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House Talk

No. 15 - November, 2003

"Restoring a Classic French Provincial Home in Claremont"
A talk with Andrea Tiller

Is this a resurrection or a rescue mission? This is the story of a Berkeley buyer who sets out to restore a classic French Provincial home in the Claremont District.

Andrea Tiller recently retired as the CFO of a Bay Area medical-technology firm, and in the fall of 2002, she purchased a lovely home situated in the heart of Berkeley's coveted Claremont district. She knew that some changes had to be made, but it was difficult to know where to begin. Add more windows to let in more light upstairs? Add a new master bath? Mostly, the aesthetic consistency of the original French provincial style of the house was basically gone because over the years, it had been occupied by many different owners and/or tenants. The floor plan was choppy and the house did not feel whole - so Andrea's goal was to pull the house back into "one piece." Initially, she became overwhelmed with the task and details of getting settled: all her energy went into opening all those mover's boxes just hoping to find some of the basics such as bath towels and her can opener!

After occupying the house for a few months, she came to the conclusion that she had spent a lot of money buying the house and that the basic lines of the house deserved a more focused approach. She began the search for a good architect and in Architectural Trends magazine, she read about Dan Phipps, an architect who had worked on several Bay Area projects. When they met, Andrea found Dan to be tremendously talented and he understood the vision that she had in mind for the house. She hired him on the spot - and Phase I of her three-phase project began in earnest in the Fall of 2003.

The architect was full of great ideas such as opening up more space in the living room and creating a new dining room on the main floor of the house, followed by designing and building a new master bedroom including the addition of a master bath upstairs. Another important design change was that of re-routing the main entrance to the house. The original address was on Tunnel Road, but somewhere along the way, one of the owners had created a second entrance from the back of the property and Andrea liked the idea of the more secluded entrance. So, she and the architect worked out a design for a path through the rear garden that leads to the main front entrance of the house. (Eventually, she plans to build a sound wall that will shield the house even more from the Tunnel Road traffic noise.) Since Andrea admits she was "budgetarily challenged," her project became one of Dan's smaller ones.

Judith Glass was recently privileged to have a tour of the Phase I work that is in progress under the watchful eye of local super-builder McCutcheon Construction, and she was amazed and impressed by Andrea's complete immersion and total involvement in the project. Everywhere throughout the house, there are books and magazines that are Andrea's constant companions as she continues making design decisions about the future of the house. She has decided to create more color consistency - the future color scheme will be based on hues of warm Tuscan gold. All of the door knobs will be the same gold French finish, the lighting fixtures will all be of a similar design, the new bath will be entirely marble, and other fancy touches will be added here and there. Andrea believes that "fancy touches" have to do with the design of the object, not necessarily the materials.

No stranger to the remodeling process - this is the 8th property that she has bought and then carefully renovated - Andrea claims to be energized and excited about this long-term project. In remodeling, she is motivated partly by the need to be creative and partly by the need to heal a wounded bird - to help the house reach its true potential. "It does not occur to me that I am being brave and courageous - it's just plain fun."

Following Phase I, we will continue our dialogue with Andrea and follow the progress of the work. Watch this space for details of Phase II in which she will concentrate on garden landscaping, walls and other exterior details.

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