Located on a quaint residential street in Mill Valley, a cottage desperately needed to be reconfigured. “The biggest issue was that the house had very poor circulation and a confusing layout — the spaces were disconnected with private and public zones jumbled together,” architect Heidi Richardson says, mentioning that a badly considered renovation in the 1980s was the culprit. Heidi got to work opening the space up and connecting the rooms, ultimately creating a layout that would better serve the family who lives there. The picturesque suburban neighborhood, nestled into rolling hills, dictated the uncluttered and restful design. We’re chatting with Heidi to learn more:
A Mill Valley Cottage Renovation by Richardson Architects
What was the home’s biggest issue at the start of the project?
Overall, the rooms were laid out backwards with the kitchen oriented near the front of the house and the family room located in the rear with bedrooms peppered in between. Additionally, there was no sense of entry. The front door opened to an expansive living room which spilled over into an even larger dining area. The L-shaped stairs were tucked in the back of the house and encroached upon valuable real estate. And while the spaces were large, they were disproportionately so, hindering a sense of openness that the clients wanted.
This sounds like a challenging project! Where did you begin?
To improve the connection between the downstair spaces, we straightened out the interior stairs to align along one wall allowing an axial view through the house. This opened up the center of the house, filtering light throughout while providing distinct zones. To reinforce this new openness, we widened the front porch stairs, and raised portions of the ceilings. We created a sense of entry — now, when you walk through the front door, you enter through an inviting hallway that guides you past a small office and bedroom and leads you into the living room. Moreover, we moved the kitchen to the rear, taking over an old bedroom. This paved the way for an informal gathering space: a family, kitchen and breakfast room overlook the rear porch and backyard. We moved and downsized the dining room, which now straddles the space by the stairs, and mediates between the more formal living room in the front and less formal entertaining area to the rear. In short, we reevaluated the scale and proportion of the house, reoriented the rooms for a better flow, placing private zones to the right and public ones to the left.
Was there a feature that you were most excited about at the completion of the project?
Our firm strives to create timeless designs. From an architect’s point of view, I’m most excited about getting the scale and proportion right which allows for all the other pieces — the furnishings, fixtures and decorative items — to create a sense of place. We’re also excited about the simple, uncluttered interiors which further adds to the open, airiness of the house. The fresh color palette of pale grays, blues and whites coupled with the sparingly used global designs and patterns complement the white interiors, giving the house warmth and dimension.