A Dutch Colonial Revival is Revived Again
In October of 2019, homeowners, John and Janet German, asked for my help in renovating their newly purchased home. It was a home that John’s parents had previously owned for 45 years, in fact. They described it as a Dutch Colonial Revival on Napa’s Historic Landmark Registry. A San Franciscan named Mr. Mellis had built it in 1907 after fleeing the earthquake of 1906.
The Germans had engaged Napa architect, Paul Kelley, to provide the design and drawings for the project which meant that the fun part, the pretty part, was left to me. As Janet put it, “We need a plan that maintains the overall charm and character of the house but updates it and incorporates our existing pieces.”
The spaces involved the foyer, living and dining rooms, kitchen, guest bath, powder room, and laundry room. There was a looming question whether to add to the house, or remodel a portion, in order to accommodate a new master bedroom suite.
While Kelley worked on these two scenarios, the Germans and I made progress in other areas. I should say that Janet and I made progress because John was tying up loose ends in Alabama where they had just previously resided. While spending time with Janet, I learned of their interesting history. Janet, a Texas native, met and married John in Washington D.C. when she was an Army JAG. John, a Napa native, had also been a JAG. A job transfer led them to Huntsville, and when retirement for them both was in sight, they decided to do so in Napa.
I also learned that Janet was organized, detailed and proactive. She had prepared a binder of photographs and dimensions of their furnishings before coming to Napa. This was an enormous help to me in developing the story boards (designs, drawings and samples) that I’d eventually be presenting.
Janet’s consistent color choice was deep blue no matter what type of sample I showed (paint, tile, fabric etc.) So, I used it as a foundation, starting with the kitchen cabinets, and went from there. All of the molding and wainscot you might imagine in a 114-year-old house would be painted medium gray. The coved ceilings would be white to brighten up the gray. Gray was introduced because of the German’s existing draperies (which would be resized to fit their new windows.) One set was gray and another set blue and white. The latter easily tied into our color scheme but the former would not make sense without using gray somewhere else in the house.
The German’s upholstery was a mix of traditional and contemporary patterns, linear and curvilinear, and both warm and cool tones. This house was not destined to have a simple and straight-forward design style. The challenge was to strategically choose each new element in a way that would not only relate to existing pieces, but unify them, and then create a completed, cohesive whole.
During this process, Janet would send the story boards to John and I would keep my fingers crossed. There were, after all, some bold suggestions for him to consider. In addition to deep blue kitchen cabinets, there were blue chandeliers, intricately-patterned floor tiles, and several wallpapers. To my relief and joy, John was as consistent, adventurous, and agreeable as Janet.
By December, 2019, the Germans had selected their materials but I knew that it could take months for them to receive Kelley’s plans, make adjustments, and then wait for the City to process building permits. Given that any one or more of their selections could be discontinued in the meantime, the crucial ones were ordered in advance. This preparedness served us better than I could ever have imagined. All goods arrived just before my vendors and manufacturers shut down due to the global pandemic.
Since construction was considered an essential industry, Napa Floor Company was able to refinish the hardwood floors, Abbey Carpets Unlimited was able to install the gray-blue stair runner, and Heritage Painting was able to paint the interiors and prepare the walls for five different wallpapers – which would not be installed for nearly a year. I guess it’s a bit ironic that floor refinishers and painters are already known for wearing protective masks on the job.
In July of 2020, the Germans had decided against adding the master bedroom suite to the house in favor of remodeling. The laundry room and upstairs guest bath would also be remodeled. Devine Construction took over this phase of the project while I was, again, lucky to do the pretty part as well as design the two baths.
In a nutshell, we carried the blue, gray and white palette to the master bedroom by way of a custom-made, navy linen headboard, white linen draperies with navy trim, and navy grasspaper. The bathroom consisted of a navy and white patterned floor tile, a Carrara stone mosaic vanity wall, a Carrara quartz countertop, and a Carrara porcelain tiled shower. The Greek key vanity mirror frames mimicked the wall sconces and the drapery trim. By the way, the wallpaper covering the living room, foyer, staircase, and hallways has a small navy and white Greek key pattern.
You might think I panicked when John requested a ceiling fan in the master bedroom but you’d be wrong. I knew of the perfect one – a matte brass (to match all the other hardware in the house) stem and housing with acrylic blades that practically disappeared.
The new laundry room was small enough to do something “crazy.” We picked out another decorative, patterned floor tile. This one was blue, white, green, and mustard-gold. The walls were then painted the same mustard-gold.
The upstairs guest bath was tiny but full of charm. The custom vanity was painted grass green along with the back panel of open-shelved cabinet. The wainscot was white tile with a skinny navy blue pencil liner (tile) in between the top and bottom tile molding. The gold, vanity mirror was flanked by a pair of blue glass light pendants.
The only pandemic-related problem we ran into was the repeatedly, back-ordered fabric for the window shade. We could have reselected an in-stock fabric but the one we wanted was perfect - blue and white hydrangeas with green leaves on a navy background. Its garden theme suited the bath’s green and white lattice-patterned wallpaper.
In April of 2021, the exterior of the house was painted, you guessed it, blue and white. Not as deep a blue as Janet favors but one that follows a 20th century Dutch Colonial palette.
What an impressive, proud and historic house. Over time, it has survived earthquakes, fires, freezes, and floods. With its recent renovation, it will survive another century and do so in style.