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HOMEOWNERS — Margaret Pallack

RENOVATION — Undertaken 1999; completion celebrated with a housewarming party New Year's Eve of 2001

STYLE — Mediterranean villa with "contemporary California color scheme"

EXTERIOR — French-tile roof, stucco, and stone with pulfrey-stone pavement

LIVING SPACE — 16,000 square feet plus two-story guest cottage and pool pavilion

FAVORITE ROOM — "Love the kitchen, just love it. That's where the kids goof around all the time, and the pool and BBQ are just outside."

AT-HOME PASTIMES — Entertaining friends

REMODELING TIP — "Take your budget and the time the project is supposed to take and double it"

Dining Room

Family Room


Danville, CALIFORNIA — At first glance, the newly-built house on the hill wasn't quite what Margaret Pallack and her husband envisioned for their family of five. True, the property had the best views imaginable, kept the kids within the school district, and more than satisfied the family's space requirements. But the original owners' taste ran to a somber, European opulence expressed in richly gilded appointments, dark marbles and granites, and even darker woods. What's more, perched on a hilltop and visible for miles around, "the house was kind of imposing — there was no landscaping, and it was painted peach to boot."

Yet there were so few houses for sale in Silicon Valley during "the .com craziness," and the offers the Pallacks had made on those they found had fallen through. The more they thought about it, the more they realized they'd never find another house in Blackhawk with such spacious grounds, built as it was on four contiguous lots.

Margaret and her husband began seriously reconsidering the hilltop estate. "We were vacationing in Hawaii at the time, and we called our realtor to ask if we could gut it and make it into the house of our dreams, more along the lines of some of the other houses we'd seen. She was also our decorator, and she said, 'Absolutely yes!'" They put in an offer, and this one was accepted. The house was theirs.


Though the house had never been occupied, and the grounds were far from complete, the interior was sumptuously decorated. "They had no children," Margaret explains. "Everything was very formal and very ornate in the European tradition. There was lots of gold everywhere. The grand old hotels in San Francisco and New York City: that's what the decorating was like. Very sophisticated and tasteful — but we wanted the house to fit with our family. We wanted it to be much lighter, more California contemporary, more fun, with lots of sunlight streaming in."

"Everything is beautiful,
and the view of Mt. Diablo is spectacular."

What followed was 15 months of intensive renovation, day in and day out. "When we interviewed builders, one of our criteria was who could get it done the fastest. It proved to be a mistake in the long run — things didn't go fast at all." Toward the end, the place was abuzz with activity, each person oriented toward completing a specific task. "There was the builder and his crew plus the subcontractors. We had painters in every room, gardeners and the pool crew outside. It was a huge orchestration of skill and talent."

Margaret might have found the transformation rather intimidating had it not been for the guidance provided by her decorator, Linda Appleton. "I wanted my house to look like her house. She has exquisite taste and a good eye for what was needed where. She'd say, 'We need an end table here, two couches in this room, two mirrors and tables flanking that fireplace.' She had such fabulous taste, you didn't have to worry you were going down the wrong road or anything."

Agreeing on a neutral palette, the two of them set about redoing the entire house in cream and taupe with black accents. "I wanted to be able to take anything from any room, put it in any other room, and have it work. In a large house, going into a different room can feel like you're entering a whole new stratosphere. But this way, with the same motif throughout, there's no memory of going from one area to another and then another. It all flows as one.

"We went into San Francisco and got every fabric that was taupe, black, and cream. Some were plaids, some florals, fabrics with lots of texture and feel. Then we went to Linda's house, threw them on her living-room floor, and matched them up, room by room. 'This room is going to be these six fabrics,' we'd say, 'and this room these three fabrics.' We made all those decisions in one weekend.

The plush mixed-shag rugs in the living room and dining room contrast beautifully with limestone floors. Shop Furnishings & Décor.

"We made decisions constantly. It was a big project, but lots of fun. We'd go to the Furniture Mart, she'd narrow the choices to three, and I'd choose one. It took about a month to choose the mirrors, rugs, couches, and all the rest. It was all delivered the week before we moved in. Wherever there was a choice to make, I'd make it, and we'd be done with that. Once a decision was made, we'd be finished, move on, and not look back."


In terms of livability, the house grew much more tolerant of families. "I'm not afraid to have kids running in the house. Nothing is fragile, so they can't break anything. Everything is big and heavy — stone and concrete and wrought iron — yet light in color so it doesn't feel big and heavy." All the granite, tile, and wood fireplaces were removed and replaced with cast stone, each specifically designed to match its surroundings. Cast stone also took the place of the existing dark-wood Roman columns, and travertine flooring was substituted for the original deep-green and black marble.

Walls were removed and rooms redefined, making them more conducive to togetherness. "We were trying to make it a family house," says Margaret. "We hadn't seen any large houses on the market where the children weren't secluded from their parents. Most had two wings: one for kids, one for parents. You had to go downstairs and then back up to get to your children. We wanted to know where our kids were and how to reach them. So we opened up some walls to make sure the children had easy access to our side of the house." Making walls disappear was also crucial to the family-room expansion. "Originally it was a tiny sitting room off the kitchen. Now it's the center of our home. That's where we live."

