Everyone knows there is no way to force a square peg into a round hole. Designer Mary Jo Fiorella felt like she was trying to do just that as she attempted to shoehorn a commodious great room, a large primary suite for both sleeping and lounging, and enough space for large-scale cooking and entertaining into a standard 1950s ranch house. After several months of planning, it became obvious that transforming the nondescript Atherton, California, residence into an elegant home equal to the sophistication of its owners and their notable art collection wasn’t happening within the confines of the existing structure. “The square footage simply wasn’t adequate to support their goals, so I started looking to create a sense of grandness in the great room and primary bedroom,” explains Fiorella.
Residential designer Jennifer Lee was enlisted to turn this new architectural vision into a reality, and she and Fiorella collaborated to, quite literally, raise the roof. The entry was pulled forward, and the roofline was elevated to lofty new heights, creating more pleasing proportions in the combined living, dining and kitchen area. “We added a shed roof, and the resulting sloped ceiling stretches to nearly 20 feet high,” says Lee, who also incorporated a row of clerestory windows running the length of the space at its highest point.
Not surprisingly, given the couple’s collection, art defines the entry. A dramatic aluminum wall sculpture by French artist Olivier Seguin pairs with a minimalistic concrete-and-metal bench to make an unforgettable opening statement. “It’s a piece of art all on its own,” says Fiorella of the hefty perch. Those kind of grace moments continue in the great room, where built-in shelves are lined with collectibles handed down through generations of family. The new furniture in this space evokes another kind of warm, familial response. “I wanted everyone to feel like they were getting a hug when they take a seat,” notes the designer, referencing the chenille upholstery on the sleek sofa and the velvet-covered swivel chairs.
References to one of the homeowners’ Spanish heritage can be found throughout the abode. In the kitchen, hand-painted backsplash tiles evoking the spirit of his native country accent dark-stained, rift-sawn oak cabinets. Integrating a pair of antique Spanish doors into the entry of the shared office was another nod to his roots, but it proved a more daunting challenge. “The door panels were the wrong size, so I worked with general contractor Todd Turley to design an oversize metal frame for each door to make them fit,” the designer explains.
The primary suite reflects the personality of the other owner—described by Fiorella as warm, passionate and vivacious. “She often wears deep red lipstick, and she wanted a glamorous red chaise to lounge on. It really evokes her nature and adds spice to the room,” says the designer. Area rugs in the distinct sleeping and lounge areas also inspired the suite’s red and gold accents. “We pulled colors from the floorcoverings and used them throughout the room to make it sing,” explains Fiorella. A custom console hiding a television screen that rises and swivels for ease of viewing further delineates spaces for sleeping and relaxing.
The main bathroom is also a personality rich space, marked by a geometric black tile backsplash that serves as a dramatic background for a shapely soaking tub. An elaborate tile rug embedded in the black marble floor provides a similar modern note. The warmth of a floating walnut vanity prevents the space from feeling cold.
A great deal of thought went into the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. In the new living area, 10-foot-tall doors now open to a trellised alfresco dining room and pool. To enhance the easy flow between the spaces, landscape architect Keith Willig installed exterior paving at the same level as the interior flooring. “With zero threshold, it feels like you are just walking between rooms as you move from inside to out,” he explains. “In keeping with the owners’ desire for European elements in the landscape, olive trees anchor the front yard, and an allée of fruit trees provide color and formality.”
What started as a design challenge became a residence where living is easy and graceful. “There are warm woods, clean lines and no excessive details,” notes Fiorella. “We allowed their artworks to serve as the ‘jewelry’ in the rooms.” In other words, the once too-small house is now a perfect fit.