Noe Valley Voice November 2003

The House That Triplets Built

By Corrie M. Anders

The triplets came as a wondrous but unexpected gift, bestowed upon Virginia Donohue and Mark Klaiman in April of 2000.

And just like that, the Noe Valley residents were confronted with a question they'd never contemplated--not in their wildest dreams--when they fell in love and married a decade ago.

Simply put, how do you comfortably fit a Mom and a Dad, three babies, and three large pets--a Great Dane, a Newfoundland, and a chocolate Labrador--into a home the size of a bachelor apartment?

The answer is you don't. You might even be forced to move.

But Donohue and Klaiman didn't want to leave Noe Valley. So, instead of looking for roomier quarters elsewhere, the couple chose to expand their 800-square-foot Edwardian home, located on 27th Street near Church Street.

Four months after the triplets arrived, Klaiman and Donohue launched a major remodel--featuring a new, contemporary-style kitchen and the addition of a second story--to accommodate their growing family. It's a good thing, too. Before the work could be finished, the household included child number four.

When the dust cleared, the couple had a state-of-the-art kitchen designed to be both kid- and dog-friendly. It has an "island" in the middle of the kitchen with a built-in storage space for toys. An extra refrigerator, located beneath the kitchen counters, makes it easy for thirsty youngsters to reach beverages. And the dogs have special roll-out bins for their kibble.

The project took a year to complete, and cost "a lot," says Donohue. But it was worth every penny. "We're thrilled with the house," she says. "We got exactly the space we needed."

And the Award Goes to...

The work didn't go unrewarded. Last month, a remodeling industry group cited the Noe Valley project as the Bay Area's best kitchen remodel in its category.

The award was given to Acorn Design Studio of Oakland for best "Residential Kitchen Over $100,000." In addition, Acorn's kitchen was named "Best In Show" from among 26 winners, in categories that ranged from bathroom remodels to historic preservation projects throughout the Bay Area.

Interestingly, the Donohue-Klaiman project wasn't the only first-prize recipient in Noe Valley.

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) also cited Moroso Construction of Pacifica for its kitchen remodel at the 24th Street residence of psychologist Susan Salisbury. "We opened the place up," firm owner Jeff Moroso says of the 24th Street project, which snared first prize in the "$60,000 to $100,000" kitchen remodel category.

A large chimney in Salisbury's small Victorian kitchen was taken out, and the removal of an interior wall opened up the space between the kitchen and dining room. The redesign also expanded "a fantastic view of downtown San Francisco."

The 27th Street makeover, however, was the talk of the annual awards ceremony, held Oct. 13 at San Francisco's Canterbury Hotel.

"They ended up with almost 3,000 square feet," says Acorn Studio designer and principal Jim Wallen. The Donohue-Klaiman house now has four bedrooms and four bathrooms, both double the original number, and a kitchen worthy of star treatment on HGTV's Homes Across America.

Pets Double as Matchmakers

For Donohue, 44, and Klaiman, 41, the road to their new home began in the early 1990s when the two singles both worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco.

Klaiman, a staff attorney, had a young energetic lab named Pharaoh. Donohue, a public affairs specialist, favored a Great Dane as her canine companion.

"Pharaoh's the reason we met," Donohue says. "I had a Great Dane, and we wanted the dogs to play together."

In 1993, Klaiman purchased the small house in outer Noe Valley. The next year, the now dating couple married and settled into the two-bedroom, two-bath home.

At the time, it seemed large enough for everyone, including Pharaoh, Zambi the Newfoundland, and Cleopatra, a second Great Dane ("The original has gone to Great Dane heaven," says Donohue).

"It was great for two people," says Donohue. And raising a family was not a pressing issue. "When we got married, we didn't know if we would have children. We were very neutral about it," she says.

They were also busy with their avocation-turned-vocation, a kennel operation. In 1997, the couple opened Pet Camp, a dog and cat boarding kennel in the Bayview District. Both professionals eventually left the EPA to devote fulltime to their new business.

Triplets Lead to Expansion Plans

Donohue and Klaiman found out they were going to become parents in 1999. "We thought we were going to have one child, and then we found out we were going to have triplets....

"We were very excited about it, but still I was overwhelmed," says Donohue, taking a midafternoon break while Johanna, Liam, and Sydney, now 31/2 years old, head out for a stroll with Dad.

The couple first started to shop for a more spacious home. But this was during the gilded era of dot-com extravagance, and "four-bedroom homes were really expensive...out of our price range," says Donohue.

The solution was to enlarge their current residence. They called Wallen, who is also a friend and nearby neighbor, to help transform the one-story home built in 1887. (The family moved into a Portola District home during the remodeling.)

The project included tearing out the kitchen and nearly the rear half of the house. The enlarged space, which ate up a portion of the back yard, includes the new kitchen, a family room just off the kitchen, and French doors that open onto a rose garden.

A Whiz-Bang Kitchen Island

The kitchen features polished, pale-green granite countertops; a standard convection oven, as well as an innovative convection steam oven; a Sub-Zero refrigerator; and a two-drawer, under-the-counter fridge for the youngsters.

The kitchen island, which has countertops at two different heights, is the room's centerpiece. Not only does it serve as a food preparation area for chefs, but it also has hidden storage space and an alcove where adults or children can sit. At first, the seating space was designed to accommodate three kids. But Wallen later reconfigured it to make room for four.

That design change was almost prescient. As the remodeling neared completion, the couple found out that the kiddy trio was to become the kiddy quartet with the arrival of Quinn, now 18 months old.

"I had envisioned when they got bigger they could do their homework there" at the island, says Donohue. But for now, one of the island's primary uses is as a toy box for the youngsters. This has a practical application as well, Donohue laughingly points out. "When you want to clean up quickly because people are coming, it's easy to take all this stuff and toss it into the cabinet."

Ready for Dogs or Teens

During one of his planning visits, Wallen noticed that each of the three dogs' pet food was kept in a different location. So Wallen designed tall, roll-out bins in one corner of the kitchen for dog food storage. Each bin can hold "a goodly amount" of dog food, which the family usually buys in 40-pound bags.

"I thought it would be a good feature to have to make their lives a lot easier," says Wallen.

The second-story addition includes two baths and four bedrooms, with several unusual features in the master suite. A platform bed with drawers underneath and a nightstand and bookcase have been built into the room. To create the illusion of an especially large space in the master bathroom, the entrance to the tub is through the shower area.

The house now has a total of four bathrooms, which is a relative rarity in Noe Valley. And Donohue and Klaiman admit that their new bathroom facilities won't suffer from overuse anytime soon. But "when the kids are teenagers, we'll all be happy about it," says Donohue.

One thing is for certain. There are no plans to fill the house with more children.

"My husband said I can only see my obstetrician socially," jokes Donohue.