A design duo turned their derelict coastal cottage into a contemporary home with high style.

By Matt Robinson
April 30, 2008
Mike David Wakely; styling by Char Hatch Langos

Tony Garrett and his wife, Carol Lauten, know a thing or two about design―he's a design director at architecture and engineering giant HOK, and she's an architectural librarian. So when they set out to buy a home, they had a clear vision. "We wanted a house that we could renovate and make our own," Tony says, "that would reflect our own taste and style."

They narrowed their search to Sausalito, California, where the climate and views reminded them of their favorite Mediterranean vacation spots. Unfortunately, the small town presented few buying opportunities. "We were looking for something unfinished," Tony says. "We wanted to create our own space."

When the couple finally found the perfect house within walking distance of the water and downtown area, "it was very run-down," Carol recalls. "Livable, but barely." Though the location and basic floor plan were all Tony and Carol had imagined, the house needed a complete overhaul. "It was clearly ready for an update," Tony says. "But it was what we were looking for: an older home ready for some TLC."

They reconfigured the 1,350-square-foot home and replaced the roof, deck railings, and most windows and doors to open the rooms to the outdoors. "The contractors stripped the house down all the way. There wasn't a wall or stud standing," Tony says. Now every room in the house has a bay view except for the master bath (there, a mirror reflects the water).

Throughout the interiors, Tony and Carol blended crisp, modern lines with antiques to create a look they describe as "classic contemporary and eclectic," Tony says. "The renovation reflects a warm feel without the cold look that some sleek materials can convey." One of their favorite additions is the Mediterranean-inspired stonework in the kitchen.

In order to support the heavier load and protect against earthquake damage, the builders reinforced the floors and created a shear wall, which stabilizes the home in case of a tremor. The enhancements added to the cost of the project, but the benefits merited the investment. "That's the price of adding value," Tony says.

After wrestling with unexpected challenges, such as installing a city-mandated sprinkler system and completing sewer work that extended almost a block from the house, Tony and Carol can finally relax in a home that fits them. "We love so many aspects of living here," Tony says. With views of Mount Tamalpais in the distance and the harbor below, their cottage now has interior style to match its spectacular surroundings.

Eco-design Ideas

"We're about building for the higher purpose of improving the quality of the environment and of conserving the earth's resources to make life easier and better," Tony says. Take a cue from their renovation and conduct your own environmentally responsible remodel.

Work with what you have. In the living and dining rooms, Tony and Carol reused the original Brazilian cherry wood flooring, though thin in places, to reduce the need for new materials.

Opt for recycled. If you can't reuse on-site materials, consider other salvaged products. Tony designed cabinet hardware from recycled aluminum.

Find good wood. When you need new wood materials, look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The veneer on the kitchen cabinets and the fiberboard beneath are fabricated from FSC-certified wood, which comes from responsibly managed forests, Tony says.

Eliminate wasted energy. New double-pane windows reduce the amount of conditioned air lost to the outdoors, so your system doesn't have to work overtime.