Open to change: How one architect's home brightened up with tweaks to renovation plan

After the renovation, the house has floor-to-ceiling bay views (above) and an accessory dwelling unit (below) on the lower level.
After the renovation, the house has floor-to-ceiling bay views (above) and an accessory dwelling unit on the lower level.PHOTO: NYTIMES
After the renovation, the house has floor-to-ceiling bay views (above) and an accessory dwelling unit (below) on the lower level.
After the renovation, the house has floor-to-ceiling bay views and an accessory dwelling unit (above) on the lower level.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Architect Carrie Byles' California house is now brighter than ever, after a fellow architect convinced her to change the renovation plan

SAN FRANCISCO • Many architects dream of designing their own homes, but not all architects.

Ms Carrie Byles, for instance, is a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the largest architecture firms in the United States, but when it came to renovating her 1956 house in Sausalito, California, she wanted help.

"I thought that if I designed it on my own, it would probably take me 10 years because I'd fuss over it a long time and I'm so busy, I'd never have time to work on it," said Ms Byles, 56, who spends her days focused on much larger projects like condominium towers, as well as an expansion of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

She had bought the two-bedroom, 155 sq m, mid-century-modern house in 2011 for about US$1 million because she liked its post-and-beam construction, exposed ceilings and sliding glass doors.

But other elements looked tired, like the dated kitchen and the vinyl-clad solarium added by a previous owner.

In 2014, shortly after Sausalito introduced new regulations to address a housing shortage, allowing an increase in floor area for home owners building accessory dwelling units, Ms Byles decided it was time to make a few changes, such as adding a wheelchair-accessible in-law unit on the lower level and renovating her kitchen.

For design help, she called on Ms Jennifer Weiss, a San Francisco architect who began her career as an intern in Ms Byles' office and who now has her own firm.

But where Ms Byles envisioned a few changes, Ms Weiss saw the potential to do something transformational.

She quietly developed two sets of plans: one that reflected the limited changes Ms Byles requested and another that illustrated what could be done by completely renovating and expanding the house, including demolishing the solarium, reorienting the main living spaces to take advantage of views to Mount Tamalpais and Richardson Bay and replacing the shingled exterior with an expanse of glass and wood slats.

"Jennifer did that thing that architects do" when they want to convince their clients to dream bigger, said Ms Byles.

"She put this drawing in front of me and I don't think I spoke for a couple of minutes. I just thought, 'Oh my god, that's so much money.' But it was the architect in me that said, 'We have to do this.'"

As Ms Byles' notion of funding a small renovation with her savings faded away, she took out a construction loan and found a houseboat to rent as a temporary home.

Construction began in summer 2015 and the house - now 226 sq m - was completed by the end of 2016, at about US$435 (S$590) a square foot.

Ms Weiss' design resulted in a kitchen far larger, airier and with more dramatic views than Ms Byles had imagined, along with an open layout that promotes indoor-outdoor living.

Hopper windows and seven operable skylights allow the house to be cooled entirely by air currents, eliminating the need for air-conditioning.

Landscaping and finishing touches took another year, and included planting 50 Japanese maple trees.

Ms Byles' father used to sell the trees and she had maintained a collection of 18 of them in pots for years. To complete the landscape, she asked her father to bring her one more, but he arrived with 32.

Although Ms Weiss designed the house, Ms Byles believes the experience has made her a better architect.

"Every architect should be a client once," she said. "I have visceral empathy for my clients now. When you're writing cheques out of your personal account, it's a big deal."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'Open to change'. Print Edition | Subscribe