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Close to Town

A vintage Mill Valley home was enough to lure this couple off the mountain.

HOME ON MOUNT Tamalpais suited Kevan Corbett, an avid trail runner and outdoor enthusiast, just fine. But his wife, Jocelyn, was beginning to sour on the long slog down the mountain. So the couple decided to seek shelter closer to civilization. “Our only criteria was a space with good light and a good location; everything else was fixable,” Jocelyn says. When a 1908 home with lovely views and a walk-to-town address hit the market, the couple knew they had found the one. “It needed tons of work, but it had so much charm.”

No strangers to remodeling, the couple agreed to move into the house “as is” and live through the renovations. However, they quickly realized that living in a construction zone with a 2- and a 4-year-old was simply not realistic. “Within days, we moved back out, into a few Airbnb’s, until we could get it to the point of being livable,” says Jocelyn.

Their changes — they gutted the kitchen, added a powder room, remodeled two additional bathrooms and added period details throughout — brought only minor tweaks to the existing floor plan. “We wanted to honor the home’s original design,” Jocelyn says. To that end, they eschewed the trend of an open-concept kitchen. However, by widening the entrance and adding a reclaimed window transom, they managed to make a formerly cramped space light and airy.

The Corbetts made a point of incorporating many of the home’s original architectural details into their new design. “In the entryway, we kept the cedar plank ceiling and windowsills but updated them with reclaimed leaded glass bought from an online salvage store.” Also still in use are the original staircase and railing to the lower level. “Some might not like it because it’s really tight, but we feel it’s in keeping with the period.”

To help with finishes and soft goods, the Corbetts engaged Mill Valley–based interior designer Anja Michaels. With her guidance, the couple managed a number of splurges, including Fireclay Tile used in the lower-level bathroom, in the kitchen and on the fireplace mantel — with a few steals added in, Jocelyn notes: “We used quartz for the kitchen countertops that imitates the look of marble.” They also bought locally, purchasing numerous new pieces from Summer House and Serena & Lily and contracting with A Well Made Home in Larkspur for custom upholstery and window treatments.

Budget-wise, Jocelyn says, they did OK, though she does admit to a bit of scope creep. For example, they never intended to renovate the lower level. “And the layout of the kids’ bathroom was terrible,” says Jocelyn says. And as it goes, one fix leads led to another. But in the end, knowing they were investing in their forever home made springing for all those extras worth every penny.

The Details

WHERE THEY BOUGHT Blithedale Canyon neighborhood of Mill Valley
WHAT THEY BOUGHT Three-bedroom, two-bath (now 2.5) 1908 hillside cottage
LISTING AGENT Stephanie Witt of Pacific Union
BUYER AGENT Kimberly Strub of Coldwell Banker
THE STATS Price per square for homes in the neighborhood: $850

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