A California home nestled in a grove of redwood trees
Why would anyone willingly give up a California hilltop house with views of San Francisco Bay to live in an area called “the flats”?
The three reasons for Eric and Erin Fish were Lauren, 13; Julia, 12; and Ainsworth, 8. “We wanted a house where the kids could walk and bike to school or have a pickup game of football in the front yard,” Erin says. “We wanted them to grow up having the sort of independence we enjoyed as kids.”
Children living in Marin County’s hillside homes are generally dependent on their parents to transport them, and it’s difficult for them to have casual neighborhood get-togethers, Erin explains. “After our third baby was born, we decided we wanted to be in the flats,” an area in Kentfield named for its level terrain.
The couple’s search led to an old Georgian Revival house that was once part of an estate built by William Kent, an early conservationist for whom the town of Kentfield is named. In the early 1900s, the California congressman and civic leader donated hundreds of acres of redwood forests in Marin County to the United States government, establishing Muir Woods National Monument (named for Kent’s friend and famous naturalist John Muir).
“We found this house nestled in a grove of redwoods and oak trees, and it had this magical feeling,” says Erin. The house sits on about 1½ acres of level land at the base of Mount Tamalpais, a Marin County landmark and mountain-biking mecca. The 1890s house, however, was showing its age. Rooms had been added over the years, making for an awkward layout. “It just didn’t flow the way a family home needs to today,” says Erin. “You could tell it had been this grande dame in its time, but it was tired.”
Enter Wendy Posard, a Marin County architectural and interior designer, who combines a love of history and classical architecture with an understanding of the needs of today’s families. “Our first on-site meeting was to discuss how we could preserve the historical elements of the original home while really opening up the plan for informal gracious living,” Posard says.
The structure was taken down to its foundation, and within the year, a new 6,000-square-foot Georgian Colonial replaced it. But the new home took more than design inspiration from the original. Much of the old-growth redwood used for framing the old house was re-milled and used in building the new structure. The contractor painstakingly removed and reassembled each piece of trim from the original front entry, which is now the home’s back door.
Staying within the footprint and honoring the colonial architecture of the old Kent residence, Posard designed a two-story wood-frame home with wings extending on either side. Interiors are trimmed with elegant crown molding, coffered ceilings, and tongue-and-groove plank walls and ceilings. “The new house speaks to a lot of the details of the original,” notes Posard.
The floor plan is a nod to formal design, too, with a dining room and living room on either side of the center staircase foyer. But a casual attitude quickly takes over, thanks to an abundance of sunshine, multiple views to the outdoors, a layout that puts the kitchen in control, and an upbeat blue, white, and lemon yellow palette.
“Erin wanted a fresh and breezy feel,” Posard says. The designer kept interiors open with long stretches of uninterrupted sight lines through the house providing visual and physical connections to the landscape. Exterior walls are lined with tall windows, as well as French and Dutch doors that stand open in good weather, so the kids, their friends, and Bones, the family’s Goldendoodle, can run in and out freely.
“There are always children playing at the house,” Posard relates, adding, “Erin didn’t want to worry about wet bathing suits or the dog scratching the floor.” The spacious kitchen and breakfast room are grounded with an indestructible Connecticut bluestone floor that continues outside on patios surrounding the house.
The family eats most meals in the window-lined breakfast room at a 10-foot-long double pedestal farm table with chairs slipcovered in a mix of four patterns in easy-care, indoor-outdoor fabric. Bones keeps an eye on the dining, draping his paws over the breakfast room’s double Dutch doors to peer inside.
Posard designed interiors mindful of Erin’s desire for a “wine-country-meets-the-beach look.” Yellow upholstered chairs and a blue-striped woven area rug in the living room have a relaxed beach feel, while vaulted ceilings with trusses reflect the rustic look of wineries in Napa Valley, Erin explains.
Blue-and-yellow dishes that Erin bought on a trip to Italy sparked the sunny palette, which takes an energetic spin in the dining room. Posard papered the walls with a lemon yellow grass cloth and laid down a graphic yellow-and-white area rug. A breakfront that Posard designed (after Erin admired a similar one in the movie Something’s Gotta Give) grounds the room in tradition.
