Dwelling: Rethinking Modern

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A house built in 1974 gets a much-needed update.

Shortly after Margaret and Matthew Bobinski moved to Sacramento from New York, they found a home they both loved. Almost completely. 

It was in the right location: an easy commute to Margaret’s dental practice in the Pocket area and even closer to UC Davis Medical Center, where Matthew is a physician. The Bobinskis also loved the yard of the Sierra Oaks house (OK, they loved that it had potential), and that the kitchen already had been updated.

But the big attraction? The home’s contemporary layout—the way they were doing “contemporary” in 1974 when it was built, anyway.  “We are not square-box people,” Margaret says. “We liked the open loft feeling.”

Nevertheless, architecturally speaking, 1974 was a long time ago, and some design features were questionable. A “bridge” structure traversing the second floor from the master bedroom to a brick wall in the living room had to go. Ditto the waist-high brick planter below it. And the master bath was really odd. There were no windows, and the shower was tiny and in the center of the room. “I couldn’t really even wash my hair because I would hit my elbows,” Margaret says. 

“We redid almost all the areas of the house except for the kitchen,” says Dennis Greenbaum, the Carmichael architect who designed the Bobinskis’ remodel. “It was a nice house for the time, but it was very dated. . . . A major part of the credit [for the remodel] success has to do with the owners because they wanted to do something rare—they wanted to do something modern.”

“This house is all about a big loft feel,” says J.T. Bradley of Bradley Builders, the remodeling contactor. “Every room invites you in.”

While the Bobinskis didn’t want to add a lot of space, they did want to live in some of the rooms differently. One upstairs bedroom is now a huge closet. Another is Margaret’s loft-style office. A relatively modest two-story addition of 250 square feet allowed enough room for Matthew’s downstairs study and an expansion of the master bathroom upstairs.

“It’s an amazing bathroom, really amazing,” Bradley says about the new bath. A frameless, frosted-glass door conceals the toilet and bidet, and there’s a doorless shower. (No danger of hitting your elbows anymore.) The flawlessly executed rounded-corner cabinetry holds two toffee-colored vessel sinks.

All of the woodwork in the house is now stain-grade, including the ceiling, which was sandblasted to rid it of old paint. “That way you get the natural beauty of all the species of wood,” Bradley says. Hardwood flooring took the place of carpeting, and the windows and interior doors are all new.  By happy coincidence, the new doors turned out to be similar in style to the kitchen cabinets. “It must have been a subconscious choice,” Margaret says. “They are so alike.”

One of the home’s most dramatic design changes was the overhaul of the stairway, right off the front entry. Greenbaum describes the original staircase as “old-fashioned hardwood” with an “almost Victorian railing” that was probably never appropriate for the house. The Bobinskis knew precisely what they wanted instead: a sleek, sophisticated structure of glass, chrome and hardwood. Figuring out how to make that happen was Bradley’s job. “It was certainly one of our major accomplishments,” he says. Not a single screw or nail is visible. “This was all blacksmith-welded on site and polished out. . . . It was a challenge. Woo, yes.”

Selecting colors, finishes, furnishings and artwork was easy: When Margaret went shopping, she took along her camera so she could show Matthew what she found. “We have a thousand pictures from the whole process,” she says. “I was always looking and checking, looking and checking.” They agreed on individual pieces. “What I wanted and what Matthew wanted was always the same,” Margaret says. “We have the same taste.” And now they both love the house. This time completely.