written by:
photos by:
September 7, 2010
Originally published in Ten Years Of Dwell

Mill Valley, California, might not be a hotbed of modernism, but it was here, ten years ago, that Dwell came into the world alongside founder Lara Hedberg Deam’s first home—now renovated by her husband, Chris Deam. Here’s the story behind the place that started it all.

Modern backyard living area with door by Sand Studios

By carving away some of the hillside, the Deams effectively added an outdoor room to their renovated home.

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Master bedroom with Christopher Deam furniture and Arne Jacobsen sconce

Deam also designed all of the built-in furniture, including this bedside console that features an Arne Jacobsen sconce.

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Outdoor path with narrow concrete pavers

A path created with Stepstone's narrow concrete pavers meanders through the garden past the master bedroom.

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Modern living room with curving glass and steel wall

The curving glass and steel wall, designed by Deam and executed by Sand Studios, is a tour de force of engineering and design.

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Façade designed by Bob Hatfield with glass and steel door by Christopher Deam

As the house is situated on a steep slope, visitors enter only to be whisked upstairs to the main living space. The facade was designed by Bob Hatfield in 1996. A new glass and steel door, designed by Chris Deam and fabricated by Sand Studios, was added in the renovation.

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Christopher and Lara Deam at home

In the master bedroom, Chris designed all of the built-in furniture. The painting is by Mike Monteiro.

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Brionvega RR226 stereo by Achille Castiglioni

A pair of Slow chairs by the Bouroullec brothers for Vitra frame a new Brionvega RR226 stereo by Achille Castiglioni in the living room. The photograph by Michael Wolf of a Hong Kong apartment building is from a series that ran in the March 2004 issue of Dwell.

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Office living area with Flexform Groundpiece sofa by Antonio Citterio

In the den, Lara and Cal read a Hardy Boys mystery on the Flexform Groundpiece sofa by Antonio Citterio while Chris works in his "office." The cozy room where the family spends much of their time once housed the kitchen.

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Little kids bedroom with Sola bedding for Marimekko and ceiling swing

In addition to a swing, Cal's room features Maija & Kristina Isola's Sola bedding for Marimekko.

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Indoor wooden sauna

The sauna is a decidedly Scandinavian touch.

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Master bathroom with walls and tub clad in Carrara marble

In the master bathroom, Chris clad the tub and walls in Carrara marble. An AJ Wall sconce by Arne Jacobsen for Louis Poulsen sheds some light on bathtub reading.

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Dining room with walnut slab table and Tom Dixon Beat lamps

Cal and Macy enjoy a snack from Mom at the almost 14-foot-long walnut slab table sourced from Arborica in Marshall, California. The wood came from a tree that fell into a Palo Alto, California, street. A trio of Tom Dixon Beat Lamps provide the perfect counterpoint to a slew of black plastic Eames shell chairs from Herman Miller.

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Modern backyard living area with door by Sand Studios

Unable to alter the footprint of the building, the Deams created a backyard living area that nearly doubled the home's living space.

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Yellow glass-and-steel door engineered by Sand Studios

Thanks to clever engineering by Sand Studios, seven-year-old Macy can operate the 2,000-pound door.

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Outdoor raised dining nook with Konstantin Grcic Ones for Magis table and chairs

A raised dining nook furnished with Konstantin Grcic Ones for Magis makes outdoor dining a breeze.

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Outdoor room with concrete patio surface and three-inch-wide pavers

With the doors flung wide open, the Deams' outdoor space truly functions as an adjunct living room at the core of the home. The feeling of an outdoor room is reinforced by the linearity and evenness of the concrete patio surface, which was constructed with Stepstone's Narrow Modular Pavers. "I actually discovered them at Dwell on Design in 2006," Lara says. The three-inch-wide pavers are available in multiple lengths and in 12 different shades.

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Trim less 22 by Bocci cabinetry

It might not make you popular with your contractor, but for a more streamlined look, Chris recommends forgoing trim. "It lends a clean look with less visual clutter," the architect says. In their house, the doors, lights, cabinetry, and even wall sockets (all 22 by Bocci) are installed without trim. This allows the planar surfaces to recede and do their jobs without unnecessarily distracting the eye.

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Yellow curving steel-and-glass window wall fabricated by Sand Studios

When it came to paint the 40-foot-long curving steel-and-glass window wall designed by Chris and fabricated by Sand Studios, the Deams turned to Steve Bauer of Baumar, who specializes in custom paint finishes, to get the job done. Metallic automotive paint stands up well to the elements—from blaring sunlight to heavy rain—and comes in an almost infinite array of colors.

