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By Anh-Minh Le | Photo: Interior photography by Christopher Stark | Portrait by Angela DeCenzo | February 2, 2017
Anna Lisa Avelar imbues a brand-new home with style and soul.
More than two decades later, Steven James still remembers the big binder that his college sweetheart and now-wife, Anna James, would carry around campus. “Before the days of Pinterest, I used to clip pages from magazines and books of things that I loved—furnishings, fashion, architecture, land- and floral-scapes, craft ideas,” says Anna, who majored in ornamental horticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “There were hundreds of clippings in it.” Among them were images that epitomized her dream home, which she describes as an urban farmhouse. Now, thanks in large part to interior designer Anna Lisa Avelar, that dream has become a reality.
About a decade ago, the Jameses purchased a 1,300-square-foot 1950s ranch-style house in San Jose’s Willow Glen area. “We pretty much bought the neighborhood; we loved the big wide streets,” Anna notes. “And we had always thought about expanding.” (With a 10,000-square-foot lot, they had room to work with.) As their brood grew—daughter Avery, 13, has since been joined by son Nolan, 9—more space became a priority. “We have family that comes in from out of town, and we were basically giving them the kids’ bedrooms with the Star Wars sheets to sleep in,” says the stay-at-home mom with a laugh. In addition to guest quarters, an open-plan kitchen, family and dining area was a must-have for entertaining.
As they were embarking on their renovation, the couple happened upon designer Anna Lisa Avelar’s firm, AL Interiors, located in downtown Los Gatos, a few doors down from their hairdresser. The aesthetic of Avelar’s studio caught their attention, so they decided to reach out. “I had some thoughts and ideas about the interior design,” Anna recalls. “I wanted it to be comfortable, to be homey. But Anna Lisa really created the cohesiveness and the refinement of the house. I think I have casual taste, and she just elevated it.”
Anna and Steven initially thought they would add on to the existing house and update the “wonky, mouse maze-y” layout, as she puts it. (Case in point: The backyard could only be accessed through the master bedroom.) After consulting with their contractor, they determined that starting from scratch would be best. When Avelar came on board, an architect had devised the raw plans for the house, but construction had yet to get underway. Avelar’s MFA in interior architecture and design came in handy as she played an integral role in the space planning and decor. The two-year undertaking has yielded a 3,800-square-foot abode with four bedrooms and three full baths, as well as bonus rooms like a craft zone and a home office for Steven, who works at Google.
Not surprisingly, the great room is the hub of the house. In the kitchen, Avelar chose white shaker cabinets that have “clean lines that can go traditional or modern because there’s not a lot of intricate millwork,” she explains. The backsplash is composed of a cut-glass mosaic, while two types of HanStone Quartz were selected for the countertops (according to Avelar, the lighter shade on the island was introduced “for a little bit of pop”). The kitchen flows into a casual eating area furnished with a table and a bench from Crate and Barrel, along with West Elm chairs made of bent metal. The material carries over into the family room, which is anchored by a sheet metal-clad floor-to-ceiling fireplace surround. For the lighting, Avelar applied the rule of three: A trio of Visual Comfort metal pendants above the kitchen island are situated across the way from a trio of Palecek rattan fixtures over the plush sectional. A rocking chair tucked in the corner once belonged to Anna’s grandmother.
And it’s not the only thing with special significance to the homeowners: The reclaimed barn wood comprising the backyard arbor, the family room mantel and the wall and ceiling treatment in the formal dining room are also sentimental accents. The Jameses found the timber at a place in Atascadero, not far from where they went to college. “It’s a new house, but we wanted to incorporate a lot of us into it,” says Steven. “We tried to have pieces of who we are, and not just go out and buy a bunch of sterile products.” In the dining room, near the entrance to the house, the wood was used in a rustic riff on wainscoting and was also set into the tray ceiling in a herringbone pattern. A custom wall-mounted neon work based on Anna’s handwritten scrawl of the word “gather” provides a contemporary counterbalance to the lumber, while a Visual Comfort linear chandelier lends an industrial touch. The furnishings are minimal, with an oval-shaped iron table and slipcovered chairs.
Opposite the dining room is Steven’s home office, whose decor nods to his antique motorcycle collection. He came across a black-and-white photo of a motorcyclist and asked Avelar if the image could be enlarged. Now, it serves as the backdrop to a series of wall-mounted floating shelves adorned with vintage motorcycle paraphernalia—such as goggles, an oil can, a helmet and a saddlebag—that the designer procured from antique stores and eBay. An industrial-style desk and leather chair, both from Restoration Hardware, round out the scheme.
Although hard-pressed to pick a favorite spot in the house—“I love every bit of it,” she says—Anna concedes that the master bathroom stands out. “We did everything really casual; and with the bathroom, we luxed it up,” she observes. An outsize shutter-cum-barn door separates the couple’s bedroom from the bathroom. Inside the latter, the “big luxurious bathtub” that Anna says was high on her wish list takes center stage, along with tile work that deftly amalgamates seven different tiles. A three-tiered Currey & Company chandelier suspended above the freestanding tub, where the ceiling peaks at 14 feet, injects a hint of glamour.
The dwelling’s second floor houses a media room and another requisite for Anna: a craft room. “Both of our kids are creative, and I love to craft, design and do floral work,” she says. “I wanted a space where we could be creative together.” The room is outfitted with a table that the Jameses already had, which Avelar paired with yellow chairs. The window seat, topped with a plaid cushion and botanical-print pillows, cleverly hides the AC and heating ducts. Although there are vibrant notes in here, the biggest visual punch is reserved for the mudroom and the laundry room. “I asked if I could do a bright color somewhere,” says Avelar, “and the only color they could agree on was orange.” The statement hue appears on the built-in cabinetry in the mudroom and the laundry room.
The Jameses are clearly clients who aren’t afraid to take some design risks and put their faith in their designer. “They were very teamwork-oriented,” says Avelar. “They really wanted to build their dream home and enjoy the process. They gave feedback and spoke up, but also let me push their limits.” And, in perhaps the ultimate testament to Avelar’s talents and temperament, Anna says she is ready to tackle another project. “I had such a fun time,” she enthuses. “I would do it again in a minute.”
San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood
Steve Nazzal Construction
Karen Aitken & Associates
Countertops in laundry room
Countertops on kitchen island and perimeter cabinetry
Roman shade textiles in kitchen (linen) and master bath (silk)
Rugs in living area and
Tiles comprising kids’ bath backsplash and floor
Side table and coffee table in living area
Bed in master, chairs in dining room, and desk and chair in office
Walls throughout—including great room, dining room, office, mudroom, laundry room, master bedroom, craft room and foyer
Pendant lamps in kitchen pendants and linear chandelier in dining room