy.

“The goal was to build on the inherent qualities of the best California ranch houses ― casual open spaces, good flow, great light ― by nudging them forward with a clean, warm, and modern design,” Schwartz explains.

The architect’s solution was to place part of the 500-square-foot master suite above the entry. There was room for a new stairway at the rear of the house. To stay beneath local height limits, Schwartz treated the addition like a large contemporary dormer: It cuts into the roof and steals space from the vaulted ceilings of the rooms below. The addition is fairly small yet feels large because the architect designed it as a series of distinct but overlapping spaces. The main room, which incorporates the sitting area and stairs, is flanked by the sleeping alcove and bathroom, which Schwartz describes as “saddlebags that press into the larger room.” Two sliding doors form one corner of the sleeping area, making it possible to combine spaces or close them off. “The addition makes us like the whole house better,” the homeowners say.

Design:  Schwartz and Architecture, San Francisco (415/550-0430)