Tour a Historic Church Transformed into a Cozy Family Home

A scissor-trussed ceiling tops the combined kitchen, living and dining space in this family home that was once a Mill Valley church.A 1930s church in Mill Valley has had a stylish revival thanks to two forward-thinking owners, Jodi Riviera and Brian Buchanan, and San Francisco–based interior designer Holly Hollenbeck of HSH Interiors. Together, the three have created a family home that pays homage to the building’s past while modernizing it with an open plan and contemporary furnishings. 

Set in Tamalpais Valley, the 3,500-square-foot space is one of the oldest structures in the area. It had already been transformed into a home when the clients purchased it; their challenge to Hollenbeck and architect Daniel Castor of Castor Architecture was to open up the existing spaces to suit their relaxed lifestyle and love of entertaining. 

An extensive renovation began with the removal of a dropped ceiling that had been added by the previous owners, thereby creating one soaring, scissor-trussed space. “We also needed the entry sequence to be rethought in order for the spaces to be more gracious and inviting,” explains Hollenbeck, so, a wall separating the kitchen from the entryway was also removed to integrate the kitchen fully into the living area. 

The focal point of the home is a central living space that encompasses the kitchen, dining and living areas, swathed in a palette of white and gray. The family’s dining table (made by Big Daddy’s Antiques) is surrounded by vintage Italian metal and leather campaign chairs. One of the husband’s few requests was a professional grade kitchen: The designer delivered with a BlueStar range, sleek Miele appliances and an exquisite hand-wrought pewter island that has become a gathering place for family and friends. Other stylish details include white marble and black satin granite countertops; subtle gray Ann Sacks glazed tiles; and wide-plank European oak flooring from Francois & Co. 

What was once the meeting chamber (the part of the church used for social gatherings) now houses the couple’s bedroom, while the original cloakroom that served as the minister’s changing area has been converted into a powder room. The original oak doors and hardware have been preserved in the powder room and were the inspiration for other doors and fittings throughout the home. Bespoke wallpaper incorporates the building’s original blueprints, once again connecting the space to its original use.

The clients and designers were all in agreement about using fixtures, furnishings and finishes throughout the home “that had the hand of the artisan,” says Hollenbeck, “and that would patina over time.” Authentic elements were also meticulously preserved, including the rope that was used to pull the steeple bell (the original bell was replaced by one found on a trip to Italy) and a stained-glass window in the main living area.

“It is wonderful to work with clients who have a great aesthetic and a clear vision of how they are going to use their space,” says Hollenbeck. “They love to cook and entertain, so their kitchen and dining area is completely flexible. They’re able to move the furniture for impromptu parties, and they’ll add decorative elements such as branches that are hung from the rafters, according to the season or occasion.” This love of entertaining extends outside as well, where a dedicated barbecue space and a fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs encourage guests to chat and linger. From the uncovering of the church’s original wood truss system to the planting of a vegetable garden in the backyard, the design has yielded a serene, welcoming sanctuary in every sense of the word.

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Take Me to Church.