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Small Sophistication

An Orinda couple find that downsizing doesn’t mean downgrading.


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Mark LeHocky and Joyce Blair spent much of their adult lives moving to bigger, better houses. Their last place in Orinda had three stories, a tennis court, and plenty of square footage.

But as their children grew up and left for college, the couple realized they didn’t require so much space.

“We spent almost all our time in certain rooms and didn’t really need the rest,” says LeHocky, a lawyer who has lived in the community for more than two decades.

In LeHocky and Blair’s former home, air got trapped in strange places, making the house either too hot or too cool. With this in mind, Radutiu framed the roof and ceiling with scissors trusses, providing air space between the roof and the ceiling. This design keeps the home’s temperature moderate year-round.

 

A property in the Orinda hills bearing a modest ranch house seemed to provide the couple with a solution. They didn’t fall in love with the structure but with the lot, with its views of the sun rising over Mount Diablo from the backyard, where a slope beckons to be planted with grapevines. The couple could see how, with the right kind of help, the property could be transformed into the home they now dreamed of: one that was smaller and more energy efficient, with the high-end but simple design sensibilities of the Wine Country homes they love so much.

The master bedroom, located at the eastern end of the house, is filled with natural light in the mornings. A subtle color palette lets the room’s red birch floors and custom nightstands, crafted by Radutiu from American black walnut, take center stage.

 

The help they needed came from Benjamin Radutiu of Euro-American Construction in Pleasant Hill. Radutiu also owns Studio 81/69, a custom furniture business. Forgoing an architect, LeHocky, Blair, and Radutiu—who is known in Orinda for his home building and handcrafted, modern furniture—worked together with ease, executing the couple’s vision of indoor-outdoor living perfectly.

The lot’s positioning on a hill provides privacy in the master bathroom, and frosted lower windows mean window dressings in the master bathroom aren’t needed. Out of view is a shower with an infinity drain and a double vanity with spotless countertops.

 

Radutiu tore down the aging existing home and crafted a sophisticated 2,400-square-foot abode. He saved materials from the old structure when he could, creating a table from the old Douglas fir uprights, and repurposing wood as the home’s cedar-beam ceilings and outdoor patio overhang. The idea was to use fewer elements in a smarter way: Radutiu utilized stained concrete for the indoor floors as well as the patios outside, and a cool blue concrete for the fireplace, and kitchen and bathroom countertops. Sleek, identical cabinetry was installed in the kitchen and throughout the main living area to create a sense of flow.

“We wanted to integrate the space as much as possible,” LeHocky says.

The same blue poured concrete was used on countertops throughout the home, including in the kitchen and bathrooms. Sloped sinks eliminate the need for drains. Radutiu built custom red birch cabinets throughout the home that extend from the kitchen into the living room.

 

Radutiu took measures to make the home feel larger than it is, including building nine-foot-high walls and selecting eight-foot-tall doors. Commercial-grade sliding doors were installed to give it an indoor-outdoor feel, and only one hallway was built to avoid what Radutiu calls “dead space.”

 A  simple layout, industrial-grade appliances, and a sturdy island with a top-notch marble countertop make the kitchen a comfortable place to cook and entertain.

 

He also paid attention to making the house as green as possible. Solar photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof to heat the pool, making the house net positive. Radiant heat in the home’s floors means the house won’t need a furnace, and ceiling fans were installed indoors and out to keep air flowing in the summer.

A sliding door opens onto a front-yard patio overlaid with Ledgestone rocks. A boulder water fountain and comfortable furniture make the fence-enclosed space a peaceful place to relax. Radutiu (pictured right) crafted the bench next to the front door from leftover cedar and black steel.

 

Just six months after they started building, the couple’s home was complete. LeHocky and Blair moved in last year.

“The house actually feels bigger than our previous one,” says LeHocky, despite that it’s practically half the size. “We don’t feel we’ve compromised in any way.”

Poured, stained concrete was used for the floors inside and out, including the front walkway. Wyatt, a yellow Lab, keeps an eye on who enters through the home’s zinc-clad gate.

 

Now, when the couple host friends, or when their grown children come home for a visit, everyone gathers in one space. The family room runs effortlessly into the kitchen, and two patios, a bocce court, and a pool are just a few steps away.

And that’s just how the couple like it. “We wanted a home that was simply ‘big enough,’ ” LeHocky says.

A backyard bocce court provides a place to unwind. Italian string lights set the mood at night.

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