Re-inventing a Storied Craftsman

Interior design expert Lane McNab adds modern touches to a well-preserved Leola Hall Craftsman.


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Pale furnishings lighten up the interior and take the color palette from the living area into a newly expanded kitchen that has become the center of the home.

Photos by Lauren Edith Anderson

Throughout the Bay Area, the charm and artistry of Craftsman homes endure. One of the Bay Area’s signature architectural styles, the Craftsman style, from Greene and Greene’s masterpieces to humbler entry-level abodes, ennobled modest homes for a rapidly expanding American middle class.

As many of these period homes near or exceed their centennial, the struggle between tradition and modernity is real. Oakland interior designer Lane McNab played mediator and design expert when she took on the task of bringing a noteworthy Berkeley Craftsman into this century.

Her client’s home was designed and built in the early 1900s by Leola Hall, a lesser-known contemporary of Julia Morgan. Hall wasn’t an architect but rather a speculator and design builder, one of the first of her kind in the Bay Area. A savvy entrepreneur cum developer, Hall is responsible for many of the Elmwood’s Craftsmans. She is largely credited for creating the distinctive shingled dwellings Berkeley is renowned for.

Like many of Hall’s projects, this home featured the dark wood paneling and finishes of the movement. However, the somber interiors and lack of natural light had finally taken their toll on the lady of the house, while her husband remained resolute in preserving the original woodwork and architectural language of the structure. After living in their period-perfect dwelling for over a decade, the couple had reached an impasse.

“It was either remodel or move,” McNab said.

The house, a remarkably well-preserved specimen, showcases Hall’s signature elements in their original state: dark-stained wood paneling, a clinker brick fireplace, a woefully small kitchen, expansive communal spaces, and stepped-stair railings, which McNab masterfully incorporated into the overall refresh.

Given its historical significance, the clients wanted McNab to update a dour interior, maintain the original woodwork, work in kid-friendly features, and flood the home with natural light.

 “I spent a lot of time mediating and guiding them to mutually agreeable compromises,” McNab said. “It’s a balancing act.

 “The family of four includes two teenaged sons and a dog,” McNab said. “So along with being ‘pretty,’ the furnishings had to be durable and stain resistant.”

To bring the home into the 21st century, McNab introduced the mid-century epoch to the turn-of-the-20th-century home. She specified custom furnishings, upholstered in hard-wearing yet lush textiles meant to complement and enliven expanses of the stained wood. A custom built sideboard in the dining room blends wood and textile to sublime effect.

Known to throw a good party sans the food part, Hall designed homes that tended to have small kitchens but large communal spaces — the very footprint of this home, too. Therefore, the original kitchen was gutted, and McNab was given free rein to re-envision the tiny and dark galley space. The once oppressive kitchen evolved into the hub of the home. White wainscotting abuts a bank of double-hung windows, which invite abundant daylight into the kitchen. A cozy built-in corner dining nook was installed to complement and accommodate the family’s heirloom oak dining table.

Soft furnishings in pale blues and neutral shades carry the color palette from the living areas into the kitchen, creating a warm and inviting space with timeless appeal.

McNab left the window trim in its natural expression to unify the flooring and the oak table, while paying homage to the tenets of Craftsman style — simplicity of form, locally sourced materials — and high profile artisanship for a successful mediation of meeting in the middle.

How apropos.

 

Resources

Lane McNab, 740 Gilman St., Berkeley, LaneMcNab.com.

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