From Bunker to Home Gym: A Penn Valley House Gets a Big Transformation

Architects Jackie Gusic and Tina Geary altered the flow of this outdated home to bring it into the 21st century.

Not long ago, architects Jackie Gusic and Tina Geary could honestly say that they’d never repurposed a radiation bunker. Now, they have that
once-in-a-career experience in their portfolio. “It’s now the owners’ home gym,” says Gusic with a laugh.

That radiation bunker was only a small part of a complex makeover in Penn Valley. The home’s three structures were built in separate phases. The original went up in the 1920s, with additions in the ’50s and the ’80s. Gusic and Geary describe the pre-renovation layout as a “rabbit warren of small spaces, awkward circulation and little natural light.”

And that’s certainly not how a family wants to live these days. “This is a really large house with a lot of space, but most of it wasn’t usable,” says Geary. “The clients wanted to open the house up and be able to use the spaces they had.”

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The owners were also looking to create some drama in the design. “They really wanted to be proud of their space,” says Geary.

Kitchen of Note

Of all the spaces in the home, the kitchen was in the toughest shape. To make things even trickier, it also doubled as the laundry room, housing the washer and dryer. “The existing kitchen was the worst space,” says Gusic. “It was a tiny galley that was completely closed off, with four walls and doors leading to the other rooms.”

So Gusic and Geary relocated it to the dining room. Now, the new kitchen is easily five times the size of the original, with custom light-gray cabinets giving it a transitional look. “They wanted something different from traditional white,” Geary says.

The large island is a centerpiece of the new space, and a custom banquette has a unique maple bench that
seats up to six.

A large center island with a quartzite countertop accommodates a cooktop, sink and seating for four. Above the island, a trio of navy dome pendant lights with brass interiors brings color to the otherwise neutral space. Nearby, a wall of built-ins—including a hutch with glass doors—offers extra storage. At the end of the built-ins, a custom banquette with a maple bench seats up to six. “The use of maple brings in a natural element to combat all the painted wood,” says Gusic. “Every house should have at least one thing that feels really special. This banquette makes the kitchen customized for them.”

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To provide all that room for the kitchen, the formal dining area was moved to a room nearby. “They wanted to tuck away a space they weren’t going to use all the time,” says Geary.

In fact, many clients aren’t even incorporating formal dining rooms into their new floor plans. “We’re definitely seeing less and less of them,” says Geary. “Instead, the kitchen size is increasing to accommodate a table that can be expanded for holiday dinners.”

Nowhere to Go but Up

Among the “dramatic moments” the architects created: a stair tower that provides access from the main living area to the second and third floors. Built in the ’20s, the original staircase was utilitarian and tucked away. The new one is open, with a large window flooding the space with natural light.

On the second floor, each of the bedrooms was redesigned with an en-suite bathroom and a dormer to provide more usable living space. In the master, updates include walk-in closets and a bathroom refresh. The third-floor attic was reconfigured into a guest suite with a bathroom and sitting area.

A dramatic stair tower provides access to the
the upper floors.

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Bathrooms were updated to reflect a more usable,
streamlined aesthetic.

“Our favorite projects are those where the change is dramatic,” says Gusic. “We try to help people envision what the house could be. Anything can be fixed and changed, and this project is the perfect example of that.”

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