After purchasing a new home in Pleasanton, California, the owners—a family of four with young teenage children—dreamed of a luxurious, open kitchen with clean lines and a large island for entertaining. The existing kitchen was big but enclosed with arched soffits and round columns, so they hired MSK Design Build, an East Bay Area contractor who remodeled their first house.

“They came to us and said, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got an opportunity on this larger house, we have a growing family, and we want to relocate. Can you do anything with it?” recalls Kelly Morisseau, a designer at MSK. “So, we started from there. Originally, [the owners] were just going to do the downstairs, [but] eventually it morphed into the interior and exterior of the whole entire house.”

Already familiar with the company’s design process, the clients wanted to push the envelope on this project and do something avant-garde, notes Morisseau, who had just returned from a trade show in Milan. She suggested taking a modern approach but adding in a bit of glitz and glamor, and the clients liked it. Anchoring the kitchen and great room would allow the design to expand.

Twice as Large

Photo: Nathanael Bennett Photography

Floral-stenciled with two islands and two large posts, the existing kitchen could be described as old-world Mediterranean, Morisseau says. “We’d seen a lot of them in the early 1990s, [and] we had designed some of them, [although] this [kitchen was] probably a little over the top in terms of what we would’ve designed. I mean, it was just when I first saw it, I thought it was too much.”

“Even for that period and that style, it was enclosed,” says Scott Westby, president of MSK. “It felt like the kitchen was half the size that it was just because of the way that they had oriented everything, and the way they dropped the soffits down. By pulling out all the soffits, pulling out that rounded island and getting rid of the pantry, it opened the space up to the rest of the room. It let us capture some space and make the kitchen feel twice as large in almost the same footprint.”

MSK needed the existing pantry to create additional space for tall appliances. The pantry walls, however, projected into the kitchen, and one of them was an engineered part of the system that addresses/resists the lateral and gravity loads of the home, which resides in a significant seismic zone. The shear wall contained a structural post supporting several of the recessed ceiling beams.

Photo: Nathanael Bennett Photography

One of the two round columns at the kitchen perimeter, furthermore, covered a load-bearing post that sits underneath a glulam recessed beam carrying a sizeable portion of the great-room ceiling and a second-floor media room. The existing pier, post and beams were determined structurally inadequate for the new loads and were replaced with two new 22-foot-deep by 18-inch concrete piers under a new grade beam and new, wider parallam beams that replaced the existing beams.

“We figured out what we wanted to do, and then we had a structural engineer come in and [we] worked with him to figure out exactly what we needed to do in order to support everything that we were doing,” Westby explains. “The reason that column [in the kitchen] had to stay was just because of the size of the beam that would’ve been necessary [if we had removed it]—we would have ended up dropping down below that soffited area they’ve got there if we went any larger.”

Above and Beyond

Photo: Lauren Andersen/SEN Creative LLC

In all MSK installed 23 new piers during the project, 19 of which were interior piers and required drilling inside the house, Westby notes. Many of them support the renovated second floor, where Morisseau converted one sizeable bathroom with three entrances—one from the hallway and two from bedrooms—into three bathrooms, so the owners could accommodate their growing family.

“The technical part—the actual framing—that was the challenge in terms of the upstairs because this is a 5,500-square-foot place. And having just one bathroom for three bedrooms upstairs and a big bonus room wasn’t going to happen,” Morisseau says. “Luckily for me there was enough room in there to etch out what we needed for en suites for two of the bedrooms and a hall bath.”

Photo: Lauren Andersen/SEN Creative LLC

On the first floor, the homeowners asked for a large format door in the family room to create an indoor-outdoor connection with their expansive backyard. A chunky corner granite fireplace and a bump-in at the dining room, however, prevented MSK from designing one there. The company took out the bump-in and moved the fireplace to a shear wall that required a new beam and piers.

The clients also requested a new wine room between the entryway and kitchen after seeing them in friends’ homes. MSK had to specify significant beams under the wine room floor to handle the extra load from upstairs, and they ran right where a reservoir for the new waterfall would need to be located. The company elected to build a reservoir straddling one of the new underfloor beams.

Photo: Lauren Andersen/SEN Creative LLC

“[They] really liked the idea of the waterfall; I tried to put it in another location, but they wanted it there,” says Morisseau, who had to push the homeowners to remove the coffered ceilings in the existing great room that stopped at the kitchen and would clash with a clean, contemporary style.

“Those coffered ceilings were just too heavy for what we wanted to do,” Westby explains. “They really wanted to keep them—they’re one of the features of the house that they really liked. It took us quite a bit to talk them out of keeping those in there. But once they finally saw [the great room without coffered ceilings], when it’s all cleaned up and opened, they ended up loving the design.”

Despite using design software to show changes, the clients had some trouble visualizing just how substantial the bigger kitchen and great room would be. “They pushed us quite a bit in terms of going above and beyond [and] always trying something a little more,” Morisseau recalls. “They maybe didn’t know exactly what they wanted [all of the time], but they knew when they saw it.”

That Sleek Look

Photo: Nathanael Bennett Photography

The homeowners and MSK went back and forth primarily on materials and finishes because they sought an appealing presentation upon entering the space. A beautiful floating island with a large quartzite countertop now anchors the kitchen. Warm brown, Euro-style slab-front cabinetry with paneled appliances establishes a sleek, modern feel. A custom stainless steel hood and a glass tile backsplash add texture and interest, plus new multi-light pendants are whimsical and functional.

“I usually try to come up with a catchphrase that will grab the client—a tagline or something that will work for them,” Morisseau explains. “I said, ‘You like modern, but you want a little bit of little more glitz and glamor.’ In Milan at the time, they were doing very dark with nothing light about it. Being in California, we have a lot of light, so I said, ‘Why don’t we do something like Milan meets Las Vegas, where we just bring up a little more sparkle and a little more oomph?’”
In the great room, the arched openings have been squared off, and a new linear fireplace with asymmetrical cabinetry niches on either side features a 77-inch TV on a remote mantle mount.

Photo: Nathanael Bennett Photography

“Their great room is actually quite large, and they do a majority of entertaining there, so they didn’t want to see all of the small appliances,” Morisseau says. “They wanted that sleek look.” Large-format tile floors, a gray palette for the walls, and a dining room chandelier complete the contemporary luxury look in the remodeled, family friendly open-plan kitchen and great room.

“We started the project out believing they were looking for something to really clean the place up and make it nicer,” Westby says. “It was a couple meetings in before we figured out that the budget was there to do what they wanted. And what they really wanted was to design something new and unique that matched up with their tastes, and they didn’t care so much about the budget. Suddenly, we had a lot more freedom to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

“The clients went to a five-star resort for a vacation [later], and when they came home, they said, ‘You guys have ruined five-star resorts for us. We’re almost happier at home in our place.’” QR

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