Together, Yet Separate: Finding Respite in an Airy Homestead Valley Home

In 2010, Jodi and Mark Martini purchased a spacious hillside home in Mill Valley in need of a little TLC. Despite its quirks, they fell madly in love with the property which had spectacular views. They were especially impressed by how the lot felt private and remote, yet still offered easy access to town and the Golden Gate Bridge. For six years they enjoyed the space, as is, while attending only to its most pressing problems, which included fixing the rickety decks, and replacing a structurally deficient platform driveway.

Over the years, they toyed with the idea of renovating. But the timing never felt right. “There were a lot of reasons not to do it, one of which was my decision to take a job at Stanford,” says Jodi. The couple contemplated relocating to the Peninsula. But, ultimately decided to stay put, continuing to raise their two kids, Drew and Lila, in the community they’d grown to love. Once committed, they surrounded themselves with a team of seasoned experts and with their help, turned their dated gingerbread cottage into a show-stopping California Modern.

Photo by David Duncan Livingston.

Priority one was a cohesive space where one room organically rolls into the next. “The home, which was built in the fifties, had been added onto by different people at different times resulting in a choppy layout,” says Jodi. Highlights of the down-to-the studs remodel include reducing the number of bedrooms from five to four to increase the home’s shared living spaces; moving and expanding the kitchen from the lower level to the entry-level; and relocating and expanding the couple’s master suite.

The construction phase, while challenging, was worth the effort. “We planned to be out for six months and it took two years,” says Jodi. Furnishing the space, a project that began in 2018, took another two years. “When we moved back into it, we took almost nothing with us,” she recalls. This meant living with a lot of empty rooms. But the Martini’s wanted to be thoughtful about their purchases. This also meant teaming up with interior designer, Jill McCrae of JM Interiors in Mill Valley. “Jill was superbly helpful and has an unbelievable eye,” says Jodi. “She knew we were after a clean design, and wanted everything to be serene, peaceful and cohesive.”

Photo by David Duncan Livingston.

Jill’s idea: Keep the space monochromatic to complement rather than overpower the home’s views. “Their place is nestled in a canopy of trees,” says McCrae. “It also has sweeping views of Mount Tam.”

So, after discussing a workable color palette, the couple found inspiration in an unexpected muse, namely, Leo, the family’s seven-year-old havapoo. “He’s an unusual mix of gray that also sort of reminds us of the Bay Area fog,” says Jodi. “And while they stayed with varying tones of gray, Jill encouraged them to layer the home with endless textures, which allows the things to feel dramatic and understated, simultaneously. “We used leathers, linens, mohair, cashmere, velvet, faux fur all within the same space.”

Photo by David Duncan Livingston.

Jill’s design also blended materials from across the globe and price points. In the kitchen, for example, she sourced Italian bar stools by Calligaris that allow the family to gather for informal meals at the island. But they also swivel for an effortless conversation with family members lounging in the adjacent family room. A hide rug in front of the fireplace comes from the Montreal based company, Outpost Original. In the media room, the gray sectional pops with the help of a mix of throw pillows. “We paired inexpensive linen pillows from Room and Board with a trio of more luxurious ones by Auskin, one hide, one shearling, and one a Tibetan sheepskin.”

But Jill’s true stroke of genius—and serendipitously indispensable for a pandemic induced quarantine—was her plan to create defined spaces throughout the home that provide opportunities for the family to be together, yet separate. “The home has six different lounge areas,” says Jill. “But we created them with furniture, not walls, so the home doesn’t feel compartmentalized. “You can define the space without obstructing any of the views.

Photo by David Duncan Livingston.

Also, fortuitous: the project wrapped up last March. The final piece, an oyster-colored, leather sectional by Italian company Loggia for the home’s upper-level lounge. “We ordered it in February, and it got delivered just as we were about to go into lockdown,” says Jodi.

Jill’s “together, yet separate” plan has made adjusting to a new normal exponentially easier. A typical day in the Martini home, for example, would include Jodi, a professor of medicine at Stanford, teaching psychiatry residents via Zoom about nicotine addiction treatment protocols from the home office. While Mark, a partner at the Mill Valley Depot Café + Bookstore, collaborates with designers on renovation from the master bedroom. The kids also spend a fair bit of time on Zoom, as well, as dance and baseball team meetings are currently virtual. But the kids also indulge in old-fashioned, teenage fun goofing off together or just chillaxing in the home’s garage, now reimagined as a teen lounge.

Photo by David Duncan Livingston.

“Honestly, we didn’t think we would need all the different sitting rooms, but now we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to gather in all these incredible spaces and yet be able to disappear when we need to find our own zone,” says Jodi. And, now more than ever, they’re taking advantage of the home’s outdoor spaces. “It’s been amazing to have fresh air and sunshine and still have distance from people and a true respite during this tumultuous time.

Dawn DenbergDawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.