FarmHouseUrban Remodel Update – Exterior

FarmHouseUrban Remodel Update – Exterior

For the past several weeks, most of the progress has been in the behind the walls work. Things like electrical wiring, plumbing, sprinkler system (it's a requirement here in order to get your building permit approved!) are being installed. It's not the most exciting to see, so I waited until there was some visual progress before I took photos to show you. 

It was fun was to see the exterior siding going up. Starting to visualize what the house is going to look like! We decided to use board and battan for the new areas and keep the oringinal wood siding on the others. The striped look is temporary – all will be white soon.


After some trial and error, we selected 1" x 3"" boards spaced 12" apart center to center. At first, when they put up a sample piece, I didn't like that I could see the 'fuzz' from the wood boards. Our contractor was able to find a great product that is extremely weatherproof (more than the wood normally used) and it's perfectly smooth.  It's hard to tell in the photos, but it looks much cleaner.


The porch and roof are starting to take shape.



This is the addition – the entry to the house.


Reclaimed beams from North Carolina! They were leftovers from our contractor's last job…Going in the kitchen ceiling.


The insulation was added earlier this week and tomorrow the sheetrock goes up. I took a video today which I'll try to post in the next day or so. I've also picked the flooring and want to show you the contenders and the one I selected and why. 

Hope all's good and happy weekend to each and every one!

Creating an Urban Farmhouse Part Two and a House Update

Creating an Urban Farmhouse Part Two and a House Update

Just to get you up to speed — after we redesigned the interior to a smaller floorplan, the next step was/is to work on the exterior design, landscaping and kitchen details.  I was expecting the exterior elevations would take awhile to take shape since it did for the first design, but when our architect presented them, we were thrilled, and how often does this happen – we aren't changing a thing! I'm not going to show the new plans quite yet- I guess I'm getting superstitious!  But there is one architectural element that I can share that we all felt is essential in defining an urban farmhouse – a cupola.

Barn cupula - old school building co

Barn w: cupula - enchanted home


Barn w cupula2 -enchanted homeabove two photos source


Cupula - Tracery interiorssource

Cupula - sullivan arch




There are many seemingly small architectural details that can make a huge impact in a home's final appearance. Things like posts, railings, garage doors and exterior lighting often get left to the last minute when the contractor needs an answer that day. In the next few weeks, I'll share what we're considering and ultimately chose and the sources for all of them.

I leave for NYC on tues – my burfday:-) I've been having a mini panic about the SNOW that came this weekend! Kind of ironic that in my post last week about taking my Wellies, I mentioned it was not likely to snow?! Hmm… maybe I should do a post about it not being likely that I will win the lotto, or be asked to star as the love interest meet Johnny Depp or be photographed for the Sartorialist, or be invited to Ina Garten's Hampton's house for dinner?

A possible last minute 'what to pack???' post may come tomorrow! Have a fantastic week! 

Our house update

Our house update

I have written and rewritten this post several times, but each time it was so riddled with expletives and crass analogies that I thought it best to calm down and wait until I could write with a little less… emotion.

Realizing it's doubtful that day will ever come, I'm challenging myself to provide an update on our house progress in the most neutral way I can.  In other words, I'm objectifying myself for the sake of not offending anyone.

Here goes…

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that we've spent the better part of the past year and a half designing our house.  That process has included hiring and managing all the extraneous tradesmen that are required by the County to provide reports in order to Pass Go and get even the most basic building permit required to do a remodel in Marin County. We dotted every i and crossed every t.

There are several levels of permits that are granted by the County Planning Dept based on a very specific list of requirements. The top tier permit, "Design Review" is the most lengthy and costly –  and opens pandora's box of more tradespeople who are required to provide reports on your house before you can obtain the permit.  Unfortunately, their fees often reflect that 'We've gotcha!' (uh oh, almost swore…) mentality. 

Another big bummer about the bad permit is, the County encourages all surrounding neighbors (by posting huge yellow documents on telephone poles within a 3 block radius and mailing letters inviting neighbors to a meeting hosted by the town advisory board) to weigh in on your design and pretty much anything else they can think of.  This is one of those (insert swear word) unique-to-Marin head scratchers. Wait, you're telling me that my neighbor has a say over whether or not I can cut down a tree on my property that they can't see??? Here's where I could go on and on and on with horror stories of ugliness I've heard over the years we've lived here. I just want to know this – why would anyone care what their neighbor does unless it's going to adversely impact them?  Sometime remind me to tell you a story about someone explaining this viewpoint to me and why she believes her neighbor's tree on their own property is really partly hers…

Alright, so by now you see that AVOIDING the big ol nasty permit is the way to go. To do that, the county has some basic thresholds which as long as you don't exceed, can be easily avoided. The main thresholds are: roof height, percentage of square footage (including garages, decks and exterior stairs) to overall lot size (I think it's 30%), retaining walls not to exceed 6', and total square footage not to exceed 4,000 sq ft. (Refraining from crass analogy).

