David and Lauren Bowin raised their two kids in a 5,200-square-foot home on 2.5 acres in Atascadero. When their youngest child left the nest, the family home suddenly felt like too much.
“We wanted less of everything,” said David Bowin. That included less square footage, less property to maintain — even “less North County heat,” he said.
The downsize was dramatic. They found a 1,250-square-foot 1940s bungalow with midcentury modern stylings in San Luis Obispo. There were plenty of pluses including natural light and “good bones.” Bowin, who grew up in San Luis Obispo, once mowed lawns in that neighborhood as a teen.
The house had hardly been touched since it was built, so it needed some updates and tweaks to suit the couple’s lifestyle. They hired Heidi Gibson of Studio2G Architects and Crizer Construction for their remodel that got underway in 2014.
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The project began relatively small, with a few added conveniences such as a master suite, indoor laundry and an open-concept open kitchen layout — all told, adding around 600 square feet of living space. As with so many projects, things snowballed as new problems came to light. “Eventually, we were down to studs,” said Bowin.
Presented with a clean slate, the couple took the opportunity to choose materials that reflect a “warm midcentury modern” aesthetic.
The kitchen, now a free-flowing space open both to the patio and the dining room, was made both inviting and functional for entertaining. White quartz creates a crisp, easy-clean countertop surface, contrasting with the warmth of walnut cabinetry. An under-counter ice maker streamlines beverage service and a large center island allows for multiple chefs — or diners.
With limited square footage, the family wanted to fully take advantage of outdoor spaces for living and entertaining. A covered rear patio is more like an open-air room. Built with mitered joints, it gives the illusion of having been carved from a solid block of wood.
Even the front patio was built with sociability in mind. The Bowins, accustomed to living in a rural setting, fully embraced the idea of living with neighbors.
“If we’re going to live in a neighborhood, we want to know our neighbors,” said Bowin. So the front yard was designed to invite people in, rather than screen them out.
Down went a six-foot privacy fence, and in came comfortable seating areas and a fire pit where friends, neighbors and family can gather in the evening. It is also a favorite spot for the couple to enjoy their morning coffee.
The warmth in the midcentury modern decorating scheme comes mostly from wood — particularly Douglas fir, a material Bowin developed a fondness for as a child while visiting old shops in downtown San Luis Obispo. The house has fir floors, windows doors and trim. A cedar ceiling creates a cozy retreat in the master suite.
And in the guest bathroom, strips of wood that break up expanses of white tile look as if they continue into the shower — an idea Lauren found on Pinterest. In reality, the shower accents are tile strips with the look of wood. Workers from Casagrande Woodworks stained the wood in the rest of the bathroom to match it.
The couple let go of the majority of their old furniture which, like their previous home, was “big ranch” in style. Finding small-scale furniture in a midcentury style was a challenge, so the Bowins looked to numerous sources. They purchased new pieces online from Design Within Reach.
Vintage midcentury modern pieces came from Craigslist and local thrift stores. Several pieces, including a vintage Broyhill Brasilia midcentury dresser, came from a vendor the couple found on Instagram, Swell Vintage Modern.
The Bowins learned to make the most of their space while maintaining a clean aesthetic. They carefully planned built-in storage and added furniture and decorations with restraint. In the bedroom, for instance, they opted for a space-saving built-in wardrobe instead of the usual closet-dresser combination, which is “great at making you stay organized and minimalistic,” he said.
Still, the house is comfortable and easily accommodates a crowd. A recent party swelled to 30 people — and everyone had a place to sit. “You make it work,” said Bowin, “and find out you don’t need what you thought you did.”
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of Swell Vintage Modern.
BE NEIGHBORLY: The front yard or porch is an oft-neglected space that can be ideal for chatting with neighbors, party overflow, or simply enjoying your morning coffee. Add a seating area, small dining area, water feature or fire pit to make the space more inviting.
MAXIMIZE BEDROOM SPACE: A freestanding or built-in wardrobe is a good space-saving alternative to the usual closet/dresser combination. Many have dividers that keep clothes and accessories ultra-organized.
WOOD IN A BATHROOM? Wood wall accents in a bathroom warm up large expanses of cold-looking tile and add an element of sophistication. The Bowins created a dramatic look by continuing the wood trim into the shower area with matching wood-grain tile. If you try this, choose your tile first as wood can usually be stained to match.