Beach house becomes a clever mix of old and new

While strolling through the coastal community of Bolinas, California, Jennifer Price spotted the house she’d been dreaming of all her life: a dilapidated little 19th-century cottage with a peaked roof and a small porch across the front.

“I saw it and thought, That’s the one,” says Price. Growing up in a suburban tract home, she used to fantasize about owning an old beach house that needed fixing up.

The structure had been a rental for many years. Ross Levy, a family friend and architect, deemed it dank and dark.

“Despite all that, it still felt like a good house,” Price says. “I saw how great it could be as a retreat for my husband and children.” 

That’s where Levy came in. Although best known for his modern designs, his challenge in this case was to mesh contemporary style with the Prices’ eclectic taste while making the house fit a casual indoor-outdoor lifestyle. “A lot of people want Victorians, but they don’t realize that people lived differently back then,” says Levy. “The houses tended to be a series of dark, closed-off rooms.”

Pre-remodel, the living areas were in the front of the house and the private areas were in the back. Levy switched the order so the public rooms could open up to the garden and to each other. He turned a key original feature like the redbrick chimney behind the range into a handsome decorative backdrop, visually warming the contemporary kitchen. Little touches play up the seaside location, including display niches for treasures found along the beach. As a modern home inside a vintage shell, it would make a hermit crab envious.

Design: Levy Art & Architecture, San Francisco (415/641-7320)