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Outdoor dining table with custom top cut for a recycled base

Can't find the right table for your space? Another option is to have a custom top cut for a recycled base, which is what the Deams did for their outdoor dining area. They had an existing Scissor table base by Bay Area designer John Randolph sitting unused, so Chris had a piece of hardy soapstone (it stands up to high temperatures) cut to match by Fox Marble. A subtle facet at each corner plays off the base's design and lends a more intimate feel to the long table. For a fraction of the cost of a full piece, the bases of design classics are often available on Craigslist and eBay.

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Modern dining room with walnut slab dining table and Tom Dixon Beat lamps

The materials palette is similarly restrained, making the only natural piece of wood in the house—the almost 14-foot-long walnut slab in the kitchen—really stand out. "If there was wood everywhere it would lose its gravitas," notes Chris.

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Stained black and painted white cabinets and countertop

In paring back the home's aesthetic, Chris kept the color palette as simple as possible. Limiting the surfaces to either painted white or stained black allows colorful art, objects, furniture, and people to really pop.

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Family playing jump rope outside

Cal and Macy jump rope with mom and dad.

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Childrens shoes and jump rope on the patio

The twins' ephemera gathers on the patio outside.

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Outdoor garden with narrow concrete pavers

Stepstone's narrow concrete pavers add a graphic touch to the garden in the Mill Valley home of Dwell founder Lara Hedberg Deam and architect Chris Deam. Photo by Dustin Aksland.

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Outdoor garden with narrow concrete pavers

Stepstone's narrow concrete pavers add a graphic touch to the garden.

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Outdoor dining area with Patricia Urquiola for Kettal furniture

A selection of pieces from the Maia outdoor collection by Patricia Urquiola for Kettal make up the seating area outside.

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Chris stained all the interior wood black, including this wall by the entry stairs.

Chris stained all the interior wood black, including this wall by the entry stairs.

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Recycled Blanket Rug and Brionvega RR226 by Achille Castiglioni

Sitting on the Recycled Blanket Rug by Tejo Remy and Rene VeenHuizen, Chris digs through his records looking for something to play on the new Brionvega RR226 by Achille Castiglioni.

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Modern living room with Ligne Roset sofa and pink Vitra chairs

The living room is home to two Bouroullec Brothers designs: the Facett sofa for Ligne Roset, and the Slow chair for Vitra.

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Modern home office with Ferruccio Laviani Abat-Jour lamp for Kartell

Lara's home office consists of a MacBook Air and Ferruccio Laviani Abat-Jour lamp for Kartell.

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The Cord Chair by Jacques Guillon

"It feels like this design unlocked what the house wanted to be," says Lara. The Cord Chair, by Jacques Guillon, is in production again for the first time in over fifty years. It's available from Avenue Road

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Hidden screened aperture with louvers

Open a tidily tucked away pocket in the wall, and you'll find a screened aperture with louvers.

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Black kitchen with Miele appliances

A wall of built-ins in the kitchen houses a raft of Miele appliances including a refrigerator, microwave, and espresso machine.

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Modern backyard living area with door by Sand Studios

By carving away some of the hillside, the Deams effectively added an outdoor room to their renovated home.

Project 
Deam Residence
Architect 

The seeds of Dwell were planted in the late 1990s, when founder Lara Hedberg Deam renovated her cabin in downtown Mill Valley, California. She loved the location and had some ideas about what she wanted in a home, but she didn’t quite know how to get on the same page as her architect. So she pressed pause and went back to school to study design, then restarted the house, which got built alongside a business plan for a new kind of magazine about architecture—one that would speak to all comers by connecting the rarefied world of modern design with the everyday world we live in.

Everyday life for Lara soon included a husband, architect Chris Deam, and twin children, Macy and Cal. With those additions, however, the house began to feel out of touch with the growing family’s needs. Luckily, Lara didn’t have to look far for a designer to whip things into shape: Chris was familiar with the scope of the job and happy to tackle a renovation. With newly minted interiors and a backyard patio that epitomizes sunny California living, the Deams moved into their redesigned dream home a year ago. Chris finished installing the last towel bar about an hour before I stopped by for a visit to discuss their renovation. Here’s the inside scoop.

