Qualified Remodeler

Design: The Long-Term View

A couple’s California retirement home undergoes a major remodel to better fit their intention to live and age in place.

authors Dave Leff 

Our clients found a neighborhood, a property and a view that was exactly what they wanted, but with a house that didn’t meet their needs. They knew that the home, purchased for their retirement, would require a major remodel. With a clear understanding of the challenges involved and a vision of how the clients wanted to live in the home, five main goals were identified for the project:

Treve Johnson Photography

In anticipation of their own aging and that of their friends, the home had to be made completely barrier-free.

A steep driveway was redesigned and a wheelchair-accessible serpentine walkway was constructed, leading from the street to the front door with no steps or other barriers. The front porch and garage slab were rebuilt to eliminate any steps between the exterior and interior of the house. A ramping deck from the front of the house runs along the side to the rear yard, creating access to the hot tub deck with, again, no steps. Once inside the home, all doors and paths of travel were widened; all showers were converted to curbless; and an elevator was installed, allowing for easy access to the lower level from the main floor.

The clients were moving out of a much larger home, and although they were interested in downsizing, this house needed some additional space.

A restrictive zoning ordinance would not allow for an increase in the building footprint of more than 210 square feet. The design solution was to excavate under the house enough to create a full-height lower level of 1,500 square feet and add a smaller, two-story addition of 207 square feet. The former mud room and kitchen nook spaces were reconfigured to expand the kitchen and create a large great room.

Photos: Treve Johnson Photography

Add a fully accessible guest suite.

To accommodate overnight visitors, a guest suite in the new lower level of the house was designed with a bedroom, sitting room and an accessible bathroom with a curbless shower and universal design fixtures. A large laundry room, an exercise area and a large storage room were also added to the lower floor.

Expand the view and create a strong connection between the interior and exterior spaces for entertaining and gardening.

Because a full view across the valley was not possible from the main living areas, the existing roof structure was rebuilt with a wall of windows, allowing for an unobstructed view of the local mountains. A steel beam across the full expanse of the window wall allowed for minimal framing above the windows, opening the view of the hilltops and sky from anywhere in the room. A larger deck and more accessible entries to and from the new backyard, patio and garden planters were added.

Make the home more energy-efficient, healthy and comfortable.

All windows and doors were replaced, and the home was air sealed and well insulated with closed cell foam at the ceilings. A PV solar system was installed to help offset the electrical energy requirements of the residence. The home was completely rewired with new LED lighting and replumbed with all low-flow fixtures. Retractable shading was installed on all west-facing windows, which contributed to the passive cooling of the house. The old forced-air HVAC system was removed and replaced with three mini-split heat pumps with concealed air handlers. Two whole-house fans were installed to vent hot summer air. |QR

Dave Leff is the founder, president and CEO of LEFF Construction Design Build, which is celebrating 40 years of serving Sonoma County homeowners. Leff was born in London, where he lived until moving to San Francisco at the age of 9 years old.  He attended Sonoma State University, graduating with degrees in Psychology and English. Leff was on his way to law school when he decided to stay a little longer in Sebastopol, California, to improve his carpentry skills. In 1978, Leff formed LEFF Construction as a sole proprietor, and was joined by his father in 1987 when they incorporated the company.

Leff is a Certified Green Builder, and over the decades has become an expert in solar and sustainable building, historical renovation and infill real estate development. He’s dedicated to alternative building approaches, and his passion for building and remodeling homes that are beautiful and functional—and that integrate sustainable principles with new technologies—has informed his company vision and the development of his design/build approach to all projects.

Leff has been an instructor of the remodeling process to homeowners and contractors. He and the LEFF team hold remodeling workshops for homeowners at the new LEFF Design Center several times a year. He serves on the Board of Directors and heads up the Green Building Committee of the North Coast Builders Exchange, and he participates as a speaker and panelist in conferences and events about sustainable building practices.

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