Fair Oaks: Dramatic Renovation By A Design Dream Team

Andrew Mann and Martha Angus give a Peninsula family a vacation-like getaway they can live in every day.

For many years, a Peninsula couple loved the relaxed indoor-outdoor lifestyle they enjoyed when they were on vacation in Mexico. Then they had a radical thought: Why not make their home as refreshing as a south-of-the-border getaway? The idea, which led to an overhaul of the family home and garden, would alter the way they live.

(Left) Architect Andrew Mann brought quiet elegance and order to the rear exterior of this home. Prior to the update, it was a confusing jumble of boxes. Now, the composition of large windows, doors, terrace and patio is a match for the gracious front entrance (above). “So much of the family’s life is spent in the back,” says Mann. “It needed to be as nice as the front yard.” (Right) Mann and Martha Angus are adept at blending styles, making them mix masters of the new traditional look.

For Steve and Sharon (last name withheld), life had already changed dramatically since they purchased the 6,000-square-foot house in 1999. With their burgeoning careers and the birth of their two kids, travel and parties had given way to play dates and soccer practices. But as their household grew and changed, their home stayed nearly the same until the day a golden opportunity fell into their laps.

“The neighbors behind us had lived there for more than 60 years,” says Steve. “When they passed away, we had the chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase their house and use the land to expand our property. Once the lots were joined, we had just a little more than two acres.”

(Left) A dead-end mezzanine bisected the foyer. Once the mezzanine was removed, it made way for a more poetic, light-filled space. Then Mann installed more substantial molding and paneling to fit the foyer’s new scale. (Right) Mann added life to a rarely used living room by making the entrance accessible and replacing a bank of windows with a long row of doors that let in light and make it easy to move the party outside. Angus added a card table that’s used for family game nights.

While incorporating the adjacent site, the couple decided to fix some things about their house that had been bothering them for several years. “We bought the first house quickly because I’d just changed jobs and we needed to move right away,” says Sharon. “We found a spec house that suited our needs but was just OK. We really bought it because we liked the neighborhood and the gorgeous old oak trees on the lot.”

The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is too strong to describe how the couple felt about the house, but the longer they lived there, the more they noticed its idiosyncrasies. “The house had a mezzanine that didn’t go anywhere; it just ended in dead space,” says Steve. “In the living room an awkward wall had been built around a heating unit. The windows at the rear of the foyer were at odd angles and didn’t take the outdoors into account, and the yard had a swimming pool crammed into it.”

The couple assembled their design dream team to take on the challenge: architect Andrew Mann, interior designer Martha Angus (who did the initial interior design when they bought the house) and landscape architect Collin Jones.

Many of the changes were relatively subtle. “In a way, the house seemed like a person wearing an outfit that was a bit off—something like black pants, a yellow blouse and a loud, bright red scarf,” says Steven. “Take off the scarf and add some accessories, and suddenly everything goes together.”

For Mann, improving the home was a matter of applying his core design principles: crisp details, rich spaces and great use of natural light. He started by straightening out the geometry in the foyer and living room. “Before the remodel, the large entry was drum-shaped, and the heavy balcony on the mezzanine bisected the area,” he says. “We simplified the rounded form by squaring it off and removing the mezzanine, which was really just dead space.”

The demise of the balcony, along with the thick columns that supported it, opened up the space between the upper and lower levels. By installing a bank of windows near the ceiling, two sets of French doors on the lower level and windows in the upper and lower corners of the far wall, Mann created a wall of glass that takes in the new backyard vista and allows light to flood the space on the lower floor. “When we took over the neighbor’s lot, we made our own view,” says Steve. “Now the house takes advantage of that.”

To make the foyer’s new volume work, Mann installed molding and paneling above the living room entry and between the French doors and the upper windows. “The ceilings are 20 feet high, and before, there was a diminutive crown molding that was under-scaled. We added a much more substantial trim. The large panels vastly improved the look of the room and now the proportions make sense.”

