After globe-spanning careers, Debra and Larry Wolfson landed in what was once an almond orchard above the boulevard in Ashland.
"According to tax records, our house was built in 1905, but we think it must have been 1910 since this was still an orchard in 1905," says Larry. A retired petroleum engineer, Larry moved into the house with Debra (a retired school teacher) in 2005.
To perfect their transitional Arts and Crafts home, Debra and Larry Wolfson opened their doors to a team of experts. This decision resulted in an added benefit that would have never been possible without professional collaboration: a "mud room" conservatory off the back of the house.
Surrounded by terraced landscaping and a stand-alone workshop/office that perches at the top of their sloped property, the mud room has become an integral facet of the Wolfsons' lifestyle.
"They said they didn't want to add more space to the house, but I kept noticing they removed their shoes every time they came and went," says architect Richard Wagner. "They were resigned to letting go of a mud room, but that would contradict the whole way they live — it's literally a credo, a constitution, to change your shoes before coming in the house."
Wagner winnowed the space for an addition that wouldn't change the roof line by moving a 4-foot-5-inch retaining wall. "The grade came up within 5 feet of the house, making the backyard totally inaccessible," Wagner explains. "So we pushed that whole thing back and brought in the best in terms of landscape construction: Seth Bernard of Solid Ground Landscaping."
Bernard and Wagner gained ground for the mud room as well as an outdoor eating area off the dining room. Then Wagner designed a 22-by-25-foot workshop for Larry, a retired petroleum engineer who is a gifted woodworker and furniture maker.
"He was working in the basement of the main house, with a workbench and tools everywhere," Wagner says. "It was his dream to have his own shop." An upstairs office gives the artisan space to pontificate.
The workshop garnered Wagner a Best in Ashland for Historical Accessory Building award from the Historical Society of Ashland.
"It takes a good team, and I really appreciate when we get one," says Wagner, who spoke with Jeff Benton, foreman of Robert Davis Construction, every day.
"It took that kind of coordination to attain the technicality of putting everything together with beauty and accuracy."
"We bought it as an interim house while we bought property to build on," says Debra. "But we love the walk to town, and this is an incredible neighborhood, and we didn't want to move."
So the Wolfsons remodeled. They worked with Richard Wagner of Richard Wagner Architects in Ashland for a year on the plans, attending to painstaking details that would retain the home's transitional Arts and Crafts bones while making it work for their lifestyles.
"What they didn't want was a huge addition; they wanted to stay underneath the eaves," says Wagner. About 400 square feet were added to the original 2,000-square-foot home. "The layout is the same; what changed is how we rendered the rooms."
A knee wall inside the front door was added to create an entry space. Once totally bare and covered in "ugly oak floors," the great room has been taken back to its Douglas fir roots. A corner seating area grounds wraparound, single-pane, wavy-glass windows. Refurbished by historic window specialist Jay Treiger, the windows' multipaneled glass headers are a consistent design element throughout the house, echoed in the new dining-room patio doors and windows.
In the center of the great room, a fireplace warms an intimate conversation area. Correctly scaling the fireplace was important because the room isn't very large.
"Even the scale of the toe kicks was critical," says Jennifer Stever, owner of Stever Design Inc. in Grants Pass. "And a lot of energy was put into what fireplace tiles and patterns would be right."
Debra turned to the Tile Restoration Center in Seattle, Wash., choosing American Arts and Crafts reproduction tiles with a gingko-leaf pattern made by Ernest Batchelder. Built-in cabinets by Swift Cabinet & Millwork of Medford added modern heritage.
"Although it's not technically a Craftsman house, we took some poetic license by bringing in Greene & Greene design features like the cloud lifts on the hutch doors and our Asian-meets-Craftsman furniture," says Larry, who made many of the tables and chairs. Picture rails were added for authenticity.
Custom arched windows frame the dining room and built-in hutch on the room's west side. Lighting by Julia Rezek Lighting Design of Ashland includes a hand-blown glass chandelier with handmade, oil-rubbed bronze hardware and chains.
The room's coffered ceilings were "fancied up a bit" to hide exposed beams, an architectural technique Wagner carried into the spacious kitchen.
Outfitted with white cabinetry and marble surfaces and backsplashes, the kitchen features a black, white and sage-green palette. Appliances are paneled to match the cabinets, a farmhouse sink with an overhead schoolhouse pendant light adds period charm, and an island separates the L-shaped prep areas from a bar that's visible from the dining area.
"The kitchen was definitely designed for the homeowners," says Stever of the room, which was expanded by about 4 1/2 feet. As an accomplished cook and baker, Debra needed lower counters to suit her petite frame. The pantry opens up to the rest of the kitchen, and an eating nook was added across from the island.
A mud room off the pantry allows passage to and from the terraced backyard (see sidebar) while a door to the right leads into the main-floor bath.
Formerly two baths, the new room is dressed with 5-foot bead-board wainscoting, an original claw-foot tub, pedestal sink, glass shower and a striking stained-glass transom window. Many of the home's doors sport similar transoms, along with original fir casings.
An antique doll collection populates the old-fashioned hallway, which opens onto the Wolfsons' den, two closets, Debra's office and the door to the upstairs master suite.
Once a dusty attic, the space was converted into a bedroom earlier this century. Now a lofty living area, the suite offers an expansive dressing room on the south side, bedroom in the middle, intimate master suite with two vanities on the north and Debra's well-appointed sewing room over the kitchen.
"With bumping the kitchen out, we gained the upstairs sewing room, mimicking the dormer on the front side," Wagner says.
Most of the solutions for updating the Wolfsons' home came naturally, says the architect. "If you just pay attention to what's there, then everything just falls into place; that's my belief."
It certainly helps to have homeowners who are dedicated to authenticity and quality.
"The house functions really well, and the word that comes to mind is 'comfortable,' " says Debra. "We really built this for us, not to impress anybody else. We just wanted an old house that wasn't full of stuff that was made in China."