Magazine article Sunset

Bridging the Gap

Magazine article Sunset

Bridging the Gap

Article excerpt

A clever addition spans a driveway to turn two cramped cottages into one airy home

TWO TINY HOUSES, each measuring 640 square feet, sat next to each other for more than 80 years, separated only by a driveway narrower than 8 feet. The one-bedroom cottages were smaller than any other homes in the working-class neighborhood of Albany, California, and it seemed the only way to expand either one was to build up or start over. That was until artist Michael Shemchuk drove by.

Shemchuk and his wife, interior designer Kathy Farley, had outgrown their small studio home. He took one look at the two houses for sale on the same property and connected the dots: "The bones were there. All we had to do was put them together."

The same two houses stand there today, joined by an inventive yet subtle addition that spans the old driveway. "We wanted to keep the shape and style of the original homes, including the gable roof of one and hip roof of the other," Shemchuk says of his solution. In a nod to the past, a driveway-size band of concrete still runs through the middle, now serving as the floor of the foyer and dining area. This flat-roof space almost didn't happen; city officials resisted enclosing the driveway "until we realized it was scaled to the width of a Model A and was too narrow for modern car doors to open," Shemchuk says.

In contrast with the two original structures, which were divided into small, cramped rooms, the new interior is wide open and bright, thanks to the steel posts and beams that replaced the original driveway-facing walls. It's a good example of the "not-so-big house" approach (the combined house is still modest in size at 1,760 square feet), where small spaces open to one another to lend a more expansive feel. "There's no wasted space," Shemchuk says.

Besides capturing the driveway area, the house also grew into the backyard with a kitchen addition extending from the rear of one of the original units. Clerestory windows to the east and west let in even more natural light. The kitchen's color palette is like a muted Monet painting; in a true artistic effort, Shemchuk and Parley custom-mixed the floor stain and several paints.

To the delight of neighbors, who wrote letters in support of the project, the remodel is low, unobtrusive, and in scale with the rest of the homes on the narrow street. "We could have built a new house with multiple stories," Shemchuk says. …

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