This story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Domino, titled “All Together Now.” Subscribe to be the first to receive each issue.
For a couple of years, Joanne Duong Bartels and Luke Bartels left the free-spirited surfer haven that is San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood for Chicago. It wasn’t long, though, before the city lured them back—first to the other side of town, but eventually to right where they started: on the ocean, surrounded by their fellow artists and craftspeople. (Joanne is a wardrobe stylist; Luke is a furniture designer and woodworker.) “One of the reasons we’ve stayed out here is because it’s a draw for a lot of people who want to make things,” says Luke.
So a decade after their return, when it became clear they had outgrown their 1907 cottage, the subsequent renovation quickly turned into “a family affair,” as Joanne calls it. The couple never went searching for an architect; they simply called up their friend of 15 years, designer Timothy Balon. A neighbor, Katherine Fontaine, with her own construction firm Actually Design Build became their contractor. And Luke’s colleagues at the collaborative workspace Woodshop—Danny Hess, Josh Duthie, and Jeff Canham—were tapped for their expertise. “Like I do every day,” Luke points out of his built-in sounding board for all construction issues.
The plan: completely overhaul the house’s back addition, expanding both up and out to accommodate another bedroom and bath. (While the home’s set of bedrooms and single bathroom had been “the perfect size” for two, children Veda, 6, and Alfie, 2, had since come along.) “Everyone lives in the neighborhood, so it was constantly like, ‘Oh, there’s this issue—can you come help us?’ We were always problem-solving together,” Joanne says. When, at the very last minute, she, Luke, and Balon decided the wall above the stairs should be curved rather than squared off—“We wanted as many organic shapes as possible,” Joanne notes—their merry band of artisans made it happen over a weekend.
And the porthole in that now-rounded nook? At first, it was going to be near the bathroom—but then the painter (another acquaintance, of course) stopped by to do an estimate. “He said, ‘If you had a window here instead, I think you’d be able to see the ocean from the stair landing,’” Joanne recalls. “And we thought, Oh, my God, let’s move it!”
Throughout the process, creative friends and handy folks were pulled in—“including us,” Joanne adds. Wherever wood was meant to be wood, there was Luke. He installed the floors, built the staircase, and paneled the playroom walls, all with salvaged elm from another comrade, Evan Shively, founder of Arborica. For the kitchen cabinet fronts, he used FSC-certified plywood, while the doors and window frames are deodar cedar (which gives the whole home a heady, woodsy scent), a nod to his childhood. “Growing up, we had a bunch of those trees in our yard, and my dad would always take the saplings and plant them anywhere that people would let him,” Luke remembers. “He was like the Johnny Appleseed of Cedrus deodara.”
Joanne took the reins for the finishing touches—before a revamp was even on the horizon. A full year in advance, she bought yellow bouclé fabric to reupholster the living room sofa (an eBay score) and Clé zellige tile for the yet-to-exist master bathroom floor. Same goes for the vintage bar cabinet in the dining area, a Craigslist find. “I would always say to Tim, ‘What do you think of this?’ And he’d say, ‘You don’t even have a remodel yet!’” Joanne recalls, laughing. “But I feel like buying stuff or starting a project makes the process actually happen.”
The decorating phase, too, was a group effort. Luke’s sister helped the couple procure 100 percent Italian wool carpet in a deep scarlet hue for the library, then connected them with a rug binder, who cut one side into a sinuous wave—a genius solution for one wall of the space being longer than the other.
With Luke up to his ears in carving and sanding, they turned to L.A. brand Kalon for the kids’ beds; each is handmade in the U.S. out of local timber. Veda had just two requests: a sky blue ceiling and to share a room with her brother. How could they say no? For now, the third bedroom has been designated an arts and crafts zone–slash–friends hangout. “Before the reno, everyone started having kids and it became crazy,” says Joanne. “We had to make a space for them!”
With the help of yet another talented friend, Joanne sewed almost all of the curtains, pillows, and upholstery, including the velvet headboard for the couple’s bed frame, another Bartels and Balon special. Long story short: Balon found a picture of an antique wood bed up for auction “a long time ago”; Luke re-created the zigzag design out of reclaimed bay laurel; and the trio put their own spin on it with a rust-colored cushion. This back-and-forth defined the whole experience. “Tim would introduce us to things or we’d find stuff, then the three of us would debate,” explains Joanne, with one person taking on the role of tiebreaker.
Wrapping up the year-and-three-month-long transformation wasn’t the end of the family’s home as the unofficial neighborhood gathering spot. In fact, just the opposite. “I always have a fully stocked bar; that’s my thing,” notes Joanne. “Our house is the place where everyone goes; we host a lot of dinners and cocktails.” In the summer, they serve Negronis; in the winter, Manhattans—in their eyes, it’s the least they can do. “From the plates we eat off of to the things we look at, they’re all made by people we know and love,” says Joanne. “We wouldn’t be where we are without our community.”
More From Our Winter Issue:
Sarah Sherman Samuel’s Epic Fixer-Upper Is the Stuff of Reno Dreams
Courtney Adamo’s Newly Renovated Cottage Is the Perfect Fit for Her Family of Seven
Brass Cabinets and a Few Lucky Surprises Made This Century-Old Home Truly Shine