So that's the background, now fast forward to mid July when we were waiting to receive our stamp of approval and could start demo… To our utter shock as well as our architect's, we received a letter stating that we violated the square footage requirement and the project was being sent to Design Review.  Oh, and please send a check for $20,000 (the first installment of many) right away. It turns out there was an error in our drawings and space that was assumed to not count towards square footage was in fact calculated into the total.  We were over by 800 sq ft!

We of course obliged.  Our architect whom we really like, and hey, mistakes do happen, took full (verbal) responsibility for the error.  After about a month (and here's where my attempted posts sounded like a truck driver) of complete submission to whomever we were told we needed to pay and whatever they decided to charge (I so wish I could elaborate here and when this whole thing is over I will!). 

Seeing our frustration, our architect offered to redesign the house to comply with the sq footage requirement (under 4,000 including garage), but thought we would be unhappy with the result since there would be many sacrifices made to the design we'd spent so long perfecting.  We took him up on the offer.  The design that came back a couple of hours later was very discouraging.  All the additions and altered exterior walls were lopped off and we were left with just a new entry foyer and a one car garage.  The floorplan was unchanged from the present configuration.  My eyes welled up when I saw it.

The next morning, I found myself walking through the house, graph paper and tape measure in hand, like a demon possessed. Sometimes you need some adversity to test your metal! I started with our list of must have's:

1. A front door and entry (we currently don't have).  

2. A two car garage (we currently don't have).

3. A powder room (we currently don't have).

4. A family room (we currently don't have).

And then went looking for wasted or seldom used space. Keep in mind our house is 2,800 sq ft now and a typical two-car garage is 500 sq ft, leaving 700 sq. ft for the rest of the items.

Well, to my amazement, it worked. Everything fit.  I relayed my design to our architect and he looked it over, checked square footage, etc and I was within the limit.

Here's the evolution starting with the existing floorplan (click to enlarge).

Existing floor plan

Year-long design plan:


2 hour lopped-off plan (the blue is new space)


My new version:


So what are the biggest changes?

1. The area between the dining room and living room doesn't currently serve a purpose, so it made sense to relocate the foyer and entry there since it's in the center of the house.

2. I moved the powder room to take up part of the bar area.  The only loss is that it is an interior room, thus no window. Who cares? Thinking of dark walls and stone sink…

3. I decided to enclose the remaining bar area since it didn't make sense to be open to the new foyer.  So now it's a butler's pantry!

4. The family room is now in the "front door enclosure" and is more of a nook than a room.  I'm fine with it being smaller and envision a cozy reading/tv space rather than a full-size family room.

5. Finally, I put the second car space for the garage in the current laundry room (no sketch yet). The loss is that the main rec room space is smaller, but the gain is that the laundry room is now in the middle of the house and much more convenient.

In sum, the footprint and foundation stay exactly the same as the existing floor plan except for the new staircase/front entry and a small sliver of the family room nook.  The best part of the new plan is that it leaves more room in the budget for landscaping which we desperately need!  

So, where are we now?  We have a new landscape architect who is drafting a master plan for our entire property reflecting the new house plans.  Hopefully, it will not require retaining walls that are higher than 6' so we can avoid design review! 

At this point, nothing's set in stone and we are open to suggestions, so please feel free to be honest!  As always, I will keep you posted.




Restoration Hardware’s new addition

Restoration Hardware’s new addition

Over the past two years Restoration Hardware has completely transformed the look and feel of their products and stores. I'm in the I love it camp, and if you are too, I'm sure you will share my jaw dropping, wide-eyed, can't-believe-it's-a-store amazement at the newest addition to the Resoration Hardware family – baby & child. It's absolutely gorgeous! The architecture of this store rivals the merchandise, so imagine my delight to find out it was designed by Backen Gillam Architects!  

Since the corporate office is located here in Marin, all of the company's debuts take place at the store location closest to the headquarters. Lucky for me, it happens to be only a few miles away from home! When these unveiling's happen, it's usually with stealth speed and covert-middle-of-the-night execution.  One day it's the same sage green walls and cherry wood furniture, literally the next it's all greige.  Thus was the case when I had an errand to run at the mall last week and noticed what just opened a few days before. I hope you're sitting down…


As you walk in, there is large lightly decorated space.  The archway leads you down a corridor that runs straight through to the back where there is another large space. Along the corridor there are many small, beautifully decorated nurseries each with their own arched entry as well as a few large kid's rooms decorated to the hilt.