Nearly all the fireplaces and kitchenettes in the third-floor bedrooms also fell prey to removal. "We took out most of them, made the closets deeper, and created a game room for the kids with wood floors for our son's train tracks — he was into Thomas the Train at the time and had a massive train set." Wired for computers and equipped with bookshelves and three built-in desks, the room doubles as homework central.

To top it off, Margaret set aside a sizable portion of the kitchen for the children's use. "We knocked out a laundry room and opened it up to create a kids' kitchen. They have their own sink, microwave, refrigerator, and dishwasher as well as a separate counter for eating after-school snacks and watching television. Cereal and bowls are within hand's reach. They can do what they want without destroying the rest of the kitchen."

"My husband and I both cook, and we wanted a big beautiful kitchen to hang out in..."

And what a kitchen! The seemingly endless sandstone counter seats 12 along one side, houses multiple appliances along the other: double ovens and warming ovens, two freezer drawers, trash compactor, and dishwasher. (The pantry conceals two more dishwashers.) Two sinks, a six-burner commercial rangetop, and in-counter steamer basket and blender area complete the list of amenities. Walls of customized cabinets create storage in abundance.

"My husband and I both cook, and we wanted a big beautiful kitchen to hang out in," says Margaret. Floors paved in 24-inch travertine set on the diagonal and cabinets finished with a rich, multi-dimensional effect create just such an atmosphere. "The cabinets were coated with a base color, washed with a darker color using a stainless pad, then baked."

The custom-designed entertainment center in the family room has its own unique finish. "It's like nothing you've ever seen — it looks like crackled wallpaper," says Margaret. "The woman who did it crumpled up strips of kraft paper, dipped them in a mixture of paint and wallpaper paste, then plastered them onto the wood. It's a very time-consuming process, but it turned out fabulous!"


"This is a wonderful house for entertaining," says Margaret — though to this day, the living room and dining room remain unused. Instead, guests flock downstairs to the theater and renovated ballroom, where entertaining takes place on a larger, more informal scale. "We expanded the theater and put in a powder room and wet bar so no one would have to leave." Ultra-suede theater-style lounge chairs provide individual seating for six in the back row, while the front row has matching three-person loveseats.

Those who prefer can watch the Super Bowl on the 70-inch big-screen TV in the adjacent ballroom. "We lightened it up, took out the band stage, replaced the wood dance floor with travertine, put in a semi-circular bar, and jack-hammered out space behind it for a barkeep." Guests can sit and relax at any of four tables, and another eight can cozy up at the bar in barrel-back stools.

Set on a rolling 2.5 acres in Blackhawk Country Club, the house affords stunning views of Mount Diablo.
Shop Outdoor Living.

The Pallacks also carved out room for a lower-level catering kitchen. "Caterers can zip down the back stairs, and nobody even knows they're there." One door opens off the stairwell, another opens onto the ballroom for serving. The kitchen has two Sub Zeroes, two dishwashers, two ovens, a microwave, and, Margaret adds, "lots of room for sous-chefing."

The lower level is also home to the 3,000-bottle cellar, newly enlarged and improved to accommodate her husband's collection of Napa Valley wines. Here, floors are paved in flagstone, which take more kindly to spilt wine than does travertine. "We put in a tasting table and a little travertine counter for computer access so my husband could check on wine prices and enter his purchases into his inventory." Racks were installed with an eye toward storing and displaying larger-size bottles: magnums, three liters, jereboams, and the like.

A gym equipped with full set of weights, full bath, changing room, showers, and cedarwood sauna rounds out the complement of indoor leisure-time facilities.


Replacing the original lap pool is a double-edge infinity pool that's like a recreational magnet, attracting family, friends, and the kids' swim team. "We spend a lot of time around that pool," says Margaret. "The kids are always in the water." One of two spas is set aside for horseplay, for jumping in and out; the other is reserved for adults.

The pool pavilion was outfitted for the enjoyment of her cigar-smoking husband and his acquaintances. Inside is a fireplace, stand-up bar to lean on while sipping drinks, wine frig, humidor, and big-screen TVs with surround sound, where the men gather to watch sporting events. The stainless steel pool table with taupe trim was custom made to maintain continuity with the main-house d├ęcor. Snacks and beverages are prepared in the kitchen, and there's a full bath with shower for after-swim grooming. "It's a great party place," says Margaret. "They can have their men's parties, and the house remains undisturbed."

A patio kitchen with fireplace, supplemented by numerous barbecue and sitting areas, creates a welcoming place to stretch out for some down time. Margaret says that for about four months of every year, the air is so crystal clear, you can see for miles around. "Everything is beautiful, and the view of Mt. Diablo is spectacular. I love the palm trees, love how you feel so relaxed." She pauses, concluding, "It's just like a resort."

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