A Mill Valley Home Filled with Light


WHEN THEY BOUGHT IT three years ago, Barb Chambers and Joe Vernachio’s 1940s two-story Mill Valley home, on a large upsloping lot and with white stucco facade and red-clay-tiled roof, had stood unchanged for nearly 75 years.

To help with a remodel, Chambers, who had worked in the past as a building construction manager, enlisted designer Diego Pacheco, whom she had teamed with on a previous renovation project and whose architectural practice is based in San Francisco. Her goal was to modernize and enlarge the 2,300-square-foot home to better accommodate her family, including two children ages 14 and 12. But, she told Pacheco, there were some ground rules.

“There are others houses just like it built in a row, and Barb just did not want to disturb the prevailing aesthetic,” the designer says.

So the Mediterranean Spanish/California–style facade appears untouched, but inside and in back, where there was little need for restraint, they added vast improvements and 500 square feet of living space.

“The interior was cramped and dark and there was no connection to the outdoors,” Pacheco recalls. After the old lath-and-plaster walls were torn down or stripped to bare studs, “we quickly filled the house with light.”

How? The back section of the hipped roof was raised into a gable shape that extends out to cover the rear addition, and a long skylight in the middle of the new vaulted space illuminates the reorganized interior. This main floor with fresh white painted Sheetrock walls is split into two long, front-to-back parallel public and private wings. Pocket doors along the central spine conveniently shut off the entire three-bedroom wing during parties.

In the new open-plan public wing with unfettered sight lines from front to back, the living room up front flows toward a central galley kitchen containing a 20-foot-long marble island that doubles as breakfast table and place for rolling out pastry. The island also cleverly functions as a railing for the sky-lit stairs that lead down to the enlarged two-car garage, a playroom and a guest room.

The new kitchen “was our biggest splurge,” Chambers says, as Vernachio, president of the Mountain Hardware clothing company, likes to cook at home and entertain. “I also cook, but my Italian husband is a badass chef,” she adds. “He goes to farmers’ markets, reduces sauces, makes his own pasta, sears, grills, bakes; he does it all.”

Tough, powder-coated steel kitchen cabinets by Henrybuilt were ordered at the company’s Mill Valley showroom, which Chambers discovered during her search for “fuss-free materials,” she says. “These modern metal cabinets are beautifully made and not sterile.” In fact, she became such a fan of the brand she went with Henrybuilt cabinets throughout the house.

“They were great collaborators,” Pacheco says of Henrybuilt. “They took my design, fleshed it out and manufactured it. Their craftsmanship makes this kitchen a showpiece and a focal point. And it also cleans up really well.”

The adjacent dining area, with soaring ceilings, pushes out into the rear extension, where retractable bifold doors by Corte Madera–based NanaWall easily open the space to the now much-used gray integrally colored concrete patio and artificial lawn outside. New concrete steps link the patio to raised alfresco dining terraces.

In a way, although the home has changed a lot, it has also become more itself. “Its old Mediterranean look implied indoor/outdoor living, but it did not have that,” Pacheco says. “We definitely brought that aspect to the fore.”


This article originally appeared in Spaces’s print edition under the headline: “Seeing the Light”.