The Good Life

The Good Life

For John and Patty Packowski, happiness is a house that blurs the line between indoors and out.

By Marybeth Bizjak
Photography by Michelle Drewes
Building design: John Packowski, John Packowski Design
Construction: Gai Kirkegaard, Gai Kirkegaard Construction

AFTER LIVING IN A 1927 Dutch Colonial in East Sacramento, John and Patty Packowski were ready for a change. A big one. So they sold the house and bought a 1964 rancher in Arden Arcade. Custom designed by Carter Sparks and built by Streng Bros., it had been home to a Sac State music professor and his family for more than 50 years.

“It hadn’t been touched since the ’60s,” says Patty. “Outside, the property was overgrown. Inside, everything was pink, green or powder blue. It was in a time warp.”

“People thought we were insane,” John chimes in.

-John Packowski

But the house had plenty of charms. Located at the end of a private lane, it sits on a good-sized lot. The house is light filled and well designed—a bit snug for a family, perhaps, but perfect for a couple. John, a building designer, could see the potential.

The Packowskis had a lean budget and a short timeline, so they did a quick three-month remodel that respected the house’s midcentury architecture without changing too much. They painted the exterior a handsome charcoal and made the front door pop with a coat of chartreuse.

Then, John went to work on the yards. In the back, he cleared out the overgrowth and the old raised decks, leaving nothing but a single Japanese maple. Everything in the yard now pivots off that maple, he says: the pool, the upper and lower concrete patios, and a one-room building that once served as a music studio and is now Patty’s private escape. (John jokingly calls it “the babe cave.”)

The Good Life
“When the fire pit is on, we’re open for business,” says Patty Packowski.

At first, the pool presented a problem. Originally, John designed it to run parallel to the house, but something about it bugged him. “I couldn’t put my finger on it,” he says. The couple’s friend, designer Paulette Trainor, suggested placing the living room furniture on an angle, and John had an aha moment. He thought: What if we turn the pool 45 degrees, too? That turned out to be a felicitous tweak. Now, when you’re inside the house, the pool “draws your eye out to the yard,” says John.

The front courtyard acts as a four-season outdoor living room.

The front courtyard acts as a four-season outdoor living room.

He worked with now-deceased landscape designer Martha Criswell on the backyard plantings: big American hornbeams behind the pool, European multitrunk birch trees, and a wall of Carolina cherry trees along the property line to create a wall for privacy. They planted more than 700 boxwoods for architectural definition and created a miniature olive grove—a nod to the couple’s love for Napa Valley.

In the front of the house, John designed a courtyard patio, with seating around a fire pit that allows the couple to entertain outdoors in all four seasons. When the fire is lit, the neighbors know they can drop by for a glass of wine. “We go out there even in the winter,” John says. “We put out blankets and camp around the fireplace. Why not? You do it in the mountains. Why not do it here?”

With its midcentury architecture and indoor-outdoor feel, the house reminds the Packowskis of a vacation home. “We both love Palm Springs,” says John. “It’s like dropping Palm Springs in the middle of Sacramento.” They enjoy floating in the pool, barbecuing with friends and drinking wine with friends. “We found paradise,” says Patty. No, John corrects her: “We accidentally created it.”

Home Renovation
A recording studio in the backyard was turned into a “babe cave” where Patty Packowski entertains friends, watches TV and works on craft projects.

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