Outside In

NICOLE KLIONSKY’S L-shaped 1950s ranch house on a hillside lot in Belvedere, which she and her husband, Ari, have owned for more than a decade, may not have been much to look at when they moved in, but it had prime views. Klionsky gradually remodeled it and would have forged ahead on her own with a recent exterior upgrade had she not remembered a Mill Valley project designed by the firm Endres Ware.

“I loved that house’s modern look,” she says, so she sought out its designer, architect John Ware, now of Oakland architecture and engineering firm Ware Associates, and promptly hired him for her next project.

“Nicole’s goal was to make the house connect more with the outdoors and she desired a more contemporary aesthetic for the entry courtyard,” Ware says. “Most of the houses on this street had decks and bay views facing north, but few had such potential for a south-facing garden connected to the house.”

To change Klionsky’s seldom-used car park into a sunken courtyard for outdoor living, Ware and his designers Rudabeh Pakravan and Ian Kelso simply changed the entry sequence from the street. Ware excavated the east end of the lot to eliminate its sloped driveway and expand the new courtyard and added a new flight of poured-concrete stairs at the west end for access instead. Formed in a Z sequence, the new stairs bring visitors down gradually into the entry garden, affording glimpses of the Tiburon highlands along the way.

In the courtyard, with its built-in concrete- and-cedar wood benches, decked walkways and fire pit, a permeable surface of gravel with large concrete pavers laid in a grid is accented with beds and planters containing drought-resistant plants and trees picked by Hilde Simon. Stained and sealed cedar wall cladding for the building (wood performs best with protection from sun and rain) and a cedar and stucco perimeter wall in lieu of painted wood fencing give the remodeled exterior its sharp midcentury modern look.

“You can still peer down over the four-foot wall from the street, but there is a lot of privacy because there are plantings close to it,” Ware says.

The northern wing of the house was also extended into the courtyard to form a more generous family room whose bifold NanaWall doors open it entirely to the garden. An awning made of steel, tempered glass and cedar slats filters sunlight that spills in. The 500 square feet of new conditioned space inside contain a powder room and office nook that connect to the rest of house. Built-in shelving for books, mementos and a TV provide ample distractions inside, but the new courtyard is clearly the coveted playground.

“We’ve gained 3,200 square feet of outdoor living and dining space,” Klionsky says. “And our two teenagers love it for parties.”

Ware Associates Inc., Oakland; ware-associates.com