Marin Home: Room to Grow


PRIOR TO STARTING a family, 1,500 square feet felt like plenty of living space for web designer Susie Shaw and her husband, industrial designer and toy developer Finn Strong. Beginning in 1999, they lived comfortably in their midcentury ranch, which straddles the line between the San Rafael and San Anselmo communities.


The couple, who both work from home, spent many happy years laboring together at their dining room table. But life changes when children come into the mix.


Not wanting to move — they loved the house, the neighborhood, their expansive views of Bald Hill and Mount Tam — they hired an architect to plan an expansion. But none of the ideas wowed them, so Shaw and Strong felt no urge to proceed. Then they were introduced to San Anselmo– based architect Barbara Shands, who invited them to tour her own home. They scrapped the old concepts and, with Shands, began anew.


Her plan called for 768 square feet of new living space and a completely rebuilt garage area. “We went round and round on whether to put our bedroom or the kids’ rooms in the addition,” Shaw says. “Ultimately, we decided if we were going to pour all this money into a renovation we ought to enjoy the new space,” she adds with a laugh.


Indeed, the new master bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views would likely be underappreciated by a preschooler and fourth grader. Ditto for the western red cedar accent wall, an intentional continuation of the home’s facade. “We liked the idea that this wood paneling runs from the front of the addition to the back internally and externally,” Shaw says. Their new bedroom also features an en suite bathroom, a roomy walk-in closet and a Brazilian ipe wood deck, which spills out into the expansive yard.


The second objective: a dedicated home office. “What we wanted was a circular flow from our bedroom to the office area,” Shaw explains.


The office actually contains two separate work areas, but “I just work off my laptop, so we share this desk,” Shaw says, motioning to a custom-designed walnut piece with matching shelves by Oakland-based furniture designer Robert Santee. Since Finn needs a little more elbow room to make toy prototypes, the second, more utilitarian space is where he uses his tools of the trade.


Transition between old and new spaces is seamless. A new vestibule embodies the existing home’s midcentury modern feel. The entry has a bright orange door surrounded by dark wood walls, with upper windows to maximize light without compromising privacy. Inside, across from the front door, a set of glass sliders open onto the courtyard back patio.


But now the family couldn’t be happier after nearly three years of work. “We love the thoughtfulness of the design,” Shaw says.


Dawn Denberg

Dawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.