Coming Back Home

Coming Back Home
January 23, 2020 Patrick Yore

My client had been living in the same small city apartment with his wife for over 30 years when he inherited his childhood house in the Oakland Hills. While they were thrilled to become homeowners, the design of the house hadn’t changed since the new owner lived there as a boy. Coming back home was a thrill… and quite a project!



Our goal was to update the space in time for their fun-filled retirement so that they could maximize the house’s enjoyment and utility.  With a nod to its history, and a toast to the future, we began the redesign of this special home.

The  ‘old’ house’s eating areas were narrow, cramped and dated. They were separated into an impractical kitchen and a tiny dining space. Plus, the wall that created this division was blocking all of the natural light, and dark wood walls only compounded the problem. So, we tore the wall down to accommodate the homeowners’ wish for a bright and lively space, an island with both ample cooking and eating surface, efficient and accessible storage, new cabinets, appliances and a mix of elements for a fresh, happy feel that’s entertainment-ready.

Whether it is just the homeowners cooking together, or a group gathering to socialize, the space functions perfectly. There is plenty of room to move around the island, step into the living room, or out to the deck. There is ample space for setting out appetizers and serving festive cocktails from the custom walnut-topped bar.

Key Design Considerations for Living in Place

With only occasional overnight guests, the house was designed for the homeowners, their entertaining, and the future.

Incorporating a timeless design means the owners won’t have to do a whole redesign in a few years. Living in the vibrant Bay Area with so much available nearby, they plan to live self-sufficiently as long as possible. Though a little soon (because these clients are some of the spunkiest folks I know!), we planned ahead, making much of the buildout movement-friendly.

We  focused on all the universal design details to ensure their long-term comfort including wide spaces, comfortable heights and ease of access. These include drawers that give easy access to pots and pans while putting less strain on the clients’ back and knees. And replacing cabinet doors with drawers to store heavier portable appliances.

Because with age it gets harder on arms and backs to carry big pots full of water to and from the cooktop, we placed the stove near to the sink. We also incorporated a microwave drawer. It’s easier to set a heavy plate down below you than it is to lift it above your shoulders. And since spills are more likely when you have to reach up to remove hot food or liquid, having the microwave under the counter also prevents burns.

The island has an open undercounter seated work area along the front side. The faucet has a simple single lever control. The doors and drawers are all full extension with soft closing hinges. Light switches have rocker switches and there is plenty of bright task light from recessed led can lights and under cabinets lighting as well. The engineered wood floor is a good slip-resistant surface.

Blind corner cabinets don’t work well for aging in place. They are hard to access and often become unorganized unless you are willing to get on all fours to view what you need to get. Performing that bend-reach-lift motion also isn’t good for your back. The corner cabinets we installed are the perfect solution. They effectively eliminate the need for rummaging and reaching. In addition, we incorporated a pullout drawer next to the stove that has a stainless steel container for conveniently storing cooking utensils.

The clearances in the kitchen are all 48” or greater between opposing surfaces meeting ADA guidelines. There is level access to the exterior and the kitchen, living, dining, bedrooms and baths are all on the main level.

We Have a Winner

We had so much fun updating this sentimental space with a clean, modern aesthetic which will last many years. Equipping the house with features that ensure the owners their independence was another rewarding task.

It was an honor to be entrusted by this amazing couple with such a special and meaningful project. What’s more, this project won two awards in 2019 from the Interior Design Society (IDS) in both the Kitchen and Universal design categories.

Good stories, good friends, good design: This is why we love what we do!