Inside Out

How one modern family and their architect developed a Sacramento home that blurs the lines between the lives inside and the world outdoors.
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The "Inside/Outside House," designed by architect Mark Dziewulski. (Photos by Dave Adams; click for larger images)

The “Inside/Outside House,” designed by architect Mark Dziewulski. (Photos by Dave Adams; click for larger images)


TThe house juts out of the sloping hillside—three offset, intersecting rectangles of glass, wood, stone and stucco cantilevered over a three-acre sward of green. It is a striking house that at first glance speaks of the stark, modernist grandeur of the Bauhaus movement. From the 12-foot-tall bronze front door to the majestic constellation of floating pendant lights that fill the living and dining hall like a bit of the cosmos captured indoors, the scale of the 6,700-square-foot dwelling is breathtaking.

But a closer look reveals a thoughtful, almost humbly livable house designed to accommodate the life cycle of a down-to-earth, suburban family of four. Like many traditional houses in sunny climes, it is a U-shaped structure, its informal living spaces surrounding a kid-friendly patio and pool area with interior walls that disappear to bring the outside indoors. It’s the kind of home where, high design aside, the living room sofa is made to be jumped on, and the rough-hewn wooden kitchen table is designed to look better and better the more finger paint and crayon marks it acquires.

To call owners Dean and Chrisa Sioukas family-oriented would be an understatement. Both are Sacramento natives who met at a Greek wedding (they are of Greek descent), and work for their respective family businesses: Chrisa is a co-owner of the commercial real estate firm Pappas Investments, Dean as a principal at Si Real Estate. Their son Kyriakos is 7, and daughter Lilliana is 4.

“My mom lives two miles down that way, and Dean’s mom lives two miles down the other way,” says Chrisa, padding around the house in jeans and a sweater on a rainy afternoon.

The couple has been married for 10 years, and bought the property in Arden-Arcade even before that. “We [began] designing the house before we had kids, but knowing we’d have them,” Chrisa explains. They took their time designing the house, interrupted in part by the arrival of the children. “We spent a really long time coming up with ideas, trying to dream our dream home.”

The home's owners Dean and Chrisa Sioukas with their children Liliana and Kyriakos in the formal kitchen.

The home’s owners Dean and Chrisa Sioukas with their children Liliana and Kyriakos in the formal kitchen.

Part of that dream involved finding the right architect. The couple had known San Francisco-based British architect Mark Dziewulski for 20 years, from the decade he lived in Sacramento and worked on well-known commercial projects like the Davis Commons and the Virgin Megastore at Arden Fair mall, which both opened in the 1990s. Dziewulski’s design sensibility—a brash brand of modernism that has led to elements like stairways made of glass, rooflines shaped like Möbius strips, public architectural works like the U.N. trade headquarters in Beijing, and stunning residential homes like the modern house in Carmichael he designed that made the cover of San Francisco magazine—had always captured the couple’s imagination, so they reached out to the architect.

Dziewulski, for his part, nearly turned down the initial meeting with them when he heard the term “Mediterranean,” fearing what the couple meant was the vaguely Tuscan stucco-and-terra-cotta style one typically thinks of when hearing the term in California. “But when they showed me their idea book, it was full of these modern houses that just happened to be in the Mediterranean,” Dziewulski says. “We just clicked. We have very similar tastes, so I knew I could give them what they wanted.”

“We spend a lot of time in Greece,” Chrisa says, “and we wanted to bring some of that rustic-village feel in, while still keeping it modern. Mark did an amazing job of putting our aesthetic together with his aesthetic and bringing the Mediterranean into the modern.”

Dziewulski’s working title for the project from the very beginning was the “Inside/Outside House,” for its focus on bringing the outside in without sacrificing privacy. The result is both striking and surprisingly intimate, a style Dziewulski dubs “romantic modernism,” blending clean, linear forms and rigorous attention to detail with warm, natural materials like stone and wood.

The master bedroom with porcelain tile floors that extend to the outdoor living spaces.

The master bedroom with porcelain tile floors that extend to the outdoor living spaces.

In the master bedroom, for example, the floating bed and nightstands’ modern lines are meant to harmonize with the classic profile of a family heirloom dresser. In the kitchen and family room, a rough-hewn stone wall gives the feeling of the Greek homes Chrisa and Dean admire so much, contrasting with the flush, glossy white cabinetry concealing everything from the refrigerator to the warming oven. “In European houses you see a structure like this, where you mix the modern and the old,” says Dean.

The overall architectural plan changed very little over the years from the “sculptural, dynamic” form Dziewulski first laid out for the house, but the couple was hands-on in almost every decision on how to execute their shared vision for the home.

“It helped that they’re both in construction,” Dziewulski says. “They were great at sourcing materials and knew what they wanted.”

