Transforming this beautiful Mediterranean of Lowry Hill for modern living while preserving its historic character was not the easy way to go. But according to Jessica Dolezal, owner of Dolezal Creative Design + Build, it was definitely the right one.
In fact, the house was built in 1919 by IV Gedney (son of Mathias Gedney, founder of Gedney Pickles), and the layout followed the script of the time – a maze of formal rooms frosted with decorative trim and moldings and a closed kitchen in the darkest part of the house. A poorly designed addition in the 1990s only added to the complexity. “You just got lost in the house,” adds Dolezal.
This complexity got the team thinking, and they initially considered demolishing the house, but ultimately decided it was important to honor the character of the house and the neighborhood. The solution was to leave the elegant ironwork, railings and arched windows of the ivy-covered exterior untouched and unobstructed on the decks within. Dolezal notes that they considered all options before gutting the interior.
Knocking down a load-bearing wall required the installation of two 26-foot steel beams and large footings to support them – a dignified splurge, according to Dolezal. The investment would allow for a more open plan, in which the owner, a busy medical professional, was eager to better entertain and relax with his family. Dolezal retained the staircase in its original location in the middle of the house, but replaced it with a lighter interpretation: a set of floating, sculptural steps with a custom iron balustrade. The kitchen has been moved to a brighter, more central part of the house where it can take advantage of the sunny southwest exposure and take advantage of the sight lines to the front and back yards. Pale red oak flooring, walnut cabinetry, and white walls reflect a soft, laid-back Californian look favored by the family.
The downstairs library is where tradition speaks loudest and provides a distinguished counterpoint to the laid-back energy of the rest of the house. The 9-foot ceiling is from another time too. Hand-painted by artist Carolynne Darling to look like a map of the old world, it’s inspired by the family’s favorite literary adventures: ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Peter Pan’. In the center is a directionally correct compass surrounded by vignettes, including a giant octopus menacing a ship, the sea god Triton, and a delicate treehouse with figures from Peter Pan and Wendy. The room is lined with dark bookcases, the house’s original limestone mantelpiece, and an irresistible plush velvet banquette.
To marry historic and contemporary styles, Dolezal has made some traditional finishes throughout the house, such as window frames and baseboards. “We were very intentional in our choices to make this work,” she says. As a result, getting the bones right gave her the freedom to apply modern touches, for example, the cascading kitchen island and the frameless corner fireplace in the family room. She notes that even though the floor plan is more open than it was, it’s not an echo chamber. “There really is a feeling of separation.”
The family likes to gather around a fire, and the refreshed home has five places to do so: in the family room, living room, and library, plus two outside. Two of the interior models are wood burning and zero clearance (no chimney or furniture clearance required). This gave Dolezal the freedom to place them where they made the most sense and is another example of how she fused the traditional crackle and smell of a log fire with modern style.
One of the hallmarks of Mediterranean design is the effortless flow between interior and exterior spaces, and Dolezal wanted to emphasize this connection. So, she placed sets of large French doors throughout the house to provide access and unobstructed views to the house’s distinct outdoor spaces – a stone front veranda, a side yard and a deck that extends from the upstairs family room which gets filled with plants and flowers in the summer.
The owner’s two children were also involved in the design of their rooms, which made the process more fun for everyone. “I tried to incorporate their tastes and interests,” says Dolezal. Outer space and sports are clear enthusiasms in the son’s bedroom, with nature taking center stage in the daughter’s. The master bedroom is clean and neutral, with a soothing blue and white mural. The en-suite bathroom is fit for a Roman with a 950-pound cement tub (which required piano movers to be installed) and a rain shower that can produce all kinds of rainfall, from a drizzle to a downpour. A walnut ceiling, live edge vanity, and faux woodgrain tiles soften the space and give a natural, seaside look.
The brighter, better-functioning home serves the family well, according to the owner, who appreciates all the cozy places to read, listen to music, eat and spend time together. Dolezal says she threw herself wholeheartedly into this project and is pleased with the outcome. “It flows so well,” she says. “I am proud of the richness of life in this house.