(Michelle Pattee, original photo on Houzz)

Home Tour: Less is more in this centuries-old Sebastopol farmhouse


Three years ago Michelle Pattee was looking at the property tax documents for her four-acre spread in Sebastopol.

She and her husband, Bill Albright, had put a lot of sweat equity into the 1904 farmhouse, and as she scanned the bills spread across her desk, she thought, "How are we going to pull this off this year?" Just then the phone rang, and that call provided the answer. A creative director from Pottery Barn Kids was on the line; he wanted to book her house for a weeks-long photo shoot—and the rate he offered was enough to take care of that year's taxes.

Pattee (a high-end event photographer and co-owner of Archival Decor) and Albright (principal of West County Wood) didn't intend to create the perfect backdrop for companies like Pottery Barn, Serena & Lily, Pendleton and QVC; their goal was to make a forever home for their family. It just so happens their home tells a story we all want to buy.

Houzz at a Glance

Location: Sebastopol, CA

Who lives here: Michelle Pattee, husband Bill Albright and kids Eli and Kansas

Size: 1,880 square feet (175 square meters); 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom

(Michelle Pattee, original photo on Houzz

In keeping with her "simple is best" philosophy, Pattee chose two white slipcovered sofas (they can be stripped, laundered and back in place quickly). The black and blue rug came predistressed, an attractive feature to Pattee because, as she points out, they live in the country and distress would happen anyway.

Wall paint: Bright White, Kelly Moore; sofas: Nantuckit Furniture Company.

Old farmhouses have always appealed to Pattee. "I'm drawn to the architecture of the style," she says. "There's something authentic about them." Perhaps that's why she and Albright decided to buy this house seven years ago, even though they weren't looking for a project.

The entire family gravitates to the huge walnut tree in the yard. "It's kind of a touchstone," says Pattee. "It's poetic and statuesque." The house, with its graceful gable structure, is visible in the background. "It needed a lot of love when we first saw it," says Pattee. "The second story was accessible only by a steep ladder."

They removed the walls that enclosed the kitchen, using reclaimed wood for the support beams, ceiling and floor. "I'm a minimalist," Pattee says, explaining the open shelves and sparse furniture arrangements. "I prefer to have open space in my home—it also comes in handy for photo shoots."

Because the kitchen faces north and is at the center of the house, it is the darkest room. The couple installed simple bulbs on the tops of the rafters to cast more illumination. "Not only does it throw light up there; it really highlights the beauty of the wood," says Pattee.

The island used to be twice as wide, but when the family decided it was too large to comfortably reach across, Albright cut it in half and used the excess wood to make a table. In the newly empty space, the couple put in a comfortably worn leather sofa, which instantly became a favorite gathering spot for family and guests.

In contrast to the kitchen, the living room is painted a bright white. "I do all the painting myself," says Pattee. "So I chose one simple color in a semigloss finish. Between the photo shoots, kids and life, I need something that's easy to wipe down or touch up."

The fireplace was originally raw fieldstone, but Pattee didn't like the color of it, so she painted it — and then painted it again, and then again. "It's been two shades of white and now black, and I'm planning to give it a gray coat," says Pattee. "It's an easy and contained surface to paint, and it can change the look of the room instantly."

The chandelier has been with Pattee since she was single and living in San Francisco. "I tend to find things I love and then carry them with me for a long time," she says. "This is the light fixture's fourth home."

The master bedroom is large and also serves as Pattee's office. The visible pine knots are unintentional. Since the couple wanted the look of painted boards, Albright installed knotty pine, the least expensive material they could find. Pattee, weary of painting, hired a professional to apply the same white used everywhere else. He used the wrong primer, and after a few weeks the knots began to show through. "We love the way it looks," says Pattee. "We consider it a happy accident."

A mix of found tables, dressers and a chest take care of the couple's storage needs. "I really don't like symmetry," says Pattee. An enormous fan, another roadside find, fits in perfectly with the family's neoindustrial farmhouse style. Pattee says although it looks almost like an art piece, it's completely functional. "It sounds like an airplane taking off, but it does it's job," she says.

"By now we've had more than 40 photo shoots in the house," says Pattee. "As a photographer myself, I understand what is needed. The house is a popular choice because of its style and surroundings—but also because we are cooperative and relaxed."

She describes some days when the children have stepped off their school bus and onto a photo set—even occasionally serving as models. "We live here through it all," she says, laughing. "During the shoots it can feel like camping in a catalog."

// This story was written by Mary Jo Bowling, and originally published on Houzz.

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