Bob and Julie Rutledge dreamed up their Atascadero home with friend Gary Foster while they were sitting on a beach in San Felipe, Mexico.
It was 1987 and the young couple had a 1-year-old son and visions of building a space to nurture their growing family. Foster, who is now a general contractor and owner of Foster Enterprises in San Luis Obispo, was still a Cal Poly student.
Foster presented the couple with a formal design only a few weeks later. The contemporary home was built by Bob and a handful of friends. Completed in 1989, it served the Rutledges, who added daughter Leah to the family in 1991, well for nearly two decades.
But as the couple began to transition into life as empty-nesters, they decided it was time for a few changes. They never, however, considered a complete remodel.
“Our house was perfect,” said Julie. ” It’s a design that will never be dated.”
They wanted a home that was in step with their new lifestyle and the new millennium. They aimed for a contemporary look that juxtaposes natural elements with edgy, industrial materials.
“We were tired of everything white and plastic-y in the home,” said Julie. “We were successful enough by then that we could afford to be a little choosy.”
A redesign of the kitchen included replacing their oak-trimmed, white Formica cabinets with bamboo ones. In the kids’ bathroom, they gave uninspiring white ceramic tile a modern edge by removing a row and installing silvery glass accent tiles. Then, they painted the whitewashed oak cabinets dark gray and added sleek new chrome handles.
Details were important to the couple. They replaced white track lights with stainless steel fixtures. They even swapped the flimsy, yellowing rings on their recessed lighting with steel rings.
The couple has an affinity for natural materials. They selected cast concrete for their kitchen countertops, cork floors in the kitchen, slate for their bathroom floors and fireplace area, and grass cloth for the sewing room walls (Julie is a professional seamstress; Bob is a retired battalion chief for the City of San Luis Obispo Fire Department).
The home’s color scheme also needed updating. Their splashy 1980s color palette included shades of teal, red, yellow and dark green. Their new palette is subtler, earthier. They repainted their walls in soft sage green, golden tan, and deep brown shades pulled from nature.
Perhaps the most dramatic makeover was stripping turquoise paint from the staircase railing that was fabricated by Bob when the home was built. When they revealed the raw steel beneath, they knew they had done the right thing.
“It was such a huge impact for so little money,” Julie observed.
Metal offers an edgy counterpoint to soft, organic materials and underscores its new modern look. Both Bob and son Morgan are metalwork hobbyists. Bob crafted a triangular steel coffee table for the family room, which Julie covered with river rock. Morgan fabricated several steel accent tables.
The family kept most of their old furniture and found clever—and mostly inexpensive— ways to re-accessorize. For a large wall in the living room, Julie mounted several favorite LPs with frames purchased from IKEA. To dress up the living room soffits, she created vignettes with musical instruments from Bob’s collection.
Because Julie is a minimalist when it comes to accessories, she was resistant to displaying family photos. At the urging of her children, she finally relented. Her streamlined solution was assembling a striking family photo collage in a hallway using inexpensive brushed silver-finish frames from Wal-Mart, and filling them with sepia reproductions ordered from a drug store photo counter. The entire project took an hour.
The Rutledges finished their remodel in 2008 with a symbolic task: removing the kids’ backyard swing set and replacing it with a palapa structure that they now use for summertime parties.
“The house has gone from being a place to raise kids to being an adult playground,” said Julie. “We’ve moved on, and the house has grown with us.”
Rebecca Juretic is a freelance writer who lives in San Luis Obispo.