It's late afternoon in Los Altos Hills interior designer Pat Larin's office. The phones are ringing, the computers are humming, and Larin discusses a client's custom-made table with a furniture craftsman. She's been on the run since early morning, first making breakfast for her granddaughter and taking her to grade school, then crossing the wooden breezeway that connects her home to her office.
Larin has been handling days like this since she was 24 - when she had two toddlers and started a custom tailoring business "to keep busy." She's one of those people who thrives on hard work and instinctively juggles multiple tasks with finesse.
"My work ethic is very strong and I never want to do anything half way," Larin said. "It's really important to me to do the best job that can be done." A Cornell University Home Economics graduate, she majored in Textiles and Clothing in college, but designed and sewed her own clothes from the age of 12.
"My grandmother had the instinct for design and now, at age 7, my granddaughter Samantha wants to sew - these things seem to skip a generation," Larin said proudly. "Samantha is the light of my life."
You might think that an award-winning interior designer like Larin, who has decorated some of the most sumptuous Designer Showcase living rooms on the Peninsula, would surround herself with luxury at home. But instead, her own house illustrates her belief in functional design which meets the needs of the individual homeowner.
"And good design does not cost any more than bad design, but it makes a world of difference," Larin said.
She chose the terra cotta tile floors in her kitchen and hallways because they "are wonderful with dogs and children" and she loves her bedroom-size, cabinet-lined clothes closet because it "helps keep me organized and on time." Larin's house serves its residents, rather than the other way around.
Her husband, David Larin, a Silicon Valley software consultant, had only one request when they remodeled their house ten years ago:
"He asked me to put bookshelves in every room," Larin recalled. In the master bedroom, space was tight and she was aiming for a pared-down, peaceful atmosphere. So where could she put useful bookshelves without creating more clutter? With characteristic inventiveness, she designed a super-wide, shelf-like window sill and installed broad white plantation shutters. Then she scooped out the wall to the studs and built generous bookshelves as deep as the outer wall of the house.
Client Gladys Dyal of Los Altos Hills describes a similar Pat Larin success. "Pat eliminated just one cabinet in our kitchen and one cabinet in our living room, but made a huge difference in our views - she instantly saw something we should have figured out years ago."
The Larins bought their home on a one-acre site in 1977. "We said we wanted a tennis court with a house attached," Larin laughed. "This was a basic ranch house, built in 1954, that needed work. We did a lot of remodeling when we moved in."
A grand piano-shaped living room looks out over a viewing deck and tennis court, with upholstery and rugs in soft corals and teal blue.
"People say this reminds them of a tree house," Larin said modestly, as if the entire effect had simply happened by accident.
The couple's initial remodeling project enlarged and modernized the kitchen and added a new dining room and side deck. Ten years later, they enlarged and updated the master bedroom area, turning a nearby bedroom into Pat's personal paradise: her all-white dressing room and closet.
A venerable sewing machine waits by the windows, and a built-in ironing board stands ready for quick touch-ups. Custom cupboards and closets with clear, acrylic doors, built by Closet Dimensions, line the walls.
"I said to myself, now that the kids are grown, I'm going to take over this room!' Larin said.
In the adjoining master bedroom and bath, a quiet palette of pale peach and seafoam green prevails, punctuated by a hand-painted armoire/TV cabinet decorated with floral bouquets.
The master bath feels much larger than it really is, thanks to a skillfully designed skylight which opens widely at the ceiling level.
"Probably the most-used room in our home is the smallest," Larin laughed, entering the study/TV room off the bedroom hallway. It's a cozy miniature of an old-world library, with upholstery in Scottish black and white plaid, rust-red and brass accessories, and a black and white wool zebra-print rug.
"Six people can sit here comfortably, and this is where we often spend the evening," Larin said.
Some nights, though, she can't resist heading back to her office.
"I thought that by building the office away from the house, I could close the door at the end of the day," she said ruefully. "But I'll come back and work on a project until I am satisfied." The same instinct drove her to obtain a California contractor's license in 1986, in addition to her certification by the American Association of Interior Designers. "I found that almost every job needed more than just decorating - I can design a lighting plan, for instance, and then as a contractor I can put it out to bid," Larin explained.
Her commissions are mostly residential, but she also enjoys creating professional offices and hotel designs.
Larin runs her design firm above the three-car garage. A wooden breezeway separates the garage from the main house - just a few steps away from home, but a world apart.
There are work areas for her three-person staff, a private office for herself, a client consultation area with a big conference table, and lots of closets and cupboards for her extensive sample and catalogue collections.