by Juno DeMelo
Photography by Michelle Drewes
Melinda Mandell doesn’t do “design lite.”
But when the Palo Alto, California–based designer and principal at Melinda Mandell Interior Design first met with her clients, that’s what they were looking for. The couple, busy working professionals with two young children, had lived in their 4,400-square-foot ranch in Silicon Valley’s Redwood City for five years when they started demo.
“They had an architect who got them a permit, handed it off, and was never seen again,” says Mandell. “I took one look at his plans and immediately saw some things that had yet to be optimized. The bathroom layouts were awkward and outdated.”
The 6-foot tub was way too big for bathing small children, for example, and the windows felt stocky and cut off. After talking with Mandell, the couple realized that they needed heavy-duty design help not only to improve the home’s flow, functionality, and storage, but also to transform it into an anchor point for their extended family.
“They understood I was saving them time by expanding their capacity. I’m doing all the research, narrowing down hundreds of options based on their needs and the home’s architecture,” says Mandell. “They knew they wanted to start from a blank slate and create something fresh that could be their family home for the next 20 years, and they didn’t want it to be any more complicated than it needed to be. Practicality was an absolute priority, but so was beauty.”
The husband and wife each quickly identified what was most important to them, then became the point person for that aspect of the project. “She was the one who came to me saying, ‘I know I love color—and I love quirky, cool, textured, patterned tile,’” says Mandell.
For the guest bathroom, they decided on the Ann Sacks Savoy Ribbed field tile. “I like that it has ribbing that reveals a darker part as the glaze pulls down and pools, giving a vertical effect. The tile almost feels like fabric, or like the deckle-edged paper in an old book. The smooth glaze is easy to clean, but I’m still getting visual and tactile texture,” says Mandell,who also added a satin brass grab bar in the shower for the kids’ grandfather to use when he stayed over.
In the primary bath, Mandell created a sense of respite by balancing the rich woodgrain of the walnut-veneer double vanity with matte black faucets and plumbing and MADE by Ann Sacks Ribbed Moon Modern field tile, which lines the walls of the generously sized shower.
“I’ve seen this tile put together in kind of a bowl shape, with the half circles stacked on each other, but I liked the idea of completing the circle with these,” says Mandell. (Pie-plate-size circles are a theme throughout the house, also appearing in a round tile in the mudroom and the white-oak lights along the stairwell.) “We’ve created this larger-scale pattern out of a smaller tile, which is intriguing to me. The tile has this really wonderful 3D effect. It’s like sculpture for a wall.”
Meanwhile, the husband’s focus was the kitchen, which Mandell describes as “very much a working kitchen.” As the family’s primary cook, his requests included lower-cabinet handles that wouldn’t catch on his pants and an undermounted sink.
“I like designing kitchens for people who really use them—and for families who are creating beautiful memories in there, teaching their kids how to cook and hosting gatherings,” says Mandell.
She kept the walls where the architect had put them, but reworked the layout to get the most countertop linear feet. She also worked to bring light into the kitchen. “Though there’s a huge door opening from the kitchen to the back patio and another from the dining room to the back patio, the way the house is positioned, it can be easy for this kitchen to get dark,” she says.
To warm up the space and offset the quartz countertops; blackened-steel hardware; and black plumbing, range knobs, and hood, Mandell brought in natural-oak cabinetry; painted the V-groove island light blue-gray; and hearkened back to the durable Ann Sacks Savoy tile in the guest bath, this time using the Large Stack Mosaic for the backsplash.
“What I love about this tile is it gives us texture and pattern while still saying light,” says Mandell. “And even though it’s very light, the edges of the tile have a dark line on them where the glaze fades away, so up close and personal, each individual tile has a little bit of an outline.”
After a year and a half, the renovation was complete—and Mandell had a well-established relationship with her clients. “They would say, ‘You know what’s best,’ but also they 100 percent pushed back if there was something they didn’t like,” she says. The end result: a functional, beautiful space that worked for the busy young family’s everyday life, as well as for grandpa, the kids’ cousins, and the in-laws that ended up storing their wine collection in the garage.
“Working on my designs, I’m not just envisioning the immediate family I’m interacting with, I’m imagining this house full of kids chasing each other around and laughing,” says Mandell. “That kind of bustling, happy, joyful family gathering was a really good touchpoint for me as I was working on the house.”
One of Mandell’s most satisfying moments actually came just after the home was finished. A huge bulky fireplace was torn out in the living room, which was then transformed into a big dining room that could accommodate a 12-person dining table—and a 60-inch-long custom-made natural-rope chandelier, dip-died navy blue, that now hangs over it.
“My heart just sang when I came over around Hannukah and there were blue decorations everywhere,” says Mandell. “I thought, ‘It’s just meant to be!’ I didn’t think about blue versus black dip-dye when we had the chandelier made. It was absolute serendipity. The décor pieces that we installed work for their holidays. I loved seeing that.”
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Designer Kelly Hohla spoke with us about balancing old with new in her renovation of an early-20th-century home in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.