Article for Remodeling Ideas for Your Home magazine

Suite Mix
Modern amenities blend perfectly with old-world styling in an expanded upper-level master suite.

When drivers wound past the home of Gail and Steven Karp on the curving roads near San Francisco Bay, its problem was nowhere in sight. Passersby saw only a California classic: a detailed 1920s Spanish Mediterranean house.

suiteBut on the upper level, beneath the tile roof, hid a collection of small rooms that were showing their age in all the wrong ways. The key problem was a dated floor plan that didn’t provide enough room for the couple and their three sons. A more comfortable master suiteespecially one with more storagewas long overdue.

 When Gail and Steven started planning improvements to the space, they thought of adding only much-needed closet space. But the project grew, and they ended up expanding the suite over the roof of the home’s first level, giving the bedroom and bath complete facelifts, and upgrading mechanical systems. The suite now boasts a 15-foot walk-in closet and dressing area, an exquisite bath with a sauna and stearm shower, and a larger bedroom with a sitting area nestled next to a relocated fireplace.

Gail, an interior designer, says she let the home’s ornate Mediterranean style set the aesthetic tone for the new suite. The architecture and furnishings add beautiful old-world form to the digital-age function, creating a space that meets the needs of modern family while blending with the home’s traditional style.

This seamless mix is most apparent in a large custom armoire that accommodates the electronics Steven loves. A television, DVD player, stereo equipment, VCR, satellite receiver, and refrigerator are encased in the armoire, which looks perfectly natural at the foot of the 18th-century iron bed and a Louis Philippe chest of drawers.

“Gail would have preferred an antique, but it was impossible to find something that would have held all the gadgets,” says Nancy Scheinholtz, the project’s lead architect. “If it’s traditional, it doesn’t need to be an old piece.”

Most of the bath was gutted, but the sense of Mediterranean style remained when Gail reproduced the beautifully tiled arch over the original tub in the new bath. To extend the look of the original tile to nearby areas, she hand-painted every accent tile within a selected range of shades, producing a unique look consistent with the Mediterranean motif.

The bath’s hutchlike medicine-chest cabinet holds electric grooming accessories that can be recharged inside the drawers via hidden electrical outlets.

The expanded closet and dressing area features a center island that holds shoes and luggage and provides a surface for folding and packing clothers. The space is built for two, Gail says. Her side features light-finished cabintry, crystal-knob drawer pulls, and a custom-built vanity. Steven’s offers dark cherry cabinetry and nickel-plated pulls.

Although marrying old-world style to contemporary function required a lot of planning and legwork, the results seem effortless. “It was complicated, but when it was all done, it didn’t look complicated,” Scheinholtz says. “It looks like it belongs.”

Lessons Learned
Following a specific architectural style doesn’t mean limiting options. Most styles allow some variety. With Mediterranean style, for example, Spanish, French, and Italian Mediterranean are all similar yet distinctive enough to provide many design options.

  • When the walls are open during a remodeling project, it’s an ideal time to upgrade mechanical systems such as electrical, heating, and plumbing, and even wire an older home for computer networking.

What They Did
Expanding the bathroom adding a cantilevered bump-out for the tub area allowed for a modern bath.

  • Extending the bedroom over the existing main level of the house made up for square footage lost to the bathroom’s sauna and created space for a relocated fireplace and sitting area.
  • Protecting the home’s Spanish Mediterranean architecture was a priority. Thus, the overall roof design and tiles were preserved, and interior elements such as sconces and pewter doorknobs were either reused or replicated in the new spaces.
  • In the bath, modern features such as a Fiberglas tub and steam shower blend with classic elements such as tiled arches, antique-style pedestal sinks, and furniture like cabinetry.