Lisa Murray was getting down to the wire. House guests from Australia were expected that afternoon, barely two weeks after she moved her family of four out of their tiny cottage on the back of the property and into their newly remodeled house in Los Gatos.
Unpacked boxes were everywhere. Only the living room and kitchen looked presentable. And she needed a privacy curtain for the front bathroom or her guests would be flashing the neighbors. She had already raced around Indian shops in Sunnyvale looking for fabric that would work in the iridescent blue bathroom and found nothing. As she was unpacking a box full of old clothes she hadn’t seen in a year, she pulled out a sari-like dress.
Hmm, she thought. “Dress or curtain? Dress or curtain?”
She took out the shears, cut it, and began the whirr of the sewing machine.
The entire remodel, which has been a year in construction and chronicled by Lookiloos and the Mercury News, has been a hands-on, nail-biting project from the start. Murray is an artist and wanted the home to reflect her avant-garde style as well as their international roots. Like many Silicon Valley families, they have traveled a circuitous route to get here. Murray’s husband, Craig Hinkley, is an Australia native. She grew up in Canada. With their two children, now 14 and 12, they have traveled the world and the United States, moving every two years or so following Hinkley’s jobs in high tech.
Unlike other homes Murray has transformed to suit their needs and prepare for resale over the years, she designed this one with creative abandon. She isn’t worried about pleasing a potential buyer anymore. After more than two years enjoying the life and climate of Silicon Valley and the town tucked into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, they plan to settle down this time.
So when they moved their family, plus their rambunctious boxer Millie, back into the house just in time for Christmas, they began to feel a whole new sense of home. And with a giant angel on their shoulder — or tucked under the bed until the towering stained-glass window was safely installed in the living room — they have survived rainstorms and mud bogs, accidents and injuries, cramped quarters and a leaking storage unit that left many family keepsakes in ruins.
And now, after all that, Murray said, “We finally stopped moving, stopped renovating, stopped the dirt, stopped the noise and just put on the music.”
They can finally sit back and enjoy the home they built for no one but themselves. The peacock-blue backsplash in the kitchen. The quatrefoil ironwork on the banister. The colorful Moroccan lanterns above the dining table and the industrial pendants over the kitchen island.
And across the room from the stained-glass angel that casts colorful light across the floor is a sensuous portrait of Proserpina, the Roman goddess of spring, that Murray painted on the sliding pocket door.
“By saying to yourself, ‘I am not going to move; this is the house I would like my grandchildren to come to,’ you make it in a way that is incredibly personal,” she said. “You don’t need to answer to neutrality. You can take who you are and run with it.”
All along the way, her contractor, Vinnie Tran of VT Construction, put up with her brainstorms and second-guesses and finished the project within the year he promised.
Murray even changed the size and scale of the house early on, giving up a formal dining room and more interior space when they reined in their budget and decided to better enjoy what the Bay Area has to offer that their former residences of Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle didn’t — great weather. Instead of a formal living room, they now have a covered terrace.
The landscaping will have to wait. Inside, boxes remained unpacked and rooms undecorated. But after a full year of the parents sleeping in the cottage and the kids in bunk beds in the garage, they are all sleeping under the same roof.
Even now, they look back fondly on the past year. Son Cal says his best Christmas was in the cottage when they decorated the Charlie Brown Christmas tree in about 20 minutes and the smell of ham filled every square inch of the 360-square-foot dwelling.
In the new house the other night, Murray lit the outdoor fireplace and called the family to join her.
“I said to everyone, put down the homework, stop the texting, get off the phone. Let’s sit and listen to the crackling fire and the music and the frogs from the creek,” she said. “Everyone stop and be thankful for this moment and where we are.”
And then, for a memorable moment, the four of them sat together and talked.
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the previous stories in “This Darned House” saga at www.lookiloos.com.
Have a renovation in your future? Here is Lisa Murray’s advice to other homeowners:
Know your style. If you are not confident in your design abilities, hire a designer who can communicate your style to your architect, contractor, stonemason, tiler, painter, etc.
Building green is relatively easy thanks to new state energy efficiency standards. It’s the demolition of the old home that is difficult.
Find a contractor that you like, respect and trust. This choice will affect your experience more than any other one. A good contractor will have good subcontractors and good subs collectively create well-built homes.
Never compromise on your finishes as this is what you will touch and feel every day.
The renovation will seem like it is taking forever. But, upon reflection, it will seem like it went at light speed.
Here’s the complete slideshow: