In 1925, a traditional 1904 home was lifted up and placed on a barge to be transported across the bay from San Francisco to Atherton, where it was dropped into the center of a 19-acre orchard. More than 90 years later, a couple came across the house and they were at once smitten with its potential. “Stepping onto the property was like going back in time,” the wife says. “It had a park-like setting and a great sense of history.” Intent on enhancing the home’s historic feel while making it work for the present day, the new owners carefully assembled a project team that included designer Dara Rosenfeld, architect David Buergler and builder Paul Conrado. “It’s a very traditional house,” Rosenfeld says. “It was important to make it feel timeless and yet more current, so it will carry through to its next years.”
Though the home itself had historic charm, it had very little architectural detailing and thin siding, and it needed a lot of structural work. Buergler, who has extensive experience dealing with period homes, set about putting plans on paper to remedy the structure’s shortcomings. “The house is American neoclassical, which includes Georgian and Federal styles,” Buergler says. “We kept the basic box form and a similar front entrance and then added wings that are proportionate in size on either side.” Custom-milled siding, cornices and architraves around the doors and windows complete the new look.
Inside, Buergler reoriented the existing rooms to go along with the new additions. A front entry leads to a living room on one side and dining room on the other, while a large kitchen—anchored by one of the architect’s famously large islands—was designed as part of an open dining-family area. “It’s in a relaxed style influenced by the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London,” says Buergler, who also added a new master wing on the first floor. In addition to reworking the spaces, the architect designed and added extensive millwork throughout the house, including wall paneling, dentil moldings and archways.
Those thoughtful architectural elements set the stage for Rosenfeld’s elegant interiors. “I didn’t want to touch David’s beautiful work, and there was a lot going on with the intricate moldings and finishes. I felt the furniture needed to reflect the architecture, but still be somewhat restrained and streamlined,” she explains. “That was the story I took throughout the house.” Rosenfeld’s artful approach and refined aesthetic captured the interest of the owners. “Dara has a really intensive background in art history,” notes the husband. “Plus, she has a wonderful eye for color and design, and she understood the personality of the house. She brought a fresh new design to the project.”
That fresh outlook began with a color palette Rosenfeld pulled from the wife’s favorite hues, including coral, beige and pale blue. She also used the collection of Early American antiques the couple had acquired over the years as a starting point in pulling together thoughtful, sophisticated living spaces. In the living room, for example, the designer created a streamlined furniture plan designed around a custom hand-tufted wool rug with an enlarged paisley pattern. She accented the space with two Japanese painted screens that overlook a custom sofa and two armchairs by Rose Tarlow Melrose House. For the dining room, the designer played off the room’s extensive millwork by pairing a walnut table, also by Rose Tarlow Melrose House, with the owners’ Hepplewhite spider-back chairs, which she had refinished and re-covered. She hung a hand-painted and hand- embroidered silk wallcovering in the space, and for the built-in cabinets the architect designed in all four corners of the room, Rosenfeld displayed the owners’ late-18th- and early-19th-century silver and pewter pieces along with their Chinese porcelain and other tableware. In the more casual eating area o the kitchen, she designed a custom farm table and teamed it with the owners’ antique Windsor chairs.
In that dining area and elsewhere, multi-pane windows flood the home with sunlight and bring in views of the surrounding gardens, which the couple preserved and repurposed with the help of their longtime friend and landscape architect Susan Edwards Ogle of Susan Edwards Ogle Landscape Architect. “The property had beautiful mature rhododendron, old oaks, specimen Japanese maples and other trees that had been lovingly assembled and nurtured by the previous owner,” the wife says. In response to the changes made to the house, Ogle thoughtfully transplanted some of the mature trees to new locations around the now 1-acre property and converted an old driveway into a stone-lined garden.
Just as the rest of the team, Conrado took a detailed approach to his contributions, which ranged from executing the intricate interior moldings—for which special tools had to be made to accurately reproduce the period styles—to removing and replacing the old foundation. “We worked with great clients, who asked a lot of questions and then listened to our answers and took the team’s advice,” Conrado says. “As a result, this house will stand for another 100 years.”