When Robert and Betsy Wilson went shopping for a vacation home, they wanted more than a spot for relaxation.
“We grew up in the Midwest where land is a legacy, something you keep in the family,” said Betsy. “We wanted a home that would be handed down from generation to generation.”
The Minnesota couple has three grown children and four grandchildren, as well as friends and extended family around the nation. They wanted a house that would be a hub for vacations, holidays and special events.
While vacationing in San Luis Obispo County, they found and purchased a French provincial-style home located on more than two acres in Arroyo Grande. Built in 1997, it wasn’t vastly outdated. But its 2,500 square feet felt cramped during big family gatherings. “When everyone was here, we’d have sleeping bags lying around and you’d be stepping over people,” said Betsy.
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The Wilsons called upon the talents of architect Jim Duffy and Semmes & Co. Builders for a remodel that took two years to complete.
They updated original spaces and added on 1,800 square feet, plus an additional 600-square-foot apartment over a new garage. The house now has a total of seven bedrooms and five bathrooms, as well as a dining room where there previously was none.
Although the addition is somewhat modern in appearance, the Wilsons wanted old and new to coalesce. They used traditional materials, such as wood and stone, to blend the two.
Year-round outdoor living is a novelty for a family accustomed to being house-bound during the winter months. To take full advantage of the mild climate, they added extensive landscaping designed by landscape architect Christopher Manning and installed by Selna Construction. Outdoor living spaces include a kitchen, wood-fired pizza oven and spa. A pull-down screen and sound system allow the family to stage outdoor movie nights. There are also plenty of nooks and out-of-the-way spaces for intimate conversations and solitary moments.
While many homeowners remodel with resale value in mind, the Wilsons wanted a home that would serve their family for generations. With several remodels behind them, they were unafraid of taking design risks and saw the project as an opportunity for self-expression.
Most spaces have their own theme. The kitchen, for example, celebrates family roots using art glass — a material the Wilsons like for the luminous burst of color it adds to a space. Stained glass cabinet fronts depict flowers and plants that represent the ancestries of family members. For instance, there are shamrocks and cornflowers, representing Betsy’s Irish-Swedish heritage. An English rose symbolizes Robert’s part-English ancestry. Dahlias celebrate the Mexican ancestry of their grandchildren.
The flower motif continues in the kitchen with Italian glass mosaic tiles set in a flower pattern along the backsplash, and inset among the white limestone floor tiles.
The living room reflects several of the Wilsons’ interests. As Midwesterners, they appreciate the proximity of the ocean, so they included nautical references, including two high “eyebrow” windows in blue with a texture reminiscent of rippling water.
Betsy wanted sun and moon motifs, so a friend in Minnesota created a ceramic piece depicting a moon that is now installed over the fireplace. Lit around the edges, it emits a gentle glow in the evening. Opposite it is a high stained glass window depicting the sun. In the couple’s signature whimsical style, they included very tiny renderings of the Mercury Lander and Apollo space craft on the moon and sun, respectively. According to Betsy, it’s is a nod to the fact that they were “children of the ’60s.”
The living room is one of Betsy’s favorite spaces, and it reflects the couple’s prime goal for the interior: comfort. The room has a lodge feel with hickoryclad cathedral ceilings and a towering stone fireplace. Plush leather seating completes the look. Throughout the house they chose similarly clean-lined, comfortable furniture. “We want people to come and use the space, so we didn’t want anything to be stuffy,” she said.
Although the furniture is understated, the home’s finishes are not. The Wilsons are not shy about color — and they don’t limit it to walls. The downstairs bathroom is acheery apple green, with its green quartz countertops, jadehued cabinet knobs, and glass mosaic shower tile in a color called “lime-olicious.” The kitchen island is topped with blue angel marble. There is peacockhued glass mosaic tile in the master bath and fiery “hot rod” onyx in the downstairs bathroom.
Betsy said the inspiration for their color palette was nature: “Green grass, green foliage, and blue sky,” she said. “I love green and my husband loves blue, so he balances me out, otherwise the entire house would be green.”
The Wilsons made monthly trips to oversee the construction of the house. Since the home’s completion in March, they find any excuse to visit. “It’s now large enough so we can all be together, but also have our own space,” said Betsy of the home the family calls “Wilson West.” “It’s where everyone wants to gather, and now our grandkids are connecting with the house. I guess we’re here for good.”