A Year of Careful Study Leads to a Thoughtful Renovation of a 1949 Eichler

By Paige Alexus / Published by Dwell
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Whenever Jay and Melissa of Serrao Design/Architecture are tasked with transforming an older home, they try to heighten its inherent qualities, rather than working against its initial intentions. This is exactly what they did when they were tasked with remodeling an original Eichler home in Menlo Park, California.

Sitting on spacious lots just walking distance from Menlo Park’s downtown area is a trio of architecturally modest tract homes—one of which is the residence at hand. Joseph Eichler worked with a draftsman to build them in 1949, before he hired architects Robert Anshen and A. Quincy Jones to design his recognizable homes of the 1950s. After living in it for a year, a family with two young children decided they needed more space and some modern day upgrades. 

The double-height great room encompasses much of the renewed section in the middle of the home—which includes the living, dining, and kitchen spaces. Since the existing floor slabs had developed cracks, Jay and Melissa floated new concrete floor slabs over the existing ones. They replicated the original flooring as close as possible, and polished the final result. 

The double-height great room encompasses much of the renewed section in the middle of the home—which includes the living, dining, and kitchen spaces. Since the existing floor slabs had developed cracks, Jay and Melissa floated new concrete floor slabs over the existing ones. They replicated the original flooring as close as possible, and polished the final result. 

Photo: Kat Alves

They ended up hiring Serrao Design/Architecture to give it the TLC it needed. Jay and Melissa embarked on a year of careful study, where they came up with six or seven possible designs for the home, ranging from a renovation to new construction. Jay explains that this study "brought to the forefront a greater appreciation of the house. Since the family liked the way it sat on the property—which is just over 10,000 square feet—we pursued a design that pushed upward and a little bit in a couple directions. We maintained the general location of entry and the focus toward the backyard."

Jay and Melissa embraced the general configuration of the original house, which was a low, broad shape that stretches out horizontally. While the two wings on the side were remodeled and renovated, the original sections are now marked by a blue finish. The cedar and stucco elements were new additions.

Jay and Melissa embraced the general configuration of the original house, which was a low, broad shape that stretches out horizontally. While the two wings on the side were remodeled and renovated, the original sections are now marked by a blue finish. The cedar and stucco elements were new additions.

Photo: Kat Alves

By maintaining as much of the original house as possible while strategically expanding, they managed to find a happy medium with a modern language that’s compatible with—and inspired by—the original. Additionally, after they deconstructed the house, they dismantled and donated the unused pieces to Habitat for Humanity. Jay explains, "We hate throwing materials into the landfill, so we recycle what we don't use. In some way, a renovation like this is the most green type of building. Though we try to retain all the materials of value that we can use on the project, we give away the rest so that they can be used for a worthy cause."

To the architects’ surprise, the original radiant heated floors that were run by a single-zone system were still working throughout the year the family lived in the house prior to the renovation. However, since the system was more than 60 years old, Jay and Melissa abandoned it and installed a new radiant heating system with thermal mass polished concrete floors. 

To the architects’ surprise, the original radiant heated floors that were run by a single-zone system were still working throughout the year the family lived in the house prior to the renovation. However, since the system was more than 60 years old, Jay and Melissa abandoned it and installed a new radiant heating system with thermal mass polished concrete floors. 

Photo: Kat Alves
The new great room opens up completely to the patio with multi-panel pocket sliding glass doors that are 22 feet long. 

The new great room opens up completely to the patio with multi-panel pocket sliding glass doors that are 22 feet long. 

Photo: Kat Alves
Jay points out, "Since the original architecture was about low plains, the challenge became about how we could build a second level with a complimentary language, rather than just pancaking similar elements on top of each other." 

Jay points out, "Since the original architecture was about low plains, the challenge became about how we could build a second level with a complimentary language, rather than just pancaking similar elements on top of each other." 

Photo: Kat Alves
Throughout the interior, they installed walnut cabinetry and vertical boards made of clear western cedar with a simple oil finish. 

Throughout the interior, they installed walnut cabinetry and vertical boards made of clear western cedar with a simple oil finish. 

Photo: Kat Alves
The kitchen is part of the new section in the center of the house and features clerestory windows that let natural light flood into the space. 

The kitchen is part of the new section in the center of the house and features clerestory windows that let natural light flood into the space. 

Photo: Kat Alves
The ground floor  holds the two kids’ bedrooms, which were remodeled but kept consistent with the original footprint of the house. Also on the ground level is a media room that sits behind a pocket door. 

The ground floor holds the two kids’ bedrooms, which were remodeled but kept consistent with the original footprint of the house. Also on the ground level is a media room that sits behind a pocket door. 

Photo: Kat Alves
In the master bathroom, they installed bamboo cabinetry from Plyboo, a San Francisco-based company that thrashes and presses bamboo into dense logs that are then sliced and fabricated into the surface of your choice. 

In the master bathroom, they installed bamboo cabinetry from Plyboo, a San Francisco-based company that thrashes and presses bamboo into dense logs that are then sliced and fabricated into the surface of your choice. 

Photo: Kat Alves
The design team used FSC-certified lumber and cedar siding throughout the home. They created an ideal family residence that’s perfect for indoor/outdoor living, thanks to broad eaves for shade, natural cross-ventilation, and plenty of windows to let in natural light. 

The design team used FSC-certified lumber and cedar siding throughout the home. They created an ideal family residence that’s perfect for indoor/outdoor living, thanks to broad eaves for shade, natural cross-ventilation, and plenty of windows to let in natural light. 

Photo: Kat Alves

Paige Alexus

@paigealexus

Content Producer & Blogger at Dwell

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