There are several items in the store that are not yet available for sale, but will be in the fall.  Mostly it's the art, lighting and a few decorative pieces.  These framed vintage sheets of music are part of the Fall Preview.  So if you or someone you love has a bun in the oven, take a good look and start planning that nursery!  























The crib above was my favorite piece in the store. Almost made me want to have…kidding!





This crown is part of the Fall Preview and will be for sale in a few months.  Just in time to find the perfect pink fabric to create a coronet for your baby girl's crib.




These framed letters on burnt edged parchment will be available in any letter.






all photos taken by serena armstrong/theurbanfarmhouse

For more info on the products, go to RH's baby & child website here.

Creating an Urban Farmhouse

Creating an Urban Farmhouse

Our house plans went to the county permit office last week (yay!), which means (fingers and toes crossed) we can start demo around Aug 15. The road to get here has been long and winding with a u-turn or two along the way. I've found that blogging about it in real time is anticlimactic and gets pretty hard to follow, so I thought I'd go backwards and show/tell what it took to get here — the creating of our urban farmhouse. Here's part one, The Exterior.

We started working with our architect; Max Crome of Crome Architecture about a year and a half ago. To read my post and see more photos of the current/before exterior click here. Our house has some big flaws, like no front entry, a one-car carport and no powder room.  In addition, there is virtually zero architecture.  Equal parts blank slate and complicated puzzle for an architect. When Max asked us what style we wanted the house to look and feel like after it was completed, we (okay, I) said an urban farmhouse. What the heck does that mean? I realize now I was referring to a feeling more than a look. 

house now

Max's initial exterior sketch looked like this.

Exterior sketch1
Even though this was an improvement, it was not quite the look we were going for, yet I really wasn't sure how to achieve that look… If I couldn't articulate it, how could Max draw it? We didn't make any changes to this version until recently, because the focus was on the interior.  Once those issues were resolved, we could tackle the rest. 

This is the new cad drawing of the exterior and side of the house.  The changes were all aesthetic, yet the look is completely different.

Exterior drawing

The bottom drawing is of the side of the house.  The sliding doors open from the kitchen.  There will be a platform deck in front of the doors.

When Max presented these drawings to us, he felt that we were now all 'speaking in the same vernacular.  I agree!  What helped most was providing Max with images of what we liked both in a general sense (ie, we love the feeling of this room, garden, etc) as well as photos of specific materials or elements. Here are some of the inspiration photos that I shared with Max.  The process of collecting them actually helped me define what exactly is an urban farmhouse look.

Exterior inspiration 4- backen gillam
Exterior inspiration - backen gillam (oakville, ca)

Exterior inspiration 2- backen gillam (oakville, ca)

Exterior inspiration 3 backen gillam

above 4 photos – Backen Gillam Architects

 The above photos were the first ones I saved. I'm a huge admirer of the work of Backen Gillam Architects. I know I've posted a few of these photos before, and this is probably not the last time. I just love the simplicity and charm of this house.  It's is important to us that the first impression of our home be welcoming rather than intimidating in any way.  I think this one achieves that too. The style here is a current take on the old California ranch style which blends so well in this area. 

Exterior Inspiration - Stuart Silk, susan young int des

Stuart Silk Architect

Another one of my favorite architects – Stuart Silk.  At first, we thought we were going to go with shingled siding, but along the way changed our minds. I still adore it, especially the way it ages and turns gray. These full length windows are amazing aren't they?

 Cedar shake ranch - exterior MS

I don't have the source for this photo, but I love the shingled siding and simple arbor. I think it would be even prettier with white trim and landscaping.

Walker warner

Barn style - remodelista arch; walkerwarner1

Barn style - remodelista arch; walkerwarnersonoma1

above 3 photos – Walker Warner Architect

When I discovered the work of this local firm – Walker Warner Architects, I was blown away.  At the time, the design of our house was starting to take shape and this house with the white board and batten siding and clean lines confirmed it.  I adore the windows and doors!  Notice the roof lines at different heights.

Garden pavers _ white exterior

No source for the photo, but is it not filled with inspiration? Starting with the subtle landscaping. A potted orange tree near a door – that sweet scent drifting through an open window must be heavenly. I love stone fences, and this one with the little lavender hedge is just beautiful.  I wish I knew more about this house – what is in the house/barn behind? Is this the main house or possibly a guest house?

