Miles and Kathy Kilburn were thrilled when they purchased their Healdsburg dwelling. Perched at the top of a hill, the abode enjoyed tremendous views of the surrounding 13 acres dotted with ancient oak trees. “This site is very special, very magical,” Miles says. However, it wasn’t perfect.
“The house was a little small,” he admits. Plus, it had a difficult-to-find entrance and didn’t take full advantage of the vistas. The couple decided to double the size of the home by adding a second floor. It wasn’t the ideal solution—they preferred a single-story layout—but expanding the first floor in the original configuration was impossible. Even with these challenges, Miles and Kathy were confident that the team they brought on— designer Caitlin Jones Ghajar, architect H. Todd Kilburn (who is also Miles’ brother), and general contractors Preston Addison and Micah Addison— would create the dwelling of their dreams.
The remodel had begun, and the structure was already down to the studs when wildfires broke out in the area. Flames engulfed and destroyed the house, and the couple’s dreams briefly crumbled. “It was pretty traumatic,” Miles says. Although he and Kathy initially thought to rebuild with the plans they already had in hand, Jones Ghajar encouraged them to do some soul-searching. “Caitlin asked us ‘What would you envision if you could have exactly what you wanted?’ ” Miles says.
The designer herself already had an idea. “I had a dream about rebuilding the house,” she recalls. “The following evening, I sketched what ended up being fairly close to the final result.” Reenvisioned, the abode is now an inviting, single-story modern Mediterranean that capitalizes on the views and possesses great curb appeal. The team also rotated the structure, providing western outlooks and a better visual of the front door, which opens to a vaulted foyer. “We did away with the discreet entry to provide more of a statement and create a clear and unmistakable entrance for guests,” Kilburn explains. “It reflects the new home and gives it more grandeur.”
The foyer leads to the great room, which, though Jones Ghajar describes it as the “most formal of all the spaces,” is still decidedly comfortable. During dinner parties, guests can linger on the plush dining chairs or move to the cozy seats in the living area to enjoy cocktails. Shades of gray and taupe “whisper instead of shouting,” Miles muses. “And they provide a casual elegance throughout the home.”
The bright, airy kitchen—which serves as a showcase for the couple’s ceramics collection— and its adjoining family room were designed as more intimate spaces. And while this is where Miles and Kathy spend most of their time, they truly take advantage of every room. “There is not a spot in the house I don’t use,” Kathy laughs. With a multitude of carefully curated guest rooms (Kilburn has already chosen his), family and friends know they’re welcome.
Most important to the renovation was celebrating the surrounding sun-dappled hills and valleys through enhanced indoor-outdoor living. The H-shaped form of the home, centered around a large swimming pool, allows for a separation of public and private spaces while offering 360-degree views. “We developed a plan with huge windows and pocketing doors so they could feel as though they’re part of the landscape even when inside,” Jones Ghajar says. “This was part of why they bought this property in the first place.” Complementing the newly designed residence, landscape architect James Bradanini sited Mediterranean-influenced plantings around the oak trees that survived the fire. “I selected drought- tolerant plants like lavender, sage, ornamental grasses and olive trees due to their ability to thrive in the hot, dry conditions,” he explains.
Given the area’s climate, fire prevention was always in the plans. “We went with a true cement stucco and an unvented roof so embers can’t get into the roof cavity,” Kilburn explains. “The house and perimeter have a full sprinkler system, and any exposed wood was treated and coated with fire-retardant paint.” With this sense of security, the couple can relax while taking in their surroundings, moving with the sun to seating vignettes Jones Ghajar created throughout the landscape. Finishing an evening meal at the outdoor dining table provides perhaps the best views of the surviving oaks. “Although a number of trees were lost, many survived,” the designer says. “It has been incredible to see them come back.” They have, like the home itself, risen from the ashes.