There’s plenty to love about Susan and Jim Burns’ Tam Valley home. One drawback, however, has always been its location. “It’s colder and windier here than in other
parts of Mill Valley,” Susan notes. In fact, Jim adds, “it’s even colder and windier than if
you were to go just a little ways down our street.” Given that less-than-stellar microclimate, the Burns family rarely spent time outdoors.
But six years ago, after renovating just about every indoor surface of the 1970s-era home,
they decide to tackle the outside. After more than t wo decades in the house, “it was our last
project,” says Susan.
The professionals they hired included Sausalito-based architect Barry Peterson and
contractor Phil Kline, who’s helped with “nearly all of our interior remodels,” Susan says.
The goal was to create an outdoor room they could enjoy year-around — out of the rough
hillside in front of the house. “The back of our house is even windier than the front,” Susan says.
Taming the front was no small task: it required an immense amount of concrete, and
construction took nearly a year. Most of that concrete went into terracing the hillside and
adding a stair way. The payoff for all those retaining walls: the couple more than doubled the
flat space in front, and the reclaimed land made room for a cozy stone patio. “We also got
rid of the cheap sliding-glass doors and added French doors for a more seamless transition
between the kitchen and the outdoor space,” Susan says.
The centerpiece of the new space is a concrete fireplace with a plaster veneer, flanked by
Brazilian ipe–wood benches. And to make it all habitable even in winter, the entire patio is
covered by a pergola with a polycarbonate panel roof.
The results looked fantastic — and yet wind and cold still prevailed: it “still wasn’t warm
enough out for daily use,” Jim recalls. Undeterred, he commissioned Gianola Canvas of
Sausalito to create retractable sailcloth side flaps that make the patio fully enclosed. And
at long last the Burnses outfoxed Mother Nature. “We are out here a couple evenings a week
after dinner to sit by the fire, relax and enjoy a glass of wine,” Susan says. “It’s also a great
space to sit and read.” With the flaps down and the fireplace roaring, the room now stays
cozy 365 days a year.