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Mill Valley Makeover: A “Ship-in-a-Bottle” Approach to a Historic California House

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Mill Valley Makeover: A “Ship-in-a-Bottle” Approach to a Historic California House

March 1, 2019

Eli and Allison Cohen weren’t looking to move. But when the old shingled house on their jogging route came up for sale, they succumbed to its surroundings—redwood forests, views of Mount Tamalpais, just two blocks from downtown Mill Valley, CA—and its future promise. “The place itself was charming but in tough shape,” Eli tells us. “The interior had been chopped up over the years, the floors sloped, there were funky stairwells all over, and almost none of the rooms took in The View.” On the up side: “The structure was bigger than the planning commission would approve of for a new house today, and we wanted a lot of space—we have three young daughters.”

It helped that the couple had experience—six years ago, they built themselves a house in the Marin County city and Eli works in real estate development. Gut renovation, he discovered, is so much harder than starting from scratch. The couple teamed up with Mill Valley veteran architect Heidi Richardson, a great great granddaughter of H.H. Richardson, and SF rising star interior designer Katie Martinez, who, following Dartmouth and Parsons, got her start working for Andre Balazs and Nicole Hollis. Old guard and new, owners and crew all report a rare remodeling experience: a happy and fulfilling creative collaboration with no regrets or bankruptcies. Eli and Allison knew what they wanted and Richardson and Martinez delivered it: an airy, comfort-filled, modern-traditional house that fully celebrates the wonders right outside.

Photography by Suzanna Scott, courtesy of Richardson Architects and Katie Martinez Interiors.

richardson specializes in what she calls &#8\2\20;intelligent architecture, 9
Above: Richardson specializes in what she calls “intelligent architecture,” which includes understanding how to work under complicated zoning and permitting constraints. Shown here is the street-side facade, newly shingled and crowned with an energy-efficient, made-to-last-a-lifetime standing seam metal roof.

“We kept the exterior envelope and lowered all the floors inside, sort of like building a ship in a bottle,” she says. “We basically built a new home inside of a tent,” translates Eli. “The house is one of the oldest in Mill Valley and is considered historical, so we were limited on what we could do to the exterior. We ripped out all of the floor plates inside and moved them down to turn the attic of the old home into a real floor, and moved everything else down to get more ceiling height on the main level and master bedroom level.” There are four stories: a newly excavated basement with a playroom and home offices, living floor, and two bedroom floors, all connected by a new central stair—4,800 square feet in total. (Scroll to the end to see a drone-view of the property and its pool and deck, a rarity in hilly Mill Valley.)

richardson appointed the house with elegantly proportioned windows made by loew 10
Above: Richardson appointed the house with elegantly proportioned windows made by Loewen with dark mullions (pained in Farrow & Ball Off Black) that Martinez points out, “give them a modern look and allow you to see more of the view.”

Shown here is the family room that’s part of the kitchen. The sectional sofa is a custom design upholstered in a lilac outdoor fabric.

a window wall in the family room and dining area leads to the pool deck and ove 11
Above: A window wall in the family room and dining area leads to the pool deck and overlooks Mount Tam.”By flipping the interior layout, we achieved access to the yard,” says Richardson.

The gray-stained custom table—”distressed, so the family can use and abuse it”— is surrounded by Windsor-style Wayland Sack-Back Armchairs made by O&G Studio of Warren, Rhode Island. Note the shiplap ceiling and the palest gray walls (in Ammonite from Farrow & Ball)—classic millwork and a quiet but nuanced palette run throughout the project.

the shipshape kitchen has custom cabinets and an island topped by calacatta gol 12
Above: The shipshape kitchen has custom cabinets and an island topped by Calacatta Gold marble, which is also applied as shelf over range. The room is Allison’s domaine: “she knew is exactly what she wanted and is super organized,” says Martinez adding, “I love that she’s not afraid to use pastels in unexpected places.” (The wicker and steel Stroh Bar Stools are from Stahl + Band.)

The built-in fridge is a Sub Zero and the 48-inch range is by Wolf. With Martinez, Allison mapped out where everything would go—and she says that yes, the kitchen and the house in general are pretty much always this tidy: “Our cabinets are organized and labeled, and I try not to let junk find its way in.” She wanted to keep appliances out of view, so the microwave, blender, and coffee maker are in the cabinets that flank the range.

the faucet and sun valley bronze cabinet hardware are in a nickel finish. the c 13
Above: The faucet and Sun Valley Bronze cabinet hardware are in a nickel finish. The cabinets, trim, and ceiling are painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, one of our 10 Paint Colors with a Cult Following: Architects’ All-Time Favorite Paint Picks.

