Back in the 1920s, the Montclair District was home to a collection of small creek-side vacation cottages that flanked a hunting lodge, all of which were accessible via a nearby railroad stop.
In 1935 those cottages were sold as single-family residences, the effects of which inspired other builders to build more and follow suit. The result is the uniquely pastoral Thornhill neighborhood that feels a world away from the rest of Oakland.
Fast-forward to 1989 when Sue and Chris Adams were in the market to buy their first home. The couple settled on a modest one-bedroom, one-bath cottage, having falling in love with its infinite charm and the lush creek running through its front yard. They lived in the cramped abode for more than 10 years carefully ruminating over its possibilities. “We wanted to remodel this house once and do it right,” recalls Sue Adams.
When they were finally ready to upgrade, the Adamses called in Berkeley–based Kahn Design Associates, which had a vested interest in this project. Architect Charles Kahn explains, “We had designed three other houses on this street, and this was another chance to contribute to this beautiful street and neighborhood.”
Given the limitations of the Adams lot, which is positioned on a steep hill, Kahn’s job to turn the small structure into a grand three-bedroom, 2200-square-foot home with a relatively small footprint that retained all of its lodge charm was a challenge he couldn’t wait to tackle with the help of lead interior designer Tiffany Leichter and the creative spunk of the homeowners.
While many of the home’s original walls remain, each room was drastically repurposed to accommodate the Adamses’ growing family. No matter how great the changes, the design team took careful measures to stay true to the home’s enchanting legacy. The kitchen is a perfect example of this. Though completely new to the house’s structure, the retro-style kitchen always fools people into thinking it’s been there since the 1920s. To preserve historical value, many facets of the room were reused, like the home’s original French doors that now serve as pantry doors, and the homeowners sought out a 1952 Wedgewood stove.
However, the three different marble slabs used to create contrasting counters, the custom-painted mural backsplash and the
scalloped shelving are new. “I’m sure I’m the only homeowner in recent years who has actually requested scalloped shelving,” laughs Sue Adams.
The dining room, which connects the kitchen with the living room, serves as the home’s nucleus. The site of the original cave-like kitchen, the dining room now radiates with natural light and sweeping ceilings, giving the effect of a grand lodge hall. It’s where the couple entertains often.
In keeping with the family’s love for entertaining, the family requested Kahn help them achieve the best use of and accessibility to their hillside lot. Kahn overcame the hurdle of the property’s severely sloped backyard by calculatedly designing the tall house to work cohesively with a system of multi-tiered decks. The results give the kids and the family dog safe spaces to run, climb and explore while the adults enjoy an outdoor dining and barbecue deck as well as picturesque sitting areas on every level.
In listening to their clients, Kahn Design Associates created the perfect mountain lodge for the Adamses to retreat to every single day. Sue Adams agrees, “I love my home. I intend to stay here for the rest of my life.”