Less is More
A restored bungalow evokes a quintessential Mill Valley style
Photos by John Merkl
Rachel Cleaveland Riedy had at least three good reasons not to go house-hunting four years ago. The Mill Valley native was nine months pregnant, was already involved in remodeling her Fairfax home and was sure that the Mill Valley of her youth had changed.
That was before a realtor friend showed her an 1880s bungalow listed for sale. Afterward, none of those reasons mattered anymore. “I just loved it, “ she says. “No one had taken out any walls or touched anything in it.” It had the same feel of the home she’d grown up in just a few blocks away.
Her husband, Mark Riedy, a partner in the Marin-based marketing firm TRUE Communications, liked it too. “He saw the potential in it right away.”
The three-story brown-shingled home has a two-bedroom in-law unit below, two bedrooms on the top floor and common rooms on the middle floor. It was the home’s architectural integrity that resonated with the couple, especially the living room with its clinker-brick fireplace, stained old-growth redwood wainscoting and box-beam ceiling. “The whole house is summed up in the living room,” she says.
They refinished the Douglas fir floors; transformed a small bedroom adjacent to the dining room into a family room; installed vintage flush-mount schoolhouse light fixtures and natural zinc sconces; and swapped the location of the bathroom with the kitchen.
This gave the kitchen, which had been in the center of the house, a view of the newly renovated garden. Shane Kennedy of Shane Kennedy Design of Mill Valley up-lighted the existing old oaks and planted deer-resistant shrubs in new rock-walled garden beds.
As a busy photo stylist for catalogs and magazines and a principal in Cleaveland and Kennedy Interior Design, Cleaveland Riedy is familiar with big homes. “Something scares me about them,” she says. “They all look alike. There’s no funk, no creativity.”
She finds her funk, very often, at the Alameda Flea Market and at Roost, a Sausalito home store. Some of her more unusual items include collections of oversize glass jugs, a wooden deer head, wood stumps and bundles of twigs. “But it’s ever-changing,” she says. “If you come next week, it’ll be different. Practicality freaks me out,” she adds. “If I love something, that’s far more important than it being practical.”
Smaller homes do require some practicality, she admits. “You have to keep scale in mind and find furniture that isn’t oversize.” She’s true to a basic color scheme of white, cream and gray and uses slipcovers liberally to introduce color accents that change a room’s mood.
She chose the Ditte sofa, slipcovered in linen, from Anthropologie for the living room not only for its modest size but because “it has a timeless line.” The classic all-white kitchen with Shaker cabinets and butcher drawer pulls may be small, too, but it doesn’t lack for luxury with its honed Carrara marble countertops, a Wolf stove and a hard-to-find Chicago Faucets farm sink.
There’s also practicality in the space-saving built-in furniture that came with the home. Cleaveland Riedy is a fan of the built-in china cabinet and window seat with hidden storage in the dining room; the window seat, also with hidden storage, in the master bedroom; and a wall cabinet in the smaller bedroom.
In fact, she wanted more. She insisted on a window seat in the new kitchen and, in lieu of a space-consuming vanity, had recessed shelves added in the bathroom. For the office niche, the household hub, she commissioned a narrow shelf for a desk and a wall of cubbyholes for bills, keys and design magazines. An oversize calendar and painted chalkboard wall keeps the family organized.
Upstairs, four-year-old daughter Rio’s bedroom, swathed in green, purple and turquoise, is a tribute to her mother’s talent for finding artful bargains. A vintage iron bed, dressed in English bedding from Designer Guild, is a friend’s hand-me-down; a slipcovered chair came from Crate & Barrel; an antique dresser is from a Berkeley shop. On the walls are framed calendars from Berkeley’s Tail of the Yak representing each year of Rio’s life thus far.
The femininely styled master bedroom is eclectic too, with an old pine dresser, a pink Persian rug, a Louis-style chair, a window seat covered in striped pillow ticking, a gilt mirror over a sleek Parsons table and scalloped-edge white bedding from the Martha Stewart Collection. She chuckles. “I always appreciate someone who dedicates themselves to one style—it’s so disciplined—but I have no discipline.”
There are challenges to living in a bungalow. “It looks big from the outside, but the rooms inside are cut up and small, so we’ve had to get used to that.” Her husband likes it, though, and jokes that the only thing he would change is making “the mortgage payment disappear.”