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House Call: An Exercise in Order with Architect Barbara Chambers


House Call: An Exercise in Order with Architect Barbara Chambers

June 19, 2017

“I don’t think there’s been anybody in my house who hasn’t said, ‘Sign me up’ after ten minutes,” architect Barbara Chambers says, referring to her minimal, almost extreme tidiness. “I design houses to be about having what you need, and nothing more.”

After more than 20 years as a residential architect in Mill Valley, California, Barbara got the chance to design her dream home when she found a too-large lot in the neighborhood and convinced the owner to split the property so she could buy half. On it, she designed a house “that is actually quite small”—2,500 square feet of daily living space, plus a separate, rentable unit perched on top of the garage.

“I designed the house the way I am,” Barbara says, “tidy and simple and straightforward, with no frills.” With children grown and gone, Barbara created a simple floor plan to accommodate herself and her husband, focusing on what mattered to her most: flow, light, and symmetry. Let’s take a closer look.

Photography by Andres Gonzalez for Remodelista.

wood dutch door small window barbara chambers
Above: The front door is a distressed oak Dutch door with an inset cutout window. On warm days, Barbara leaves the top half wide open. “It’s really beautiful to sit in the dining room and look straight outside.”
barbara chambers living room mill valley
Above: Barbara designed the living room furniture herself and had it fabricated by UK company George Smith, which added her chaise design to its collection and named it the Barbara Bench.

The living room wall sconces are from Boyd, and the flooring throughout is wire-brushed, fumed oak with a simple oil finish. Barbara used Farrow & Ball paints everywhere: Clunch, her “all-time favorite,” is used in the living room.

white kitchen mill valley barbara chambers wood stools
Above: “My kitchen is very minimalist; the ‘stuff’ is stored around the corner,” said Barbara.

The stainless steel hood is custom-made by commercial supplier Berlin Food Equipment in San Francisco. The countertop is statuary marble and the kitchen faucet is from Lefroy Brooks. The wood stools were made by a San Francisco artist.

barbara chambers white mill valley kitchen viking range
Above: To Barbara, the Viking range is the centerpiece of the room.

“I wanted my kitchen to be an example for clients to visit and experience what a minimal kitchen feels like,” she said. When shown a simple kitchen on paper, Barbara reports, clients often think it’s not big enough. “But once they see it in person, they realize it’s plenty big. All their needs are met, just not in a standard way.”

barbara chambers kitchen wood floors cabinets
Above: A side view of the kitchen shows two built-in, chest-height cabinets flanking a staircase landing. “It’s an alternate kitchen cabinet solution,” Barbara says. “It means you don’t need cabinets overhead.”
House Call An Exercise in Order with Architect Barbara Chambers portrait 10
Above: Barbara tucked the refrigerator and the trash and recycling bins into a walk-in pantry around the corner.

A rolling ladder in the pantry leads to an apartment unit above the garage. That unit has its own separate, private entrance; the ladder is the only access point between the apartment and the interior of the house, and it can easily be closed off. The ladder is mainly used (and loved) by grandkids when they come to stay.

barbara chambers kitchen pantry steel rack tea service
Above: The daily essentials—including tea and coffee service—are located closest to the kitchen.

“I wanted to do something different with the pantry,” Barbara says. “I realized this could be a fun design if I focused on what it looked like instead of what I was going to stuff in there.”

For starters, she says, pantries are typically dark, and “it doesn’t feel good to be in them.” She knew she wanted to flood hers with light. “Wherever there is light coming in, that pulls you out into the garden.”

barbara chambers organized kitchen pantry white paneling
Above: Barbara decants her dry goods into glass jars.

“I’m a devoted follower of Marie Kondo,” Barbara says, referring to the author of the cult-hit organization tome The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “I was doing that before the book came out and was pleased to see someone else validate it.” (The book in a sentence: Only keep things you love and that bring you joy.)

To Barbara, the concept extends even to food. “I buy only what I need,” she said, “and I celebrate it.”

barbara chambers steel pantry wire rack
Above: Barbara stores clear plastic bags from the bulk aisle in a white ceramic bowl. On the floor sits a water bowl for her dog, Coco.

