The House That Inspired Dwell Magazine

It was just a “shotgun shack that needed some serious love,” Lara Hedberg Deam says of the downtown Mill Valley house she purchased in 1994. The native Midwesterner and future founder and publisher of Dwell magazine had only recently relocated to the Bay Area when she stumbled across the modest house tucked away from the road with a fortuitous “For Sale” sign out front.

Even though she couldn’t yet articulate her vision for the redesign of her new home (“I was exploring timelessness,” she says), she loved the site and the locale. “Chill Valley,” she says with a chuckle. “Mount Tam, the proximity to the ocean and the small-town feel—it all had a great appeal to me.” 

So, while local architect Bob Hatfield brought the house back to livability, Hedberg Deam took design classes to better equip herself to discuss concepts with him, and promptly “fell in love with the optimism of modern design and architecture.”

Her newly discovered passion lacked promotion, though, and thus began her mission of giving voice to the modern aesthetic and, ultimately, the genesis of Dwell. Now in its 10th year, the publication is thriving, she says, with an “impassioned” group of 325,000 subscribers, a community-centered website, an active Twitter following, two licensing agreements for architectural designs and the popular Dwell on Design expos. On April 30 and May 1, the first Dwell+Marin Modern Home Tour—a partnership between Dwell and Marin Magazine—featuring 10 homes including hers, will take place.

“The tour will look at design that you can imagine seeing in the magazine, but seeing it in person is even more inspiring,” she says. “Visitors will see everything from a houseboat in Sausalito to a Stanley Saitowitz–designed home in San Anselmo.”

Hedberg Deam’s own home has been entirely remodeled since she first moved in, but this time it was the result of a collaboration between the publisher and her husband of 10 years, architect Christopher C. Deam. Deam is the founder of CCD, an innovative interdisciplinary studio that takes on projects ranging from furniture design for Herman Miller to trailers for Airstream and custom residential homes.  

By cleverly repositioning the kitchen in the rear of the residence and downsizing the living area, the couple was able to add an intimate family room but still maintain the original footprint of the 3,000-square-foot dwelling. "[The switch created] the one thing I really wanted: a small room to cozy up in [during] the evening,” Hedberg Deam confides. She and her husband both also wanted a sauna, a nod to their shared Swedish heritage and a comforting place to relax.

Incorporating these desires was part of the master plan. “We needed the space tailored to how we wanted to live: [one that was] better for entertaining and in which to work, and had a greater connection to the outdoors,” her husband points out.

Connection to the outdoors was accomplished, to a great degree, by the extensive use of glass, which serves as a fourth wall in a number of main spaces. “We use the exterior as an extension of the interior,” he explains. “We wanted the landscape to feel more like a courtyard, and since we are on a confined lot our only view is up to the sky.”  

Instead of blurring this transition, which would have been the easier choice, they chose to embrace it. They introduced a bold shock of chartreuse on an easy-to-swing door from the kitchen to the courtyard, fabricated by Sand Studios in San Francisco, which makes the entire area an exciting statement and both the kitchen and the garden intuitive destinations. Besides the door, the home’s other design strengths lie in its “trimless everything, the juxtaposition of materials and the color palette,” Deam believes.

The strict scheme of black and white—stained black cedarwood walls and existing cherrywood floors, and Carrara marble for the surfaces in the kitchen, powder room and master bath—makes the interior a natural backdrop for strategic punches of color and the couple’s collections of contemporary art and modern furnishings.

“We’ve been going to the Milan Furniture Fair for years,” Hedberg Deam says, searching for pieces that are casual but rigorous and innovative. “We really love the designs by the Bouroullec brothers; they have a great sense of scale and color. We have their dove gray sofa from Ligne Roset and pink Vitra chairs in the living room.”

Downstairs, the children’s bedrooms are places where twins Macy and Cal are encouraged to explore their own design tastes. “They literally change their room around every month and, pretty much, their ideas are good,” their mother says with a laugh. “It’s a great idea for children to discover what works or doesn’t work for them.”

What seems to work for everyone is the kitchen. “It’s the focal point of our domestic life,” Deam says. “With the door wide open, we have a real fluid relation with the outdoors, each other and the house.”

Here, top-of-the-line appliances—Gaggenau in-counter steamer, Miele built-in espresso maker, Dacor warming drawer, Sub-Zero integrated refrigerator—along with the Tom Dixon Beat pendant lighting and the Eames for Herman Miller chairs, allow the clean lines and view to the courtyard to easily define the space.

The only subtle exception might be the 14-foot dining island. Formed from a local reclaimed California walnut street tree, sourced from Arborica in West Marin, the slab creates a natural and gentle play between the interior and the outdoors.

It’s just one of the many sustainable options Deam specified for the house, including resource recovery, fly-ash concrete, engineered lumber, mulched denim insulation and non-VOC paint.

“I tried to use the best practices wherever possible,” Deam says. “But a big part of that story is the invisible reuse of what was already here.” 

The Design Team

Architecture and interior design: Christopher C. Deam

Contractor: D. V. Rasmussen & Son

Engineering: Engenious Structures

Lighting: Christopher C. Deam

Landscape: Blasen Landscape Architecture