The Fishes frequently host fund-raising events for charities and political campaigns. “Even though we kept saying we want casual, we didn’t want the house dressed down too much,” Erin says. The powder room got special attention with a large antiqued mirror, textured wall covering, and a marble-topped vanity because, as Posard says, “President Obama might be washing his hands in this room!” He hasn’t yet, Erin says, with a laugh.
Throughout the project, Posard and the contractor kept the environment in mind, and the house meets Platinum Level standards—the highest—under the national LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green-building program.
That seems fitting for a house built for a young outdoor-loving family on redwood-shaded land once owned by an early conservationist.
Photography: John Granen
Produced by Eleanor Roper
Architectural designer and interior designer: Wendy Posard, Wendy Posard & Assoc., 112 Pine St., San Anselmo, CA 94960; 415/456-2020, wendyposard.com .
Contractor: Gary Suhrke, CDK Builders Inc., 44 Greenfield Ave., San Anselmo, CA 94960; 415/419-5643, cdkbuilders.com .
Landscape architect: Warren Simmonds, Simmonds & Assoc. Inc., 330 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Suite B, San Anselmo, CA 94960; 415/460-0460, simmonds-associates.com .
The house’s Georgian Revival style is a nod to the original structure’s design. French doors in the master bedroom open to a small balcony above the entry porch.
The portico’s columns are appointed in classic dentil and curling volute molding.
Doors at opposite ends of the entrance hall provide views through the house and bring in natural light.
Entry Hall Side Table
The mirror's distressed wooden frame, glass lamps, and a simple side table are comforting touches that invite guests into the home’s foyer.
Bright and Open Living Room
Moroccan-style ottomans covered in bright fabrics were found in the West Hollywood design district.
Rustic Touches in the Living Room
Rustic trusses made with salvaged lumber and a whitewashed tongue-and-groove ceiling relax the living room.
Zesty Yellow Dining Room
The lemon yellow wall covering from Phillip Jeffries and a yellow area rug from The Rug Company turn up the energy in the formal dining room, which opens to a front terrace.
Italian Dishware Collection
The oil-rubbed bronze chandelier is from Rose Tarlow, and the draperies are a Rogers & Goffigon linen. A custom-designed built-in breakfront displays Erin Fish’s collection of blue-and-yellow Italian dishware.
The sky-blue of the china collection is a lovely counterpoint to the dining room’s lemon-yellow palette.
Butler’s Pantry with Stylish Storage
Behind the dining room, built-in cabinets line the wide hall that connects the kitchen and foyer. The runner is from Patterson, Flynn & Martin. The table was discovered at Sonoma Country Antiques, and the lamp is from Therien Studio Workshops.
Open and Airy Kitchen
Wide passageways allow for smooth family traffic. Connecticut bluestone floors flow from the interiors to the outdoor patios. Radiant heat warms the interior floors.
Cheerful Breakfast Room
Oversized white-lacquered conical light fixtures with brass interiors from Circa add a modern touch. Easy-care all-weather Perennials fabric was used to slipcover the chairs.
Smartly Organized Mudroom
A bench is flanked by sliding barn doors that hide the children’s cubbies on one side and a washer/dryer on the other.
Pool Terrace and Cozy Fireplace
An outdoor fireplace with nearby comfy seating and a dining set allows the family to relax and share meals on the patio next to the pool.
Outdoor Patio with Living-Room Feel
“We keep the design classical and traditional but created an informality by bringing the outscape inside,” says designer Wendy Posard. The one-story living room wing has several sets of French doors to connect the interiors to outdoor living spaces, including the swimming pool, the outdoor fireplace, and a barbecue are. Adults can sit on the patio or in the living room and watch the kids in the pool.
Two of the Fish children, Ainsworth and Lauren, climb on a swing in their yard. “This house is bright, fresh, and light. It’s all about sunshine and whitewash,” says designer Wendy Posard.
A bluestone path wraps around the back side of the living room and toward French doors in the family room.
Restful Bedroom in Blue and Green
Soothing greens, blues, and creams in the bedroom create a peaceful reverie. A tufted settee at the foot of the bed adds a touch of traditional among the patterned fabrics at the bed and chair.
Serene and Light-Filled Bath
Reflecting the bedroom’s ambience, a calming palette of light blue and crisp white lends serenity to the bath. Large mirrors framed in silver reflect the natural light, which freely floods the space. Intricate tile work lends interest to the floor.