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

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.


The kitchen was redesigned with an eye toward hosting lots of friends. What used to be a crowded, narrow area is now a bright space with skylights.

“It’s truly the center of the home. We’ve had the best parties here ― everyone just crams in,” Mari says.

Dutto also added large windows throughout to bring the leafy setting in and give the home the feel of an expansive treehouse.

On the lower level, a guest bedroom, an office, and a former family room where their son and his friends used to play air hockey gave way to a new master suite, which Mari describes as “a private oasis just for us.”

Shoji (which echo the horizontal bronzed lines of the aluminum channels around the home’s exterior) slide back to reveal a small room that doubles as a nook for reading or enjoying nature.

Though Mari is a professional color consultant, she admits that the interior is painted a hue called Timid White.

“In this house, it’s not about the color ― it’s about the materials and the link to the outdoors. The walls are only a shell.”

Dutto concurs, pointing out the intrinsic beauty of the glass, metal, and wood that dominate the palette. “We decided that the touch and feel and color of those materials were enough,” she says.

After years of living in a house that didn’t feel quite right, the Tischenkos say the transformed space now fits their personalities. “Home is where you express yourself,” Mari says.

“And I’m finally living the way I really want to. Lara helped me fall in love with my house for the first time.”



Mari Tischenko, who studies a Japanese flower-arranging technique called ikebana, says of her house, “The focus is on the space itself, not on filling up the space.”

Here are four of her tips on achieving a similarly tranquil effect in your home.

Omit the unnecessary
Since the couple never used their living room fireplace, Lara Dutto replaced it with a stereo and TV, which can be obscured by a sliding glass panel.

Let the materials shine
Natural, tactile elements take center stage. This narrow cantilevered trough sink in the master bathroom was cast off-site and embedded with shells and rock.

Repeat and contrast
The soothing repetition of horizontal lines links indoors and out, as does the streamlike ribbon of river rock leading into the entry. The front door and sliding glass panel create opposing forms for visual interest.

Provide moments of serenity
Simple displays like a calming water feature in the entry give your eyes a place to rest.

Design: Lara Dutto, D-Cubed, Emeryville, CA (510/557-1484).


Living room

Good Times white leather sofa and ottoman by Walter Knoll from The Magazine (510/549-2282).

Womb Chair ($2,465-$5,898) by Eero Saarinen from Design Within Reach (800/944-2233).

Spray silk-and-wool area rug in sea blue and gold from Emma Gardner Design (877/377-3144).

Timid White paint (item OC-39) from Benjamin Moore (800/672-4686).

Main entry

Inlaid pebble path made of polished Mexican beach pebbles from Mt. Diablo Landscape Centers (925/687-2930) and installed by homeowners.


Stainless steel Lem Piston stools ($688) from Design Within Reach (800/944-2233).

Firefrost pendant lights from Tech Lighting.

Master bedroom

Bedspread fabric is Paradiso Spring oyster linen by De Sousa Hughes (to the trade only; or 415/626-6883).

Shoji built by Glen Collins from Hana Shoji & Interiors (510/842-1041).

Jackson two-sided chaise in black bison leather ($2,599) from Room & Board (800/486-6554).


Glass tile in Paris Blue by Villi USA from ETM, European Tile & Marble Co. (925/962-0290).

Trough sink made of Geocrete (a lightweight concrete blend) designed by Lara Dutto of D-Cubed (510/557-1484) and fabricated by Cheng Design (510/849-3272).

Chrome wall-mount 912 faucet from Vola.

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