Minnesota native Scott Vrchota fortuitously found and fell in love with Alameda 25 years ago, thanks to a business trip. Since then, he recalls, “I had always kept Alameda in the back of my mind.”
Fast-forward to 2007 when an opportunity arose for him to take a position with a medical device organization and later as a principal with Bay Area healthcare consulting firm Zolo Healthcare Solutions. The career boon was his ticket back to his cherished harbor town. He and his partner, former New Englander and later Midwesterner Mitchell Kusy, made the move by snapping up this time-warped three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath townhouse built circa 1972 on Ballena Bay’s waterfront. The couple saw this classic example of perfunctory ’70s construction as a great opportunity to flex their well-honed remodeling talents. After all, Vrchota and Kusy had already renovated 10 of their homes in their 24 years together.
While remodeling has been known to take a toll on some relationships, this couple refuses to give into such pressure. “The reason we work very well together is because we agree that nothing is that important, except the people in our lives,” says Vrchota.
Kusy, a professor in the Ph.D. program at Ohio’s Antioch University, a best-selling business author and international consultant, agrees. “The death of both our parents put things in perspective for us. When it comes to remodeling, we make a decision and move on.”
The two in fact agree that not all decisions even need to be made as a team. “Whoever feels more strongly about a certain facet gets to make the final call,” explains Vrchota.
Given their hectic schedules, physically overseeing a project in its entirety is impossible. That, however, isn’t a problem. “For us, choosing the right subcontractors for the job,” explains Kusy, “not only means finding people who are great at their trades; they also have to be comfortable communicating with us via email and texts. I’ve made major decisions for this project while sitting in an airport.”
Some of the most important decisions hinged on Vrchota and Kusy’s diverse personalities. Vrchota is a nature lover while Kusy jokes he prefers Plexiglas and concrete. To appease each interest, they designed their home to feel like a contemporary Ralph Lauren–inspired yacht combining man-made elements, like concrete and metal, with a manicured entry garden and the adjacent harbor.
The harbor, which laps below the living room deck, is home to Vrchota’s prized boat slip and guest boat slip. For now, they sit vacant but Vrchota plans to moor the perfect 40-foot boat there — once he gets his boating license.
Although they’ve bought and sold many homes, Vrchota and Kusy are quick to deny the label “home flipper.” Kusy explains, “We never go into a home purchase thinking we’re going to flip it with the intention of making money. We buy a place, invest a lot of money in it and make it our home.”
That means making the home right and never cutting corners. The first task for this townhouse was to replace the old lead plumbing with copper pipes starting at the street. The interior walls were taken down to the studs, allowing the addition of insulation and new windows for better efficiency. Closets were pulled out, walls were moved and the front door was relocated to create the cohesive space that the couple describes as “what it should have been from the very beginning.”
Committing to their eco-friendly principles, they retained as much of the original elements as they could. When
the worn carpets were removed, they were told they’d never be able to match new hardwood with the existing maple flooring. Not believing it, the couple kept looking for a company that could. And they did. Additionally, Alameda cabinetmaker Alan Rasmussen kept much of the dated kitchen cabinets out of the landfill by giving them a contemporary makeover that changed the look and feel of the once-dark kitchen.
The couple found a 1950s-inspired Saarinen dining table for their eat-in kitchen that they complemented with upholstered chairs. The kitchen’s design was further enhanced with the “leather” honed granite counter completing the space’s timeless essence.
To tie in the old with the new, the dining table is topped with the same style of Carrera marble found on the kitchen backsplash and bathroom floors. The couple created the living room to be as comfortable as it is polished. The soft but modern sofa beckons guests, as do the sleek, masculine chairs that offer surprising comfort with their pop-out footrests.
Art aficionados, Vrchota and Kusy purchase art for its stand-alone appeal rather than how it fits a certain wall or display case. “With art,” says Kusy, “it needs to be something we both love. It can’t grow on us. We have to love it on the spot.”
The large-scale watermelon painting in the entryway that came with the couple from Minneapolis is a perfect example of this. It’s a great conversation piece because of its beauty as much as for its unexpected location. “A home is all about enjoying and having fun with what you have,” states Vrchota. “Art, to us, is a big component of that.”
The downstairs bedroom located in the front of the home — originally the master — was converted into a spacious en suite guestroom that opens out to a secluded hot tub retreat. The couple opted for the smaller bedroom upstairs in return for its spectacular harbor sights and sounds. The new master features subtle blue walls and white wall-to-ceiling built-in cabinets with a worn-edge handcrafted by Rasmussen.
The neutral background crisply shows off the bold, masculine colors of the Ralph Lauren bed linens and Restoration Hardware side tables and maritime lamps, completing the couple’s unique take on the traditional nautical theme.
Like the other homes they have revamped, Vrchota and Kusy have put this labor of love on the market as well — though they still plan to park that dream boat in their beloved Ballena Bay. In the end, the home reflects Vrchota and Kusy’s combined sense of style and commitment to teamwork. Not a stagnant team, the couple is currently working on home number 12 — a contemporary 1932 art deco loft in San Francisco. No doubt it will be a grand undertaking with picture-perfect results.