Room to gather or relax apart

As the real estate agent opened the gate to a tiny, one-story dwelling in Mill Valley, California, she turned to Josh Groves and Julie Carlson and said, “This isn’t going to be your house.” But where the agent found little redeeming value, the couple saw potential for the perfect family home. “It had zero charm,” says Carlson. “But it did have a nice layout. We wanted one big room with the kitchen, living room, and dining room. It had that.”

The open plan was important to Groves and Carlson because they wanted a space where they could interact with their children, 8-year-old Will and 6-year-old Darcy. The couple figured they could bring in more natural light, improve storage capacity, and add a parental retreat with the help of architect Jerome Buttrick. Together they created a house that’s still compact at 1,800 square feet ― including a 200-square-foot master bedroom over the garage ― but feels larger because of the skillful makeover.

At the center of things

When it came to the central living/dining area, Carlson wanted a room where the kids could play and be comfortable but that would look like a room for adults. “We don’t have a formal living room, so this is where we entertain.”

Buttrick raised the collar ties, the structural members that support the rafters. It was a small move with big results. “They were so low, you felt you were getting a haircut when you walked through,” he says. “Moving them up made the original open ceiling and the living space feel more lofty.” 

In the dining area, the wood partition functions as a bookcase and a buffet counter. The upper portion hides the kitchen’s primary work area, around the sink.

The architect used French doors in place of walls and smaller windows, instantly brightening the space and opening it to a small yard. “We have a tall hedge surrounding the house, which makes the outdoor space feel like a courtyard,” says Carlson. “Because of the hedge, we don’t need window treatments, which would make the space seem claustrophobic.”

The kitchen was reorganized for efficiency and is separated from the dining area by a small buffet.

DESIGN: Jerome Buttrick, Buttrick Wong Architects, Emeryville, CA (510/594-8700)