Love’s Labor


A local contractor scrambles to get his house ready for his wedding day.

Bill Carter was a bit like the proverbial shoemaker whose children go without shoes: A highly regarded Sacramento home builder, he was too busy to remodel his own house.

But then, something funny happened: Carter fell in love. And decided to get married. At his home. And all of a sudden, his personal remodeling project, which had taken a back seat to other, paying jobs for years, acquired a sense of urgency.

I had a deadline, says Carter, owner of William E. Carter Company, which specializes in high-end residential and commercial construction. I was getting married, and the house needed to get done.

So he turned to a frequent collaborator, interior designer Mary Ann Downey, to help him kick the project into high gear.

Carter had bought the house, a 1,500-square-foot beater on the western fringe of Carmichael, about eight years earlier. Feeling there was virtually nothing worth saving, he demolished it all, save for a subfloor and the garage.

He wanted a house that was open and contemporary, with soaring ceilings and the fewest number of interior walls possible, and he wanted to use a mix of interesting and unusual materials. The house, he thought, should serve as a laboratory where he could experiment with construction and design techniques&emdash;and, not incidentally, be able to show clients what they could achieve in their own homes.

Downey was up for the challenge.

We’ve worked together for years, she says. I come up with the ideas, and Bill knows how to get them done. It’s a great collaboration.

They opened up the ground floor with a 50-foot-long structural support called a moment frame, which allows the house to flow from the front (living room) to the back (kitchen) without the need for interior walls. The oak floor was laid on the diagonal to connect the spaces visually, and the wood was stained black, then whitewashed, for a cool gray finish.



The living room’s cantilevered staircase is like a piece of art, with its poured-in-place concrete treads and curved glass baluster. Carter and his now-wife, Cheri, came up with small items&emdash;a pair of earrings, Carter’s high school band pin, fossils and coins&emdash;that were placed into the concrete as mementoes.

In the kitchen, Carter opted for cherry cabinets, stainless steel appliances and countertops of a terrazzolike agglomerated stone. It’s very distinctive and has a lot of movement, says Downey of the stone. For a house of this scale, we wanted something with a big scale of its own.

They used Walker Zanger stainless steel tile for the backsplash and fronted the cabinets with sheets of Lumicor, a translucent material made of resin. It’s expensive, says Downey, but a little bit goes a long way. Over the curved cooktop island hangs an exhaust hood from Fu-Tung Cheng, the award-winning Berkeley designer best-known for his innovative concrete work. Pendant lights and halogen spots for the kitchen and adjoining dining space hang from a big spiral monorail track that spans both spaces.

Carter and Downey pulled out all the stops for a nearby powder room. We call it ‘the Marquis de Sade bathroom,’ jokes Downey about the sexy space. The walls are covered with an eco-friendly, dark-gray metallic material from Innovations, and David Iatesta light sconces provide moody uplighting. Water flows from a wall-mounted faucet into a rectangular basin of hand-chipped granite. The edges of the Perry/Fuld copper-framed mirror look like they’ve been peeled back with an old-fashioned can opener.

Upstairs, the master bathroom is another example of showstopping design. Two walls are made entirely of glass: specifically, 4-by-8-inch glass bricks, which Carter laid in a herringbone pattern from floor to ceiling. It’s very hard to do in a room like this, where the ceiling is vaulted and the wall is curved, he explains. Two Vitraform glass vessel sinks perch atop a counter covered in Bisazza copper-flecked mosaic glass tile. When it came time to float the mirror against the glass wall, Downey faced a design challenge: The mirror’s black backing could be seen through the glass wall from the adjoining master bedroom. So Downey came up with a clever fix: reflective mirror film on the mirror’s reverse side. From the bedroom at night, the lit bathroom looks like a kaleidoscope. It’s the ultimate mood lighting, says Downey.

Ultimately, Carter finished work on the house mere hours before 250 guests arrived for his wedding. It truly was a labor of love, he says.

Postscript: Earlier this year, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry named Bill Carter Contractor of the Year (Southwest Region) for his work on this house.