Out with the Old? No Way

Photography by Kat Alves

Modernizing doesn’t mean everything has to be brand-new.

WHEN IT COMES TO REMODELING, designer Curtis Popp has a motto: “Exploit the good, eliminate the bad. And use a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.”

That’s exactly what he did when he helped a couple remodel an elegant 1920s Mediterranean house in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood. The house had “good bones,” as the saying goes, but it was definitely stuck in the past, with spaces—like a small galley kitchen—that weren’t suited to life for a busy, modern family.

living room modernizing

Popp’s goal was to update and modernize the house so that no one would know where the original stopped and the new began. One thing he refused to do was open up the traditional layout. Open concept is fine, he says, but why mess around with a beautiful old home? “There’s an arrogance in designers who don’t respect what comes before them,” he explains.

kitchen modernizing
The kitchen features a Heath ceramic-tile backsplash and an Aga stove—a workhorse European appliance that’s always on.

So Popp left the gracious entry and living room alone and used those rooms’ original mahogany millwork, arched doorways, hand-troweled walls and random-plank floors as the template for the rest of the house.

kitchen tile

Downstairs, he reconfigured rooms to create a large kitchen and breakfast nook that could double as a study space and craft room for the family’s children. French doors were added along the back of the house to lighten things up. Upstairs, he added a bedroom wing for the kids. And for the master suite, he made the existing large bedroom smaller in order to expand the tiny bathroom and carve out a walk-in closet and dressing room. “At the end of the day, you just sleep there,” Popp says of bedrooms. “I’d rather have a bigger bathroom.”

reading nook
A reading nook with built-in bookshelves.

Consistency was key in making the new spaces harmonize with the old. Popp carried the arches throughout the house and kept the size and shape of the windows the same. In the kitchen, custom cabinetry was designed to look like furniture, with mahogany drawer fronts and white surrounds. That scheme was reversed in the upstairs bathrooms, which have mahogany surrounds and white-painted drawer fronts.

dining room
The dining room.

The homeowners resisted the modern urge to oversize the house while remodeling. At 3,500 square feet, with four bedrooms and four baths, it’s still plenty big enough for the family of five. “It’s a new take on an old house,” says Popp. “And it feels fresh and young, not stodgy.

breakfast room
In the breakfast room, the custom table with built-in banquette serves as a craft table and place to do homework.

Design: CPopp Workshop
Construction: Mills Builders
Cabinetry: Sierra Custom Cabinets

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