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Walnut Creek Magazine

Cottage Charm

Jul 12, 2016 04:13PM ● By Deborah Burstyn


Turn your home into a private paradise with pops of color and DIY style

By Deborah Burstyn

Photography by Jessica Freels

The bright promise of California indoor/outdoor living is beautifully fulfilled in a home remodeled with charm inside and out in Walnut Creek’s lower Lakewood neighborhood. Owners Dennis and Joan Bernal achieved a great look economically and sustainably by using a blend of DIY skills, creativity, and salvaged architectural pieces. The result is captivating country cottage charm throughout the house and garden.

Luxury name brand appliances in the kitchen meld seamlessly with vintage windows and doors whose quaint details are amped up with fresh paint. Sky blue paneling on the kitchen ceiling, accented with schoolhouse light fixtures, plays well with a green tile backsplash and a mix of granite and marble counters. The kitchen’s white cabinetry and trim paired with a classy black and white color scheme make it an inviting space for lingering. It’s no wonder the Bernals' home and garden is the setting for family graduation celebrations, birthday parties, wedding and baby showers, and luncheons for Joan’s garden club.
 The kitchen opens to a living area where French doors and sunny windows create a direct connection to the landscaped garden. Outdoors a gracious retreat beckons. Here trellised walls and a flagstone terrace create a romantic European-style courtyard. Its handmade old-world fieldstone sheds echo the storybook architecture of Carmel, a favorite vacation spot for the Bernals. “We use all recycled water for watering the garden” explains Joan, who plants her flower beds with traditional cottage garden flowers like hollyhock, larkspur, foxglove, sweet peas and snapdragons. 

Interior glass doors from the 1920s separate the original living room from the new part of the house. An old arched window has been transformed into an elegant mirror to enhance the transition between the old and the new. Dennis even created his own mix of sand, lime and plaster to coat the sheetrock walls with the smooth solid look of authentic plaster walls. When the lifelong Walnut Creek residents, who met as kids, bought their house in 1991 it was a much different space. They added 1,474 square feet to the existing 950 square feet of the original 1942 construction—including a second story to make room for their family of five. In the process, they preserved much of the home’s original character. It helped that Dennis Bernal, a roofing contractor, was able to do a lot of the work with some help from family, friends and neighbors.

“We did most of this before the internet,” says Joan. “I looked through magazines and showed my husband pictures of homes that made me happy.” She confesses that Dennis’s aesthetic tends to Victorian while hers is more farmhouse rustic. One glance at their cheerful indoor/outdoor living space shows they have found the perfect balance. 


Take pictures. Dennis photographed architectural details he admired – even in a gothic church – to later copy for his home.

Paint. The Bernals opted for a clean look that unifies the old and the new with fresh paint on old pieces.

Expect blood, sweat and tears. A tumble from a tall ladder while working on a skylight destroyed some all-ready completed work, and sent Dennis to the emergency room for stitches.

Keep your eyes open.  A building being torn down yielded a treasure trove of old bricks for the Bernals’ garden walkways.

Plan on compromise. In order to use old windows, the Bernals had to increase the walls’ insulation to meet building code standards.

The Bernals’ Sources: Urban Ore, Omega Salvage, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Ballard Designs, Home Depot, Restoration Hardware, Alameda Flea Market, and Annie’s Annuals for plants.

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