Julie Dowling, AIA, had only to lay eyes on Tiburon House to see that the residence needed significant rehabilitation. But she also recognized what a strong candidate she had on her hands. “It was a classic mid-century California house,” the San Francisco–based architect explains, with “long, lean lines, cantilevered overhangs, and the indoor/outdoor feeling that was a general feature of mid-century houses.” So while her interventions yielded a functionally new house, she says, in spirit, “this was a project of editing, not adding.” The outcome reflects both Dowling’s sensitivity to her subject and the enduring appeal of mid-century modernism, even in an era of heightened environmental concern.

Dowling retained the building’s H-shaped floor plan, which embraces a public courtyard to the east and a private pool deck to the west, but cleared a nest of interior partitions to create an open kitchen/dining/family room at the house’s center. “The idea was to open up the house to this great, funky kidney-shaped pool,” says Dowling, who thickened one interior wall of the space with flush storage cabinets, leaving clear sight lines to the pool area. She gave equal consideration to the site’s expansive San Francisco Bay view, replacing punched openings at the living room and master bedroom with wall-spanning aluminum sliding doors.

One remnant of 1960s exuberance sacrificed without remorse was the pitched roof that crowned the house’s midsection. “It was a Pizza Hut,” remembers Dowling, who replaced the awkward form with a flat roof that steps up from the kitchen to the dining/family area. High glazing facing the pool “brings more light into the most interior sections of the house,” she points out. In keeping with the original layout, guests enter informally, via a sliding glass door to the living room. “This is such a quintessential California home,” she observes. “There are so many opportunities to have an indoor/outdoor existence.”

The Marin County climate cooperates in that regard. “About nine months of the year you can leave all the doors open, and the temperature inside is just perfect,” she says. The greening of this remodel, therefore, began with a head start in energy conservation. Still, its all-new mechanical systems, lighting, windows, reflective white roof, and photovoltaic-powered pool equipment improve significantly on the original spec.

Interior materials represent a sustainable update of the 1960s palette. “The fireplace is clad in ceramic tile reminiscent of the split stone that was used in mid-century modern homes,” Dowling points out. The cabinetry picks up the tile’s striated pattern with a material called Echo Wood. “It’s a reconstituted veneer material,” she explains. “It’s actually white oak, but it’s made from waste materials.” Wood floors are engineered walnut; carpet and padding, 100 percent wool. All finishes are low-VOC. That the freshness of this project runs more than skin deep is a measure of both the vision of the original design and Dowling’s skilled, enthusiastic effort “to take this great structure, bring out all these great features, and add what was missing.”

Mid-Century Makeovers

project: Tiburon House, Tiburon, Calif.
architect: Dowling Kimm Studios, San Francisco
general contractor: Paul White Construction, Santa Rosa, Calif.
project size: 3,500 square feet (before and after)
site size: 1 acre
construction cost: $350 per square foot
photography: Matthew Millman

performance upgrades

• Light-colored “cool roof”
• Photovoltaic-powered pool equipment
• High-efficiency heat pump
• Low-VOC finishes and wool carpeting
• Cabinetry material produced from scrap wood
• New windows with solar-control low-E glazing