NoCal home remodel view from entry

Budget Biophilia: Why I Knocked Holes in My Walls

news - February 2020

Budget Biophilia: Why I Knocked Holes in My Walls

Our intrepid friend opens up his new Northern California home, with spectacular results.

By Bill Hensley

Passive Design diagram

IT WAS THE SUMMER, AND HOUSING INVENTORY in the San Francisco North Bay region was tight. We’d missed a few nice homes that received multiple offers and were getting a little frustrated. My wife inquired with our agent about a home that was listed as “coming soon.” Our agent said they had accepted an offer today but would entertain one more if we “get it to them tonight.” By that evening we found ourselves in contract on a home we’d only spent about 40 minutes inside.

One thing we hadn’t fully appreciated was how dark the entry and the kitchen were. The entry in particular was a little like stepping into a walk-in closet. On the plus side the floor to ceiling windows in this 70-year old home’s living and dining rooms were wonderful. The dining window in particular looks out at a what one day will be the Japanese garden. Both the entry and the kitchen shared common walls with the dining area, so the answer seemed clear: let’s cut some holes and open up the spaces. The kitchen was being completely gutted anyway, so why not?

So, while the kitchen team was pulling out cabinets and the electrician was pulling in a new 240V service, we got to work. It seemed safest to remove only one stud in each wall, so that defined the width of our openings. We aligned the tops of our cutouts with the tops of the nearest door openings. After removing the wall board and studs, we paused to evaluate.

Northern California home remodel view from kitchen

The change in light was substantial and the effect was exactly what we’d hoped for. What we hadn’t fully appreciated was the effect that seeing the future garden creates. Upon entering the house, it’s the first things guests see, and even in its undeveloped state the response is always positive. Herein lies the biophilia part of the story; our home is not spectacular by anyone’s definition, and it’s still quite unfinished by our definition. But that large window brings nature into the living environment, and seeing it creates an immediately comforting feeling, especially for guests who have walked up the long and somewhat awkward front porch next to the even longer concrete driveway.

These “interior windows” also spread more natural light, the biophilic effect of which can never be underestimated. Our L-shaped house is nestled in a canyon, which means the sun rises a little late and sets a little early. In the long summer days this is a welcome experience, but the winters feel a little dark, and every ray of sunshine is appreciated.

We’re only midway through this home remodel. The kitchen, living and dining area are complete, and we’re taking a break before considering designs for the bedroom wing. But first, we’re considering additional natural lighting in the transition area between the two wings of the home and are researching reflective tube skylights such as Velux® or Solatube®. And the front door? That small crescent window at the top does not allow much natural light, but I saw a lot of very cool options at IBS2020 this month.

Today is one of those beautifully clear Northern California days that belongs in a different month. Hmmm… perhaps we should start on the Japanese garden instead.