Barbara is part architect, part organization coach to her clients. She gives Kondo’s book to each one before starting work, and “if it doesn’t light a fire inside them, they’re not the clients for me and we’re not going to get along,” she says. “Most people want that, they just don’t know how to achieve it.”

“When clients tell me they need storage space for their eight sets of China, I tell them we’re getting rid of seven.”

mudroom entry by barbara chambers slate floor
Above: Mirroring the pantry, on the other side of the kitchen, is a mudroom entrance with laundry. The pendant light is from Urban Electric.

“Every house needs this space,” said Barbara: “The entry the family uses ninety percent of the time, where everyone can hang coats and take their shoes off.” Hanging pegs installed in the wood trim hold coats and dog leashes, and storage cabinets are recessed into the paneling to look like part of the wall.

&#8\2\20;the guts of the house are here,&#8\2\2\1; said barbara, includ 27
Above: “The guts of the house are here,” said Barbara, including the washer/dryer and “huge” cabinets with extra storage and pantry space.
wall panel closet laundry storage barbara chambers
Above: Barbara uses wall paneling in all the mudrooms she designs: “These rooms get a lot of use and get beat up easily,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to do that to sheetrock.” She tucks shallow cabinets directly into the stud walls.

“There’s always more space behind something,” she says. “Try to use every nook and cranny you can find.”

barbara chambers bedroom mill valley white bed
Above: Barbara sited the master bedroom upstairs, at the back of the property where it’s quietest. “It’s really small for a master bedroom,” she says—just 12 feet by 18 feet—”but it has circulation and light on all sides; it’s just really magical.”

“All of these things together—the openness, the minimal detailing, the axial relationships—make for a really nice house,” she said. “They all speak to the same vocabulary.”

bedroom by barbara chambers white chaise
Above: A chaise sits opposite the bed, flanked by two doors leading to a white-painted deck. The rooms on this floor are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Lime White and Slipper Satin.
“Nothing in this house is random,” said Barbara. “Anywhere you stand in any room, there is a beautiful, symmetrical relationship in front of you.”

master bathroom by barbara chambers marble tile
Above: The vanity countertop in the master bathroom is statuary marble. The faucet is from Lefroy Brooks.
white shower toilet bath by barbara chambers
Above: The bathroom floor tile is half-inch Carrara marble, and the shower fixture is also from Lefroy Brooks.
detatched art studio barbara chambers
Above: About a year after the house was complete, Barbara designed a backyard studio for her husband, architect and painter Guy Chambers. The stainless steel desk is a custom design; opposite is a pair of LC2 chairs by Le Corbusier.
House Call An Exercise in Order with Architect Barbara Chambers portrait 10
Above: To fill out the studio—in case Barbara and Guy want to rent it out as a separate residence—Barbara designed a breezeway kitchenette between the studio and house, which she currently uses as a potting and flower cutting station.
mill valley garden hedge barbara chambers white house
Above: The front gate and garden hints at the axial relationship between the landscape and the house. Looking from the street (shown in this perspective), the house is turned sideways: “I always orient the house to the south face of the property, because that’s going to be the best garden.”

See a full tour of Barbara’s garden on Gardenista in Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley.

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Frequently asked questions

Who is Barbara Chambers?

Barbara Chambers is an architect who has been practicing for over 30 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the founder of Chambers + Chambers Architects and specializes in residential design.

What is the House Call feature on Remodelista?

House Call is a feature on Remodelista where they take a tour of a designer or architect's home or studio. They ask questions and observe the design choices and techniques used.

What was the theme of Barbara Chambers' House Call?

The theme of Barbara Chambers' House Call was 'An Exercise in Order'. She showcased her personal home and how it is designed for organization and efficiency.

What are some of the key design elements of Barbara Chambers' home?

Some key design elements of Barbara Chambers' home include built-in cabinetry, hidden storage, and an open floor plan. She also utilizes natural light and a neutral color palette to create a calming and cohesive space.

What is the benefit of an open floor plan?

An open floor plan allows for better flow and accessibility between spaces. It can also maximize natural light and create a more spacious feel.

Why is storage important in home design?

Storage is important in home design because it allows for organization and reduces clutter. It can also make the most of limited space by utilizing all available areas.

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