Sacramento building designer John Packowski was working in his front yard when a couple passing by started asking him about his house (a midcentury modern dwelling he remodeled).
One thing led to another, and Packowski gave the men (Todd Gage and Rick Welts) a tour. “They told us, ‘if you ever want to sell it, let us know,’” Packowski says. “My wife and I talked about it, but we weren’t ready.”
But when Gage and Welts purchased another midcentury modern home a few miles away, he was more than ready for another remodel challenge.
All three men—and, in fact, all the players mentioned in this story—are MCM fans. Gage came to it naturally, having been raised in Palm Springs. For Packowski, the area has long been a favorite vacation spot. Welts (you might recognize his name, as he’s the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors) is a more recent convert.
“I didn’t fall in love with midcentury architecture until my first trip to Palm Springs in the early 1990s,” he says. “I was immediately hooked on the simplicity, clean lines, and the use of glass and light.”
Packowski describes their new home as a hybrid between a classic midcentury dwelling and a ranch house with a 1970s vibe. Before the remodel, its condition could be described as original, but tired.
“We purchased it from a couple who had lived there for 38 years and clearly loved and took great care of it,” Welts says. “The bones of the house were such that it would be easy to update yet retain all the essential elements of the original architecture.”
The couple hired Packowski and interior designer Katrina Stumbos to conduct what the building designer calls a “surgical strike.” The goal was to keep the midcentury character they all loved, but to make it work for how people live today.
“The exterior of the house had fantastic lines, but the colors were flat and the landscape was old,” Packowski says. “The interior architecture was worn, dated, dark, and out of scale. Curiously, for a midcentury home, it didn’t have a great connection to the backyard. Instead, it was oriented to the side patios.”
The exterior, most of the window walls, and the large stone fireplace (albeit with a dramatic, partial face-lift) remain. The design team reordered the rooms, putting the master bedroom in the back (the better to access the pool and spa) and placing the kids’ rooms (the couple shares the house with Gage’s son and daughter) where the master used to live.
Dark paneling, slate floors, and worn finishes and fixtures are replaced with crisp white walls, light-gray tiles, and modern amenities. “We gave everything a light, bright palette,” says Stumbos. “We chose some classic midcentury materials for new elements—such as walnut wood for the cabinets and gray porcelain tile for the floors.”
Packowski says that when he first entered the home, he had visions of the Rat Pack. “The house speaks of a cocktail culture, it has a definite Palm Springs vibe,” he says. “A large, centrally located wet bar in the remodel was essential. Not only is it great for serving drinks, it helps lure people out of the kitchen and doubles as a prep area for snacks.”
The feeling continues into the den, which was rechristened the Sinatra Room. Stumbos gave the room (which doubles as a home office for each man) a rustic-red sofa, a deep shag rug, and shelves to display NBA awards and mementos. “This is my favorite room,” says Welts. “It is a combination of a hip den, TV room, and office. It feels like Old Blue Eyes himself should be enjoying a bourbon sitting on the orange sofa looking out at the pool and the backyard.”
In the living room, the large stone fireplace stands as it has since the end of the Atomic Age—except its hulking copper hood is replaced by a simple box. “The copper flue was interesting, but it was huge. It hovered over the room like a spaceship,” Stumbos says.
Throughout the house, Stumbos used a mix of furnishings from midcentury and today. “I didn’t want the house to look like a period piece,” she says. “Although we used things with simple lines, not every piece of furniture has a peg leg.”
The transitional nature of the house is on full display in the kitchen. It used to be a narrow galley kitchen until the architect opened it to the living room by removing one of the walls. “The kitchen is totally modern and designed for today,” Packowski says. “This couple likes to entertain, so we gave them a few different seating groups around the space. This allows guests to sit and visit without getting in the cooking area.”
With the reorientation of the rooms, and some new sliding doors on the back, the interior and the exterior (complete with a new pool and outdoor dining areas) melt together.
“One of the secrets of Sacramento is our great climate. You can live outside all year round,” says the architect. “Sure, it gets hot during the summer days, but at night it dips down to 65 and you can be outside all evening. It’s California living at its best.”
Stumbos says that the city’s stock of midcentury homes is another open secret. “People think of classic, old homes when they think of Sacramento, but we have a good number of midcentury modern homes too,” she says.
Maybe the environment breeds modernism in California’s capital. As Packowski points out, “After all, Ray Eames was born here!”