Project Spotlight: Now & Forever

Marrokal Design & Remodeling updates stodgy 1970s home to suit aging clients and their grandchildren.

November 14, 2013

Designer Steven Mark raised the dishwasher off the floor, lowered the microwave oven from its typical position, and installed both in the new kitchen island so the appliances remain at a comfortable height for everyone.

The owners of this single-story house in Poway, Calif., relished the size and location of their ranch-style home. The property’s lawns, extensive patio areas, and swimming pool (plus spa and guest house) worked especially well for the retired couple, who entertain their adult offspring and grandchildren often; however, the home’s interior design presented safety and accessibility issues for the aging clients and their young kin.
Built in the 1970s, the segmented interior incorporated multiple floor levels and obstructed interaction between living spaces. A sunken terrarium adjacent to the dining room remained open on one side, which became a concern with small kids running around the house. Entering the living room required a step up from the dining room and foyer, but the layout failed to make this level change clear and rendered the ledge a tripping hazard. The floor plan also sandwiched the kitchen between the dining and family rooms, constricting movement among the main living spaces. Narrow doorways and cramped hallways contributed to the home’s poor circulation.

Company: Marrokal Design & Remodeling
Owner:  Gary Marrokal
Location: San Diego
2012 sales volume: $12.6 million
Projected 2013 sales volume: $12 million

The owners wanted to stay in the house but questioned whether a renovation could address their life stage and also accommodate frequent visitors. They briefly considered moving before contacting Marrokal Design & Remodeling, a design-build firm based in San Diego. After hearing designer Steven Mark explain aging-in-place considerations in a video on the company’s website, the clients allowed him to take the lead in crafting an approach to universal design in their residence.
“I was not only thinking about designing for their specific needs, but also the needs of having small children and large groups in the home,” says Mark, a certified aging-in-place specialist and green building professional. “They have a large family and they wanted this to be the place where they all came and gathered.”

Tear down
Opening up the layout proved to be the first and most important step in achieving a remodel geared to the comfort of older clients as well as their ability to entertain guests of all ages. Mark suggested tearing down all of the barriers that separated the kitchen from the family and dining rooms not only to improve mobility but also to create a series of bright and stylish spaces within one inclusive area.

Estimated cost: $172,420
Change orders: $23,480
Final cost: $195,900

This integration took advantage of the natural light that spills into the back of the house and, more importantly, made it possible for people to communicate through adjacent rooms. The seamless transition among the home’s main living spaces transformed the family room into a more casual great room, where Marrokal revamped a bulky, white-brick fireplace and replaced a sliding glass door with French doors that open to the backyard.
The new floor plan also ensures fluid movement between the kitchen and dining room by consolidating the spaces, a key consideration when hosting parties and get-togethers for family and friends. Prior to the renovation a slender doorway served as the only access point between the two areas, and a giant mirror adorned the wall on the side facing the dining room. Marrokal further expanded the sense of space by cutting out the low oak-coffered ceiling in the dining room and exposing the slope of the roof.

Kitchen perimeter counters: Caesarstone
Kitchen island counter: Bianco Romano
Granite hearth: Bianco Romano
Master bath cabinets: Imperial Cabinets
Master bath countertop: Caesarstone
Master bath tub deck: Caesarstone
Master bath tile tub splash and shower: Arizona Tile
Master bath shower floor: Daltile
Hall bath vanity: Pottery Barn
Hall bath flooring: Arizona Tile
Hall bath shower: Daltile
Hall bath shower pan: Daltile

The firm removed an oak railing that bordered the terrarium on two sides and stretched into the living room. Marrokal filled in the sunken planter with concrete to form a smooth entry from the foyer into the dining room. Mark recommended installing engineered hardwood floors throughout the home’s main living spaces after the company fixed up the foundation. “There’s a little bit of grinding and sealing that has to happen just to make sure that when you lay the wood down it’s nice, flat, and waterproof,” he says.
After deliberating with the clients and his team, Mark elected to retain the raised living room. Marrokal erected pony walls around the corners of the space and covered them with wood columns painted white to match the new design direction of the project. The bright white risers at the step up into the living room act as a visual cue to the aging clients and their visitors. The firm demolished the massive white-brick fireplace at the back of the living room and supplanted it with French doors that segue into a back patio. “[The fireplace] really blocked a lot of light as well as the view of a beautiful backyard,” Mark says.
The alteration of numerous interior walls made it easier for Marrokal to widen the home’s doorways and hallways at the same time. Embracing an open layout that unifies the home’s main living spaces led to the application of more specific universal design principles. Mark, who says he typically considers either older people or small children when exercising these design fundamentals, accepted the challenge of catering to each group in this project.

Build up
Safety and accessibility constitute the major concern when designing for both the elderly and the young, but the features aimed at making their lives more comfortable differ in size; for example, Mark installs taller toilets in bathrooms used primarily by older people but prescribes shorter ones in kids’ lavatories.
In Poway, Mark raised the dishwasher off the floor with the aging clients in mind but lowered the microwave in thinking about their grandchildren. He installed both appliances at an ergonomic height in the new, bigger kitchen island. “It’s just good design for anybody,” he says.
Mark enlarged the guest bathroom by consuming an outdated closet from the adjacent master bedroom, and now the space functions well for the clients’ adult offspring, young grandchildren, and general visitors. Turning radi and the direction the door swings become important factors when redesigning a restroom, especially if a wheelchair comes into play, Mark says. In the master suite, he instituted a walk-in shower with a seat and incorporated a handheld shower that allows the user to bath while sitting down. The clients chose not to include grab bars at the time of the renovation, but Mark constructed the walls so that future installation is relatively easy.
“If and when the client needs them, we can just go ahead and put them anywhere they want,” he says. “We don’t have to worry about finding framing after the tile is done.”
Oftentimes, customers balk at the notion of adding a feature such as grab bars because they don’t like to think about growing old and losing some of the abilities they take for granted, Mark says. For this reason, he prefers the term “forever home” instead of “aging in place” and finds people are more receptive to his ideas when everyone uses positively charged language. Mark also explains to clients that no one will notice if their doorways are 3-to-4 inches wider or think twice about seeing decorative grab bars in their bathroom.
Mark explored many different creative avenues to achieve a functional yet aesthetic remodel in Poway and still stay within the homeowners’ budget, which became strained as the project progressed. The clients regularly take advantage of their newfound space by entertaining large groups of people from their church in addition to family members, says Mark, who derives great pleasure from hearing how much customers appreciate his universal design considerations following their renovation and years down the road.
“That’s the best feedback that I can get as a designer,” he adds. “People know that my ideas are making their lives easier.”

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