The living room off the foyer had always been a problem for the family. “The entrance to the room was off-center, making it hard to get to,” says Sharon. “We just never used it.”

Mann moved the doorway (surrounding the space with more of the substantial molding and paneling), replaced the windows with French doors that open onto the patio and installed a cove ceiling where there had been a tray ceiling. “By removing the awkward angles, we made the room more gracious,” says Mann. “The clean, composed lines give the couple the traditional look they love.”

The homeowners insisted that the light fixture over the dining table be “de-electrified” and replaced lightbulbs with candles. “There is nothing more romantic than dining by candlelight,” says Steve. “It gives a tabletop a lovely glow.

Despite all the changes, the furniture and art in the living room and dining room remain the same. Angus helped the couple select the pieces when they first bought their home. “When we started, they were newly married and some of my first clients in California,” remembers Angus, who hails from New York. “The key to making the furnishings timeless was to select gorgeous, classic pieces. Furniture like that never dates itself.”

But don’t think this is your mother’s brand of classic. “The ‘old’ traditional style, with dark colors and heavy, curvy antiques, is just so tired,” says Angus. “The new traditional style is younger and fresher, with simpler lines and warmer, more inviting colors.”

(Left) The key to making classic forms fresh in this home is the application of warm, spicy colors such as the bright curry-red walls in a powder room on the main floor. (Right) While in India, the couple invested in several pieces of modern art that decorate the walls today. The bold mix of abstract paintings with very traditional furniture gives this sitting room a youthful appeal.

When Angus selected the house’s palette more than a decade ago, Steve and Sharon gravitated toward spice colors: paprika, thyme, curry and saffron. Angus applied them to iconic furnishings from Jean-Michel Frank and Michael Taylor and mixed in new pieces and antiques for an eclectic style that’s still as fresh as the day they were installed.

The recent removal of an awkward angle in the living room made way for one new piece: a game table. “Martha’s idea was that now that we have kids, we would want a place where we can play board games with them,” says Sharon. “Today, the living room is where we all sit and read or have family poker nights.”

The family had added two new clients since Angus’ initial work, and part of her new design directive was to make age-appropriate rooms for them. “I love working with children; these kids were very opinionated and certain about what they wanted for their rooms,” she says. “The boy knew he wanted a blue room and a comfortable place to read in the window seat. The girl went with bright reds, and we designed a homework center for her.”

The kids were also the driving forces behind the outdoor spaces. “Our idea was to create a park at home. We wanted places to relax and play,” says Steve. “I wanted to have soccer practices and mini-camps here and to make this the place where all the kids (and adults) want to hang out. Most birthday parties involve parents dropping off their kids. Here, we invite parents to stay for the party too.”

To that end, there are now three main outdoor areas: a pool deck with a lap pool; a pergola outfitted with a generous daybed, an outdoor fireplace and seating area; and a dining terrace and outdoor kitchen. “We worked hard to differentiate each area and give each its own identity,” says Collin Jones. “This allows the garden to be a gathering spot where a lot of different activities, for both children and grown-ups, can happen at the same time.”

Although Jones designed the terraces with classic materials in the colors of the home, he detailed them with clean, minimal lines. “I guess I’m a modernist at heart,” he says. “But I wanted the space to have a quiet, understated style that will stand the test of time.”

With the new outdoor spaces, the architect found he needed to address the appearance of the home’s exterior. “The house had a strange geometry to it. The front was very formal and composed, but the back was a jumble of forms with no hierarchy—the eye just bounced around,” Mann says. “The rounded foyer had a flat roof. After it was squared off, we gave it a hipped roof that made more sense with the French château architecture of the house.”

The family now makes time at home recreation time. “It is like being on a vacation now,” says Steven. “Open up the pool, put on a little music and relax on the daybed, and you feel like you’re at a great hotel.”

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