Remaking Paradise in Novato

AFTER 41 YEARS of marriage, Sara and David Gabriel know the importance of trust. Which is a good thing, because they’re now living in a place David bought before Sara had even seen it.

The story starts in 1973, when the just-married Gabriels settled in San Francisco. Three kids followed, as did five years in Piedmont, 20 years in Colorado, a few remodels, and then a desire to move back to the Bay Area — namely, Marin.

They had searched online and come up dry when their realtor, Ted Strodder — whom they’d only met by phone — called and said he’d found a run-down house in a great Novato neighborhood.

“This house epitomized fixer-upper,” says Strodder. “But it had the three Ls: great lot, great location and great layout.” David flew out from a vacation to see it and convinced Sara. “She trusted me,” he says.

A 1965 U-shaped ranch home on a half-acre, the home had not been updated in years. So for the last time, the Gabriels undertook a major renovation, tearing down every wall except the garage. With architect Charles M. Stewart, they created a cool and comfortable modern home.

The new house opens into a loft-like great room, with polished concrete floors, Carrara fireplace and midcentury-style furnishings by West Elm and Scandinavian Designs. Tucked in a corner of the room is a dining alcove, where the couple has seamlessly blended Sara’s love of Asian decor into the room. An Asian étagère stands beside a black table and chairs; a Japanese ink drawing hangs on the wall.

Across from the alcove is the kitchen, the room that mattered most to Sara. An entertainer, she wanted a place where people could gather around, a goal achieved by the placement of a large black granite island/breakfast bar, complete with slanted black sink. It faces the kitchen’s most dramatic feature, the behind-the-stove backsplash, an aluminum mosaic tile by Soli Architectural Surfaces.

At the opposite end of the great room, a screened-in porch runs the entire width of the house, separated from the living areas by thick sliding glass doors. “I call it our California room,” says Sara. Because the room is protected by screens only, the ultimate in indoor-outdoor living, it’s also equipped with drains.

The only thing missing is landscaping. The Gabriels have planned a drought-tolerant garden but are hesitant to plant under current water restrictions. The interior is so lovely, though, it hardly matters. “These guys did what I like most,” says Strodder. “They took something nobody wanted and turned it into something everybody wants.” Sounds like a pretty good marriage.


WHERE THEY PURCHASED Ignacio area of Novato

WHAT THEY BOUGHT A 1965 ranch-style home

LISTING AGENT Nadia Ferrua, Bradley Real Estate

SELLING AGENT Ted Strodder, Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty

STATS Price per square foot for homes in the neighborhood: $455

Check out the gallery below for more photos of the Gabriel's home.