When a couple who love to sail bought this one-story house in Tiburon in 2016, they knew they were buying it mostly for its location right on a canal that leads to the Bay. It let them have their sailboat docked just steps from the house, but it was obvious the house wasn’t designed for their outdoorsy lifestyle.
“There was only one tiny door that led out to the dock,” says Christie Tyreus the architect who redesigned the house. “The homeowners, plus their racing team, had to trek through the kitchen with wet gear to go in and out. It was definitely not built to accommodate a sailing lifestyle.”
The homeowners lived in the house for 2 years before contacting Tyreus, principal at Tyreus Design Studio, where, for the past 10 years, she has specialized in renovating older homes.
REARRANGING THE FLOOR PLAN
“We try to be clever about reimaging spaces and figuring out what we need to modify to make a big difference in how a house lives,” she says.
In this case, that meant taking down almost every wall to rearrange the floorplan, raising the ceilings from 8 to 10 feet, and adding about 1,000 square feet to the house, which is now 3,220 square feet. “It was important that the house feel right-sized for the lot and have a nice street presence,” Tyreus says.
“THE SPINE OF THE HOUSE”
Inside, the most dramatic change Tyreus made was to add a light-filled hallway that allows access to the dock without needing to traipse through other rooms.
“The hallway is the spine of the house,” she says. “And being able to see all the way to the water from the front door situates you and tells you what this house is about, which is that water access.”
The main hallway also divides the home’s public and private spaces, with one side holding the home’s four bedrooms, including a new primary suite, and the other side dedicated to living, kitchen and dining areas.
THE MAIN LIVING SPACES
Within the open-plan living area, Tyreus provided visual cues to divide the room into smaller, functional spaces. The dining area has a narrower window that opens to a skylight, while the living area has wider, more expansive windows—all of which give the homeowners the light-filled space they craved.
“Open floor plans can be challenging,” Tyreus says. “Here, I was able to give them a beautiful view of an olive tree from the dining room and views of the water from the other rooms.”
She also used materials to provide contrast, like the hand-troweled plaster fireplace that balances the white walls and glass windows and doors. She notes that she loves to use natural materials in a modern house to provide texture and balance, and, in this case, the dark fireplace also provides a visual anchor for the seating area.
THE DECK AND FIRE PIT
With indoor-outdoor living a priority for the homeowners, Tyreus redesigned the back deck to ease the traffic flow, minimize the windiness and preserve a mature tree. She repurposed an unused grassy area to create a sunken seating area around a fire pit. Tyreus enclosed the upper deck with a structural glass surround attached to the deck edge, so no posts are needed and the visual connection between the yard and water remains unbroken.
“It’s visually cozy with the stepdown nook,” she says. “But it also provides wind protection, which you need if you’re sitting out there.” The primary bedroom opens directly to the fire pit, so on mild evenings, the homeowner can leave the French doors open to the view and the fire.
A COASTAL VIBE
From the beginning of the two-year project, the homeowners wanted the house to have a modern, coastal vibe with clean lines and a limited palette. The wife describes it as “coastal and refined, but still comfortable.” To provide that look, Tyreus used lots of white oak and white shiplap.
In the kitchen, the lower white oak wood cabinets provide that warmth, while the upper cabinets mix white and glass fronts for visual interest. Throughout, the cabinets’ shaker doors and hardware have clean lines that aren’t too starkly modern for the owner’s taste.
Although the project took longer than the homeowners would have liked, they were happy they took on the full-scale renovation. “The results were worth the wait,” the wife says. “Christie and her team were amazing and they created a beautiful space we continue to enjoy.”
An unexpected bonus for Tyreus has been the reception from the neighborhood. “We’ve heard from neighbors who love that the house looks like the right fit for the lot and street,” the architect says. “It’s a big compliment when people in the neighborhood—who see it every day—appreciate it.”
As a result of this renovation, she’s been hired by several nearby homeowners who are also looking to update their ’50s ranches to celebrate the water views that Tiburon is famous for.
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Laura Hine is a design and style writer based in Chicago. She’s a former editor-in-chief of Better, as well as the Modern Luxury publications Interiors Chicago and NS.