Another decision we made is to paint the house white.  White is my go-to color for all life's 'backdrops' – house, walls, dishes, stationary and sheets. Also, since we're keeping the wood siding on the older parts of the house, and using board and batten on the new addition, it will blend more seamlessly if it's all the same color.  I think the above photo captures exactly what I love about white – everything looks better against it.


I was drawn to the combination of materials in this photo.  Even though we won't have any other structures (…yet) on the property, I've confirmed my love for combining more than one material.  Plus, the transom window over the french doors with the industrial light fixture couldn't be better.

Exterior- martha stewart

photo via Martha Stewart

The soft gray color of this house is spectacular.  

Barn doors - arch digest

photo via Architectural Digest

Barn exterior - sliding door - H&GNZ

Photo via New Zealand House & Garden 

Barn doors - atlanta homes mag

photo via Atlanta Homes Mag
Farmhouse exterior - Arch Digest

Photo via Architectural Digest

Barn doors are becoming more and more widely used in a variety of house styles these days, but they are a necessity for an urban farmhouse.  It's easy to get carried away on a theme, so we plan to use them sparingly – probably only in one or two places.

Just to recap the urban farmhouse exterior design elements:

1. Board and Batten siding.

Keith wagner landscape arch

photo via Keith Wagner Landscape Architecture

2. All white.

White exterior - willow decor

photo via willow decor

3. Barn doors.

Barn doors -nyt

photo via the new york times

It's exciting to finally share the progress with you! I'm going to do my best to post regularly from now on. I'd love to hear what you think so far. What photos resonate with you and why?  

Design Perspective

Design Perspective

The idea to start a blog arose from a suggestion by a friend as a means to document the remodeling of our house. I like writing and love everything related to interiors, so combining the two seemed like a perfect creative outlet. I assumed just friends and family would follow along. Then I got my first comment from a stranger – it was like a gift! That's when it hit me – holy $%#@-other people are reading my blog! Could they – might they – find it to be of interest or possibly even inspiring?!  How cool!

I've said it before, I am honored and touched that you are reading the urban farmhouse. Readers are what keeps blog authors going and I love that I hear from so many just regular folk – people working on their own houses, and some just because they like something they see.  Anyway, I'm not sure how or if there's a way to measure a blog's success, (please pardon a moment of shameless bragging) but at 13,000+ pageviews a month, just 14 months and a little over 100 posts into this adventure, I'm beyond stoked and sincerely humbled.

Ok, so what does all that have to do with design perspective you ask? Let me explain.

When we started working with our architect, Max Crome, he asked us what we envisioned our finished house to look like.  Since it's superduper blah, and well, some might say downright ugly, it does have the good bones to be reincarnated into something interesting. Perhaps a cool mid-century ranch, maybe a shingled traditional Hampton's style bungalow, or even a mediterranean/spanish villa? Hmmm. None of these quite sounded like the right fit.  We were after something that reflected our urban sensibilities (I really hate dislike that word and never thought I'd use it, but because it's late, I'm tired and for lack of a better…) but it also had to have a rustic Northern California feel.  I emailed Max that we'd found our design perspective – an urban farmhouse. And that is how this blog came to be.

So, here we are.  The house currently from it's 'best' side 🙂 This was taken shortly after we moved in, so it's a little prettier now (pressure washed the moss away, potted plants, etc), but not much!


That big dark doorway in the center (above photo) is technically our front door, but no one visiting for the first time knows that since it's a sliding glass door that goes into a brick mini-courtyard with 2 more doors. It's baaad. So everyone comes in through the kitchen door on the far left.



With the easy part – deciding what the house should look like – out of the way, then came how to go about achieving it.  Max asked us for photos that reflect the look of an urban farmhouse.  I found two photos that I had put in several folders for several reasons, which I guess is a good sign that they 'reflect the look'.  I didn't want to overload Max with photos – didn't want to stifle his creativity, so I only sent these two, since we felt they best represented the architectural elements that we'd like the house to have.

Fireplace:molding:white walls&dark floors
I love the wainscotting, the clean mantle molding and those luscious rich dark floors against the white walls. (above)

In the photo below, the coffered ceiling detail, walls of windows and casual but refined look of the room are details we would like to incorporate.

Ceiling detail - arch digest photo Michael Moran

Recently, as we've been adding final touches to the plans, more detailed inspirations were shared.

Barn doors - atticmag

you knew barn doors were coming…

Window - marvin double hung
farm style double hung windows (Marvin)

Geno and I often think – maybe we should have torn this old house down and started with a blank canvas… That certainly would have been easier.  It's more challenging than I thought to create architecture or design perspective where none exists, but now that the details are starting to come together, I think it will be even more rewarding.  

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