Keith and Cheryl Smith were house-hunters with an unusual requirement.
“We wanted a small house and a big garage,” said Cheryl.
The empty-nesters didn’t need a lot of space — but Keith’s hobbies did. His pastimes include welding, furniture making, and working on cars and motorcycles.
After a fruitless search, they decided to build a custom home in San Luis Obispo’s Bowden Ranch development.
According to Cheryl, when they approached architect Bill Isaman, they didn’t have a specific architectural style in mind. “But we didn’t like anything frou-frou,” she said. “We liked straight lines, like with Craftsman style — although that was overdone at the time.”
The single-story, 2,600-square-foot home designed by Isaman and built by Benson Construction incorporates contemporary features, such as sawtooth and butterfly rooflines, but also blends in “detailing and materials that are typically associated with more traditional styles, such as exposed wood rafter tails and stone exterior finishes,” said Isaman.
Industrial elements have a particular appeal to Keith, who is a retired engineer for a major oil company and has worked in oilfields around California. The roof and siding are a combination of corrugated and standing seam metal. Exposed ductwork runs along the ceiling in the entryway.
Natural materials and earthy hues offset the austerity of contemporary design. An exterior wall clad in slate is “a focal point for our walkway as you approach the front door,” noted Cheryl. That same slate is used on their barbecue island and inside fireplace. It inspired the mix of warm and cool hues throughout the house, including the gray stain on the concrete floors that was given a tinge of brown for warmth.
The couple chose eucalyptus for much of the home’s custom cabinetry, which was built by T.J. Reynolds Custom Woodworks. “We loved the beautiful iridescent coloring that the grain has, plus the green aspect appealed to us,” said Cheryl of the rapidly renewable wood. The cabinets are also a reference to aeucalyptus grove located near the house.
The home was tailored to the Smiths’ casual lifestyle. For instance, they wanted a small dining room, so Isaman gave them an alcove just large enough for a table that seats six. Their cozy kitchen breakfast nook is “where we eat 99 percent of the time,” said Keith.
The couple also enjoys dining and entertaining outdoors. The great room has two sliders that open to a patio — a secluded space thanks to a creek bed that runs along the backside of the house. The master suite opens to its own private patio.
In the Smith house, the garage was not an afterthought. The 1,200-square-foot space includes storage, a workshop, and space for four cars. Keith’s current collection includes an Austin-Healey Sprite, a Morris Minor, and two collectable Honda motorcycles (a 305 Scrambler and a Mini Trail 70). Glass panels in the garage door and numerous windows bring in ample light.
Even after the Smiths moved into their new home in September 2009, their work was not complete. Both had a hand in constructing the home and applying finishes. Keith helped with a number of projects from the start, including grading the site and electrical wiring. He also constructed about half of the home’s cabinetry. Fond of tinkering with salvaged materials, he built cabinets in their casita (used as an office and sewing room) with fir from oil field lease houses in Sisquoc, which is southeast of Santa Maria. He also used fir that was formerly sub-flooring in San Luis Obispo’s historic Stanton House. He built outdoor steel cable fencing with salvaged old field pipes.
Cheryl, who is a retired homemaker and office manager, is also a skilled quilter. Her handiwork is displayed throughout the house. She used her aptitude for color and pattern to piece together imaginative wall finishes. She painted the interior and exterior herself and finished most cabinets. Her custom wall treatments include a bold, graphic pattern for the midcentury modernthemed guest room. The couple spent hours studying magazines and books to select their palette of mostly gray-green, white, eggplant and taupe hues. Still, there were missteps. “I painted the master bedroom three times before we were satisfied with our choices,” she said. “Paint is reasonably inexpensive and pretty easy to change.”
Like building the house, decorating it was processes of self-discovery. “We didn’t really have a style of furniture before,” said Cheryl. “I’d say it was all just eclectic.”
Their new contemporary digs inspired them to let go of everything but a few vintage and antique pieces, kept for sentimental reasons. They purchased new contemporary furniture and have grown increasingly fond of mid-century modern design. “We have discovered in living here that the clean lines of contemporary design are soothing,” said Cheryl. “Who knew?”