A French Norman-style house that became a singer’s chateau
As a child, Brodie Jenkins dreamed of stumbling across a secret castle with mysterious rooms and magical gardens, just like Edith Nesbit’s children The enchanted castle. She didn’t know then that she could live out this fantasy as an adult. “Coming down the steps of this house for the first time, I felt like I was discovering my own enchanted castle,” Brodie recalls. After submitting two offers for other houses in the Berkeley Hills neighborhood of San Francisco, the musician (she is a co-member of the independent group Cathedrals) and her husband, Scott, learned that a 1925 French Norman-style house was up for sale. Before walking through the front door, Brodie was charmed by the property’s whimsical turret and trickling water fountain. And in storybook fashion, she soon learned that the former owner of the house was the illustrator of the classic bedtime tale. good night moon. “I was thinking, how can we get this? I didn’t even need to see the inside,” she says.
The pandemic hit just months after Brodie and Scott bought the place, halting the artist’s touring schedule but freeing up plenty of time to renovate. The space hadn’t been renovated since the 1990s (it was done by architect David Stark Wilson), and while they loved many of the features, like the stucco spiral staircase, some of the other parts (eg the orange mahogany steps) felt stuck in the past. The first step? Tear down the wall between the kitchen and dining room to extend the views from the bay windows into the rest of the space. “I let the curves and arches of the house guide my design, creating an arched opening in the wall,” Brodie explains. “Now the house almost seems to be floating in the clouds.”
A tale of two libraries
Brodie compares the footprint of the house to a nautilus shell, with the way all the rooms branch off from the curved staircase and the fact that the living room is a few steps lower than the kitchen-dining area. While there was already a half wall that marked the separation, the partition was thin and the bookcases stopped at about three quarters of the height, leaving a lot of free space on the wall. Brodie reinvented the structure by adding two large arches and deep cabinets and floating shelves for additional storage. “It feels more proportional now,” she notes.
A radiant start
Not only did Brodie’s architect father step in to help the couple visualize their renovation with drawings, he went with them to buy ceiling beams from Black’s Farm Wood in Petaluma. The original plan was to get regular box beams, which were easy to install but quite expensive. Then out of the corner of her eye, Brodie spotted a pallet full of huge old beams that had the French countryside look she was looking for. The problem? “When they delivered them to my dad’s house, I got a text from him saying we had made a huge mistake,” she recalled.
The eight beams were far too heavy to install as they were, which meant someone had to hollow each one out by hand with a mechanical chisel to lighten the load. And since you can’t just throw back giant rays like you would with a t-shirt that doesn’t fit, Brodie’s dad had to do just that. “He immediately started doing it himself…everyone,” she says. “One even fell on that thumb and he had to go to the emergency room.” The process proved to be worth it despite the accident: the sturdy wood adds a lot of character to the kitchen and dining room – they even saved a small slab for the fireplace mantle in the living room.
A rocky love story
In order to come full circle with the European storybook aesthetic in the kitchen, Brodie replaced the outdated wood floors with limestone. The material of Pave looks like century-old stone, but it’s actually treated to achieve an aged look, making it a more economical option. She worked with her contractor to lay out each 14 x 24 inch piece before it was put in place to get the perfect tonal variation and pattern. “I had to tiptoe with my back against the wall to get around them and not break any – it was very tedious,” she says.
the Native trails the concrete tub in the bathroom is a soaking spot fit for royalty, but it took two tries to get the 600 pounds (!) luminaire in space. “We had to hire a safe mover just to get him up the stairs,” she recalls.
A golf buddy of Scott’s who enjoys carpentry designed the arched wooden doors for the couple, saving them a ton of money (the quotes they were getting from the pros were ‘insane’, recalls Brody). “I was really inspired by a lot of Belgian architecture that I was seeing,” she notes of the carpentry. The musician plans to replicate something similar in an adjoining bedroom, which she is currently transforming into a nursery for the couple’s first baby, due in May. From now on, their child will no longer have to read about castles in fairy tales – they will be able to experience it first hand.