The wide-board flooring is oak with a light fuming to give it a bit of a gray cast.

the adjacent dining room is dressed up with wood paneling painted down pipe fro 14
Above: The adjacent dining room is dressed up with wood paneling painted Down Pipe from Farrow & Ball. The vintage chairs came from Nicky Kehoe in LA. The spun metal pendant light with brass lining is from Brendan Ravenhill’s Grain collection.

Eli’s real estate connections helped: the general contractor, finish carpenter, and floor installer were all people he brought in, and he himself was on the site daily; he says they plan to stay for good.

the gray paneling continues in the powder room, which has a gray marble sink an 15
Above: The gray paneling continues in the powder room, which has a gray marble sink and a 1933 Gio Ponti mirror reproduced by Gubi. “We wanted the room to feel dressy,” says Martinez. The sconce is from Aerin Lauder’s lighting collection for Circa and the unlacquered brass taps and towel rail are from Waterworks.
paneled wainscoting and a subtly patterned wallpaper—schumacher&#8\2 16
Above: Paneled wainscoting and a subtly patterned wallpaper—Schumacher’s Labyrinth in Alabaster—travel up the stairs to the landings, which have herringbone flooring. The second story is furnished with Katy Skelton’s Safari Bench, a Scandinavian-inspired, leather-belted design made in Pennsylvania.
hotel or home? the north facing master bedroom is &#8\2\20;all about the tr 17
Above: Hotel or home? The north-facing master bedroom is “all about the trees, the light, and Mount Tam,” says Martinez. The  upholstered headboard, armchair, and side tables are all from Serena & Lily. The Serge Mouille-inspired light is the Charlton Table Lamp by Aerin Lauder for Circa. The Moroccan Pom Pom Blanket is from Remodelista favorite L’Aviva Home.
a geometric marble floor—from kelly wearstler&#8\2\17;s mosaics coll 18
Above: A geometric marble floor—from Kelly Wearstler’s Mosaics collection for Anne Sacks—adds pattern to the master bath. (“It’s bold, but still in keeping with the materials and color palette,” says Martinez. “Everything feels related and in the same family.”

The Carrara marble sink has a Waterworks polished nickel faucet and niche shelving: thanks to an adjoining dressing area, the room could be unencumbered by a lot of storage.

the freestanding contemporary tub is the laura kirar design from kallista. 19
Above: The freestanding contemporary tub is the Laura Kirar design from Kallista.with a Waterworks freestanding faucet in nickel. The hanging light is Serena & Lily’s Capiz Scalloped Chandelier. The sliding door with a mirrored top panel leads to the WC.
the cohen&#8\2\17;s older daughters, ages 7 and 4, have shiplap paneled roo 20
Above: The Cohen’s older daughters, ages 7 and 4, have shiplap-paneled rooms tucked under the eaves on the top floor. Each has a window seat with storage underneath for toys: “the spaces were existing but the built-ins are new,” says Eli. “You wouldn’t design a new house with nooks like these.”

The pink sconce is Jielde’s Signal 1-Arm Wall Light. The Max Lamb Splatter Stool is from the MoMA Design Store.

the girls&#8\2\17; bath has a carrera marble counter and makeup mirrors in  21
Above: The girls’ bath has a Carrera marble counter and makeup mirrors in place of big mirrors to take advantage of the mountain views. The unlacquered brass faucets are from the Waterworks Highgate line and the faceted sconces are from Schoolhouse Electric.
a built in desk. situated on opposite ends of a hall, the girls&#8\2\17; ro 22
Above: A built-in desk. Situated on opposite ends of a hall, the girls’ rooms are mirror images of each other.
an aerial overview of the property. take a drone tour of the project at richard 23
Above: An aerial overview of the property. Take a drone tour of the project at Richardson Architects.

Our own Julie Carlson and Michelle Slatalla live in Mill Valley; here’s a look at Julie’s house and Michelle’s Grottage: A Garage-Turned-Guest Cottage.

More Mill Valley:

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