Christopher and Lara Deam at home

In the master bedroom, Chris designed all of the built-in furniture. The painting is by Mike Monteiro.

Lara: I bought this little house in 1994 and started a major remodel with a talented architect named Bob Hatfield in 1996. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted, but I was interested in the idea of timelessness in modern design, being sensitive to the context, and being appropriate in scale. The front elevation—which stayed largely intact through the new renovation—is where those ideas are most clearly expressed. The interiors, however, were less well defined. Realtors advised that if you’re going to spend X you need to have X amount of bathrooms and X bedrooms. So the program was vague. It was beautiful, but the spaces felt like they lacked purpose.

Chris: We met right when the house was finished, and after I moved in we affectionately called it the “man trap” for a while. It was interesting living in another architect’s vision for a period of time. He became the perfect scapegoat for any problem we had—from burning the toast to not picking up our underwear—I mean, aren’t architects supposed to solve all of our problems? But after a certain point, we realized we needed to express our own ideas of how we wanted to live, which were radically different than those of Lara as a single woman.

We wanted to carve out space for the individuals—for Lara’s home office, for me to have a place to work, for each of the kids, for a smaller room where we could watch TV and have family time, and for more space to entertain. Lara was the one who came up with the bold idea of completely rearranging the plan of the house.

Lara: I thought we should have a smaller-scale room than the living room to spend our evenings in, and the old kitchen happened to be the perfect size for a den. I also wanted 
a larger kitchen to entertain in and the underutilized space in the back of the old house was conveniently located right off the yard.

Office living area with Flexform Groundpiece sofa by Antonio Citterio

In the den, Lara and Cal read a Hardy Boys mystery on the Flexform Groundpiece sofa by Antonio Citterio while Chris works in his "office." The cozy room where the family spends much of their time once housed the kitchen.

Chris: I freaked out when Lara suggested it, but the more I thought about it the more it made perfect sense. We had learned that we really lived in the backyard and moving the kitchen next to the patio would foster a greater indoor-outdoor connection. We could start to think of the yard more like an annex to the interior spaces.

Lara: The backyard changed a lot—it used to be a jungle with a small concrete slab that hugged the house tightly, so we cleared it out and moved a lot of dirt to get a large level patio. The landscaping gave us two new rooms. And of course there’s the new door.

Chris: Even though the kitchen moved and we reconfigured the interior, we’re still in the exact same footprint because of the zoning requirements. So the biggest change was making that big steel-and-glass window wall to transition you outside. I knew I wanted this big window and that it should open and close, and the only person I knew who could build it was Larissa Sand at Sand Studios. She engineered it with her husband, Jeff, and put it through a computer model to make sure it wouldn’t tear apart the whole building when it opened.

Yellow glass-and-steel door engineered by Sand Studios

Thanks to clever engineering by Sand Studios, seven-year-old Macy can operate the 2,000-pound door.

The door weighs about 2,000 pounds, and it has its own foundation under the pivot point. In the first concept sketches it was really thin and elegant, but it just kept growing and growing and eventually the diagonal brace showed up—in the end, why not let the engineering show?

I didn’t want it to feel like some serious architectural piece; I wanted something more like product design, so I softened it with one big curved window to smooth out an awkward 45-degree-angled wall, and then I radiused all the window corners. Since everything else is so strict, it needed to feel loose—the paint helps that too.

Deciding on the color was nerve-racking, though. It’s a one-shot deal because it’s painted in place, so you’ve got to be committed to your choice. We looked at a lot of colors, and we finally narrowed it down to two greens—one was a soft sea foam and the other was this acid green. In the end we said, “Let’s go for it.” It’s going to be such a big part of the design, it needs to scream a little bit.

So the redesign was essentially a job of tailoring. It was like taking an ill-fitting suit and then retailoring it with an eye toward detailing, new materials, and fit. I wanted to use predominantly what was already there but reconsider the finishes and the proportion of the spaces. Eventually we got a solution that I feel is flattering to us. What I love about the house now is that every space supports a part of our life. Before we would say “How in the world are we going to cook for friends out in the backyard?” Now there’s a place for that and it’s effortless. I love having people in our house. It’s really best when it’s full of friends.

Lara: It feels like this design unlocked what the house wanted to be. We had the advantage of being here since ’94, studying how the sun moves throughout the year, seeing how we all lived in it, and finally figuring out how we wanted to live in it. I think it allows for that now. To use the kids’ words, we made it “more awesomer!”

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