Giving your Home a new Option

W Willetta House by M Studio Architecture

When family calls, responding isn’t compulsory—but Melissa and Jake, a genial San Francisco couple, chose to listen. Silicon Valley’s relentless work culture was preventing Jake, who runs a structural engineering firm, from spending time and attending appointments with their young son, Charlie, who was born with special needs. And so in 2017, the family decided to move—with their three dogs, three cats, and two turtles—to Jake’s native Phoenix for a more manageable pace of life.

The homeowners designed the pool and the geometric barrier, made from a foam-cast cement breeze wall and iron swing gate.

They wanted a home that was close to the city’s more liberal, populated downtown core, and fell in love with a property in the F.Q. Story Historic District, where many residences are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “We literally bought the ugliest house in the neighborhood,” Melissa says of their 1,360-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow, built in 1946.

The homeowner designed the seven-foot-deep pool and concrete breeze wall themselves.

But they had a clear vision of what it could become. The couple wanted to open up the maze-like, hallway-heavy floor plan so that they could entertain and accommodate their growing family. Jake needed a home office. Charlie needed space to play. And Melissa wanted a dog-washing station (“because they get stinky and smelly,” she says) and a walk-in pantry, because she’d never had one before.

In the living room, a vintage tapestry by Alexander Girard anchors the space. The sofa was found on Craigslist.

The pair hired Sean Hogan of M Studio Architecture, a Tempe, Arizona,  firm they met through a friend, to renovate the home, and Jake signed on as the project’s structural engineer. Zoning restrictions stipulated that they couldn’t build above the existing roofline of the house,  only 40 percent of the lot could be covered by the structure, and no changes could be made to the facade without approval from the state’s Historic Preservation Office.

“We couldn’t go up, and we couldn’t go out,” Hogan says. “So we had to dig down.”

The new below-grade playroom, with its wood EZ Play Jungle Gym, doubles as a bedroom and features a window that looks into the pool.

Hidden below and behind the house, none of the 1,120 square feet of new construction is visible from the street. Hogan built a seven-foot-deep in-ground pool—surrounded by a geometric form-cast cement breeze wall with an orange iron gate—at the back of the property, and underneath it, a high-ceilinged playroom that doubles as a bedroom, and an office.

To ensure the space never feels like a basement, Hogan and Jake developed an unusual strategy: “I call it our Free Willy window,” Melissa says of the rectangular glass opening that looks out from the playroom into the pool, bringing refracted natural light indoors. “At every pool party we host, I run downstairs to take pictures of the kids through the water.”

Kerf cabinetry, Heath Ceramics tile, and a BlueStar range complement stainless steel countertops and a porcelain sink in the kitchen.

A blue spiral stairway leads to the ground floor of the home. Hogan replaced the compartmentalized interiors with a streamlined floor plan, removing a bearing wall and installing support beams and vaulting ceilings to maximize space.

Melissa and Jake brought on interior designer Karen Nepacena of Destination Eichler, a firm they’d worked with to renovate their previous home, to infuse every room with playful, colorful pieces and vintage finds. Personal touches abound, from the bathroom’s pink tile (a nod to the locker rooms of Melissa’s Long Beach, California, elementary school) to the DIY bar sink the couple made from a vintage dresser, and the dog-washing basin in the laundry room.

A bathroom for kids features retro-style materials, including a vintage-inspired sink, toilet, and pink mosaic tile.

The family moved into their finished home last fall, after nearly a year of renovations. While they still have boxes to unpack, Melissa says she feels settled, and relieved: “We finally feel like we’re home.”

The home’s bar features a vintage sink that the homeowners combined with a vintage dresser. Geometric Heath Ceramics for Hygge and West wallpaper serves as a backdrop.

The dining room continues the home’s midcentury aesthetic.

In the master bathroom, a skylight shines natural light onto Cle Tile and lighting fixtures by Rejuvenation. Paul Rene designed the custom white oak vanity and mirrors.

The powder room gets its geometric edge from Heath Ceramics for Hygge and West wallpaper.

A dog-washing basin near the laundry room, with walls covered in Cle Tile, was designed with the homeowners’ three pups in mind.

A spiral stairway leads to the newly constructed basement. “It’s like a piece of playground equipment in the house,” says Sean Hogan of M Studio Architecture.

An iron swing gate leads to the in-ground pool in the backyard.

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