Interior Designer Glenda Martin's Last House Was Also Her Best
Interior designer Glenda Martin worked on the offices of some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies and, later, on the luxurious homes of the people who founded them. But what she considered her best work was her smallest—a 650-square-foot barn-turned-house that she designed for herself in Sonoma County. Halfway through the six-month project, Martin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She lived in the home for only eight months before passing away. Through the windows Martin had carefully placed at each end of her bedroom, her family could see the sun setting in the west and a full moon rising in the east.
Martin came to design in a roundabout way. She was born on a tiny Missouri farm to a family of German-American winemakers and farmers, and she grew up tending chickens and driving tractors in the hay fields, seemingly a world away from high-end interior design.
But on many evenings after coming in from the pastures, she and her grandfather would sit together on the front porch and silently pore over a book on Japanese antiquities. “Where a farmer in rural Missouri got such a book is a mystery,” says Jessica Martin, her daughter. “But it definitely left an imprint on her life and helped her develop a love for the Japanese aesthetic.”
“The orignal staircase was really a ladder,” says Jessica. “I had a hard time imagining how my mom would fit proper stairs into the space, but I had no doubt they would be beautiful.” Minimalist floating stair treads were Martin's answer.
“My mom was very happy with this house and with living here,” says Jessica. “Looking at it, I can see the full arc of her career and everything she adored: the stone wall she fell in love with in France, the pebble tile in the bathroom and the smooth floors with radiant heat beneath. After she died, I thought it would be a sad place, but it’s the opposite. It has a wonderful energy.”
Today, her family keeps the house as Martin designed it and uses it as a retreat for family and friends. “My mom loved beauty; she sought it out and created it,” says Jessica. “People called her Glenda the Good Witch, and she really was. She could make beautiful things happen.”
Jessica believes that Martin loved the barn because of her rural roots. “I think she was reliving her childhood,” she says. “It became a quiet and healing place that helped her prepare for what lay ahead. While she was sick, she received visitors often. For many, it was like a pilgrimage. Her friends still visit the barn and say they feel her energy here.”
When Martin purchased the barn, the small loft was paneled in rough knotty-pine planks. Martin recreated it as a peaceful, light-filled retreat. She was a tall woman and could stand up completely only in the center of the room, but because the space was centered around rest and reflection, that didn't matter.