When family calls, responding isn’t compulsory—but Melissa and Jake, a genial San Francisco couple, chose to listen. Silicon Valley’s relentless work culture was preventing Jake, who runs a structural engineering firm, from spending time and attending appointments with their young son, Charlie, who was born with special needs. And so in 2017, the family decided to move—with their three dogs, three cats, and two turtles—to Jake’s native Phoenix for a more manageable pace of life.
They wanted a home that was close to the city’s more liberal, populated downtown core, and fell in love with a property in the F.Q. Story Historic District, where many residences are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "We literally bought the ugliest house in the neighborhood," Melissa says of their 1,360-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow, built in 1946.
But they had a clear vision of what it could become. The couple wanted to open up the maze-like, hallway-heavy floor plan so that they could entertain and accommodate their growing family. Jake needed a home office. Charlie needed space to play. And Melissa wanted a dog-washing station ("because they get stinky and smelly," she says) and a walk-in pantry, because she’d never had one before.
The pair hired Sean Hogan of M Studio Architecture, a Tempe, Arizona, firm they met through a friend, to renovate the home, and Jake signed on as the project’s structural engineer. Zoning restrictions stipulated that they couldn’t build above the existing roofline of the house, only 40 percent of the lot could be covered by the structure, and no changes could be made to the facade without approval from the state’s Historic Preservation Office.
"We couldn’t go up, and we couldn’t go out," Hogan says. "So we had to dig down."
Hidden below and behind the house, none of the 1,120 square feet of new construction is visible from the street. Hogan built a seven-foot-deep in-ground pool—surrounded by a geometric form-cast cement breeze wall with an orange iron gate—at the back of the property, and underneath it, a high-ceilinged playroom that doubles as a bedroom, and an office.
To ensure the space never feels like a basement, Hogan and Jake developed an unusual strategy: "I call it our Free Willy window," Melissa says of the rectangular glass opening that looks out from the playroom into the pool, bringing refracted natural light indoors. "At every pool party we host, I run downstairs to take pictures of the kids through the water."
A blue spiral stairway leads to the ground floor of the home. Hogan replaced the compartmentalized interiors with a streamlined floor plan, removing a bearing wall and installing support beams and vaulting ceilings to maximize space.
Melissa and Jake brought on interior designer Karen Nepacena of Destination Eichler, a firm they’d worked with to renovate their previous home, to infuse every room with playful, colorful pieces and vintage finds. Personal touches abound, from the bathroom’s pink tile (a nod to the locker rooms of Melissa’s Long Beach, California, elementary school) to the DIY bar sink the couple made from a vintage dresser, and the dog-washing basin in the laundry room.
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The family moved into their finished home last fall, after nearly a year of renovations. While they still have boxes to unpack, Melissa says she feels settled, and relieved: "We finally feel like we’re home."
Architect of Record: M Studio Architecture
Builder/General Contractor: Ocotillo Construction
Structural Engineer: Structurology, Inc.
Cabinetry Design/Installation: Kerf
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