Incorporating green products and technology in a remodeled home shouldn’t exclude aesthetics, livability and accessibility. Iris Harrell, chief executive officer and senior designer of Mountain View, Calif.-based Harrell Remodeling Inc., believes strongly in that philosophy and demonstrated it convincingly in a remodel of her own home in which green doesn’t compete with ease of access and beauty.
“People think of green as an outside issue, but it’s integral to everything we choose to do, and it should just fold right in,” she says.
Harrell is so convinced of the necessity of integrating green and good design that she wrote a book to “show people they can have a green-rated home that is ADA-compliant, as well as award winning in terms of its aesthetics and functionality.”
The home Harrell remodeled was built in 1986 as part of a planned unit development in the hills of the Portola Valley south of San Francisco. When Harrell bought the home in 1992, it was being used as the developer’s office with rooms for architects and other staff. “There was no kitchen. It was like a 10-bedroom, one-and-one-half-bath, 4,000-square-foot house,” Harrell recalls. “None of the rooms made sense. They just put up walls and doors for the architects’ offices. To me, it was like an empty canvas,” she says.
A Functional Makeover
The first remodel was a functional makeover, but even then, Harrell had sustainability in mind, reusing cabinets and Formica countertops the architects had left. “We had a ‘temporary’ kitchen put together from used products that was quite serviceable for 14 years,” Harrell says.
The second remodel years later was inspired by several factors, one being that although Harrell was building award-winning kitchens for clients, she didn’t have one herself. The other was that her partner’s 88-year-old mother moved to California to be close to the couple, and Harrell wanted the house to be accessible to her and her friends.
To begin, the lower level, which was built into the side of a hill, was gutted and the hill was excavated to create an extra 400 square feet on the lower level. “The reason we needed the extra space was to create the right circulation downstairs so we could make a circle and not have a U. The other reason was we had a drainage issue. We had to dig on the lower level to correct the drainage anyway, so we just dug a little more,” Harrell says.
“We pushed out about 6 feet into the hill. The result was a huge walk-in closet, good circulation and a nice big laundry space,” she adds.
It was a labor-intensive job, requiring a conveyor belt that made three turns to get the dirt out and avoid damaging the trees and landscape, “but it made a huge difference,” Harrell notes.
Egyptian vs. Roman
One of the design challenges Harrell faced was the 14-foot ceilings in the great room. “It’s like Egyptian versus Roman architecture. You feel like a little minion in Egyptian architecture; you don’t feel important. Roman architecture was built on a scale that makes a person feel important,” she says.
The task was to visually lower the ceiling without physically bringing the ceiling down because the clerestory windows above the main windows were important to the view. Part of the solution was to install hanging grids featuring lighted quilt patterns depicted in custom art glass. “The darkness of the wood and the light makes you feel less like you’re in a huge museum. It really warms up the room; it not only lights it well, but makes it a comfortable space,” she says.
Also bringing the room into scale is a valance at the height of the bookcases that creates a horizontal line, a Frank Lloyd Wright trick that makes it feel as though the room stops there. The valance also conceals LED uplighting and window shades. Existing window shades were used and retrofitted with motors for remote operation.