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A Mill Valley Couple Rebuilds Their Dream Home from Scratch

An extreme renovation yields joyous results.

SLIDESHOW

The modern exterior of the new ground-up home.

Photo: Thomas Heinser

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In the living room, an eclectic mix of art, furnishings, and textiles is a foil to the clean lines and minimalist material palette of the architecture.

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The custom oversize globe chandelier is from Coup D’Etat.

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The master bedroom features built-ins by Studio Becker.

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Designer Holly Hollenbeck found the vintage Italian chandeliers for the dining room on 1stdibs and traveled to Paris to pick them up in person.

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Homeowners Tiffanie DeBartolo and Scott Schumaker with their two dogs, Dipsea and Dizzy.

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“You never want to be the one to say it, but someone has to,” says architect Michael Rex, on telling a client that their newly purchased home should be bulldozed. “When they pay so much for a house, they don’t want to hear that. But they weren’t hit with a cold shower. They saw the struggle we were having—they had to see it coming.”

The struggle involved trying to renovate a Spanish hacienda–style house in Mill Valley for clients Tiffanie DeBartolo and Scott Schumaker. Built in 1940, it had already been the victim of a renovation that had left it hobbled with odd proportions. The ceilings were low, and although the home had been built on a prime ridgetop lot with views, it hadn’t been designed to take advantage of them. As the list of problems with the house lengthened, the solutions grew more daunting (and more expensive) by the day. Finally, after a year of triage, Rex, working in tandem with designer Holly Hollenbeck, suggested it was time to let the house go.

“Tiffanie and Scott asked to take a couple of weeks off to think,” Hollenbeck remembers. But when they came back, they were ready to say goodbye to the home and start with a clean slate. “Now we could have a different conversation,” Rex says. “Instead of ‘How do you want to change this house?’ it was ‘How do you want to live on this property?’” Their answers surprised both designer and architect, who thought the couple would want to stick with their original vision of a home with Spanish, Moorish, and Moroccan influences. But with the constraints of the old residence gone, they did a design 180. “They wanted something totally different: a linear, modern home with as much glass as possible. So we went back to the drawing board,” Hollenbeck says.

For round two, the focus switched from taming the recalcitrant personality of the house to expressing the unique personalities of the homeowners. Schumaker is a former champion Xterra triathlon racer, while DeBartolo is a novelist and film director (and daughter of beloved former 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.). Together they founded the indie record label Bright Antenna, and their personal style is wholly representative of their creative accomplishments. “Tiffanie is the very definition of rocker meets boho chic, and she does it in the most elevated way. She is Chloé meets Saint Laurent,” Hollenbeck says. “As a couple they are just incredible: interesting, intelligent, athletic, fun, generous, and inspirational. Their new home needed to reflect all of that. No pressure!”

Thankfully, the couple’s tastes, while not exactly aligned, were complementary. DeBartolo’s passion for contemporary art and funky vintage furnishings was a foil to the clean, linear architectural style that Schumaker desired. “He was enamored with the work of Tom Kundig, but Tiffanie did not want the typical interiors for a home of that sort, which she felt were often cold, uninspired, and predictable,” says Hollenbeck, who worked closely with DeBartolo to source items from 1stdibs, Dzine, and Coup D’Etat to create the layered, collected look she desired. They also turned to the Bay Area’s rich community of custom designers and fabricators to create one-of-a-kind pieces such as the giant living room rug by Ebanista, built-ins by Studio Becker, and the solid-brass sideboard by John Liston. 

Architecturally, the new home couldn’t have been more of a departure from its predecessor. It was 80 percent glass, so the views would be front and center in nearly every room. The exterior cladding materials of cedar and blackened shou sugi ban cypress siding would cross the threshold into the interiors, making for a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. Lush, graded lawns would be ideal for the couple’s two energetic dogs, and a collection of secluded patios off the guest rooms would offer their frequent visitors—including many of the musicians they represent—their own private oases.

Three years after the original structure had been razed, the couple returned from a vacation in Montana and saw their newly completed home for the first time. “I started crying right when I walked through the door,” DeBartolo says. Hollenbeck, Rex, and Jeff Jungsten of Jungsten Construction had worked round the clock for two weeks to have the house ready when they returned. Fresh flowers and potted plants had been set out, the beds were made upwith freshly laundered linens, the lighting was set just right, and DeBartolo’s favorite band, U2, was playing on the sound system. “Seeing them walk in and take it all in with tears of joy and hugs all around was one ofthe happiest moments of my career,” Hollenbeck says. “It was the culmination of four years of fantastic teamwork, creativity, trust, and friendship.”

As for the traumatic beginnings of the project, they were a far-off memory. Rex muses on the experience: “Sometimes in the game board of life, you have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward.”

 

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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