For instance, the architectural plan specified walls of wood that extended from the interior through to the exterior. But the couple had lived with exterior wood in their previous home. “It was constant maintenance with bees, spiders, birds, everything,” Dean explains. “So we kept looking. We ended up with a tile that is 48 inches long, [and imitates] white oak. So it is tile on the outside, and on the inside is wood we had milled to match the tile.”

And for the home’s heated floors, the couple preferred the look and feel of limestone, but knew they could never get a natural material to lay flat without any bumps or lips from settling, so they opted for porcelain tile with the appearance of limestone. The flooring flows from the interior of the house through the outdoor living spaces. The patio’s only drainage point is cleverly hidden beneath a patch of artificial turf that also serves as that outdoor space’s only greenery.

The sitting area features a constellation of 60 Bocci pendant lights and a dramatic spiral staircase.

The sitting area features a constellation of 60 Bocci pendant lights and a dramatic spiral staircase.

And when attention to detail was critical, they didn’t shy away from doing the work themselves. Dean and Chrisa painstakingly positioned and installed the house’s showpiece, the 60 Bocci pendant lights the couple purchased from midtown home décor shop Lumens that occupy the airspace over the living and dining areas and creates a stunning “starry night” effect when viewed from inside or out.

“Altogether, it took us a couple of weeks,” Chrisa says. Borrowing scaffolding that was there for the sheetrockers, they used balloons and ribbon to lay out where they wanted each pendant to go, then Dean designed a way of stringing the thin wires through threaded hollow rods commonly used as lamp fittings, so the wires would seem to disappear into the sheetrock seamlessly.

“After we hung each one, I took my iPhone out and made sure it worked,” says Dean, the family tech junkie. The entire house’s lighting, entertainment and security systems, as well as all the window coverings and the backyard pool, are designed to be controlled remotely. There is even a drop box outside the home’s gates that will alert the family via text message whenever a package is delivered.

One of the most striking features of the home is how useful all the spaces are. Even when spectacular, they never feel formal. The sitting and dining areas under the Bocci constellation are a magical space, but more because they offer the charm of picnicking under the stars than because they are intimidating or grand.

The pool, along with the home's entire lighting entertainment and security systems, was designed to be controlled remotely.

The pool, along with the home’s entire lighting entertainment and security systems, was designed to be controlled remotely.

Although there is no formal living room in the house, Chrisa did want something truly unique: a formal kitchen. “My mom is from Greece, and in Greek cooking, you use the whole kitchen, you use every pot—it takes a whole day,” she says. “Growing up all I ever heard was, ‘I wish I had another kitchen, so I could make a mess and leave it, and when people came, I could serve out of the clean kitchen.’ So we built what we call the formal kitchen, which is what you see, and the working kitchen in the back.”

The arrangement works well for the catered dinners the family frequently hosts. In fact, they’re just getting around to installing a permanent dining table in the dining room because they had been experimenting with various rented table configurations whenever they entertain (they have hosted everything from charity fundraisers to 50 schoolchildren building gingerbread houses), trying to determine through trial and error what would work best for them in the long run.

The layout of the house, a broad U-shape surrounding covered and uncovered patio spaces and a lap pool, allows the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces to blur, taking full advantage of the sunny local climate. A combination of trees, strategically placed overhangs and linen curtains that retract into recesses in the walls allows for the house to maintain its open feel without sacrificing privacy. Even the downstairs master suite, on the far side of the U opposite the dining room, feels private and far from the fray.

Another unique customization of the house designed to grow with the family is the garage—or rather garages—one four-car garage which houses cars, and beyond it, another two-car garage, which is full of storage racks and crammed with stuff like any suburban garage worth the name. “It’s the same idea as the kitchen,” Chrisa explains. “You have the nice garage, and the garage-garage.”

The front entrance of the "Inside/Outside House" at dusk.

The front entrance of the “Inside/Outside House” at dusk.

“When the kids are 16, they’ll have cars,” adds Dean. “For now, it’s toy storage.” These are the tricks that allow a busy family to live well in a modern dwelling without succumbing to clutter.

The home also boasts two equally spectacular stairways, a spiral staircase in the living and dining area that unfurls upward like a single curl of wood, and a set of floating stairs at the other end of the house with a glass railing. Both stairways have childproof gates in matching materials designed to provide a permanent and elegant solution—and to obviate the need for any unsightly ad-hoc childproofing.

The upstairs study, which overlooks the living-dining area, is the only room in the house that appears little used to date—a sign of a family more interested in playing, cooking, eating and relaxing together than in bringing home work. When Lilliana rolls through after prekindergarten, she occupies virtually every living space, giving her mom a kiss on the curved Milo Baughman sofa, then tumbling a bit on the Flexform sectional in front of the fireplace before settling in for a snack at the kitchen table, very much at home in this modern masterpiece, which seems surprisingly to scale, even for the pursuits of a 4-year-old.

What could be more modern than that?