Vintage Value

WHEN PEOPLE SEARCH for a home, they usually create a list of what they want, from the number of bedrooms to a certain location to a view. Beth Rowe’s list was considerably less specific. “What I was really after,” she says, “was a feel.”

Rowe, who relocated to Marin from Block Island, Rhode Island, to be closer to her grown daughters, has a history of living in charming, historical abodes. In Block Island, home was an old seaside cottage; before that it was an 1897 schoolhouse in upstate New York. To her, a cookie-cutter home would have felt off.

“It’s a lot more fun and intuitive kind of search when you’re trying to find a place that’s got soul and character,” says Rowe’s realtor, Scott Kalmbach. The task was challenging. Rowe wanted to live in Sausalito and thought she could only afford a condo. But when this property came up — an 1880 cottage with apartment attached — everything fell into place.

It had all the charm of an old East Coast home, with a rental opportunity that made it affordable. Even better, the property had a stream running through it, and the overgrown yard would give Rowe, who owns Hands-On Garden Design, a project to work on. “I was so in love with this house when I went through it,” says Rowe, “that afterward I couldn’t remember how many bedrooms it had.”

For the record: the main home, which looks like a clapboard schoolhouse, has two bedrooms. The attached apartment, where Rowe now lives, has one. Ironically, the apartment, built in the 1970s, looks a lot older than the cottage itself. The cottage is a two-story with dormer ceilings upstairs, old handrails and large, sunny windows. But the apartment, which Rowe completely renovated, has the real charm, with vaulted ceilings in the living room and eight-foot wood-framed windows that flank the front door.

Shortly after moving in, Rowe and her contractor, D.J. Puffert, ripped up the apartment’s wall-to-wall carpeting and replaced it with pecan floors; installed a gray IKEA kitchen; and painted all the walls in what Rowe calls “Beth’s blue,” a custom-blended blue with hints of green and gray. It’s dramatic and soothing.

With the help of gardener Tim Leon, Rowe also ripped out most of the overgrown yard and created a lush, East Coast–style garden that runs alongside the property’s tiny stream. Where there once were bamboo and ivy, she planted carpet roses, hydrangea, salvia and hellebore. She decided, however, to keep the palm trees that soar over the property and remind her that she is indeed in California. Which to her feels just fine.


WHERE SHE PURCHASED The edge of the Banana Belt in Sausalito

WHAT SHE BOUGHT An 1880 cottage with attached apartment

LISTING AGENTS Barr Haney and Whitney Potter, Pacific Union

SELLING AGENTS Ahern + Kalmbach, Pacific Union

STATS Price per square foot for homes in the neighborhood: $700–$1,200