A Modern Farmhouse Rich in History in Palo Alto’s Professorville

by Sabrina Smelko

A home’s history is just as much an accessory or statement as the furniture it holds and the occupants it hosts. For blogger and editorial director Tienlyn Jacobson, photographer and producer Nikko DeTranquilli, and their dog Mao Mao, the former could not ring truer. Their 1904 farmhouse has been in Tienlyn’s family for decades, and before that, it was home to a man named William Price McNutt. “Rumor has it,” Tienlyn explains, “he used to throw the most fabulous parties at the house. When he passed, his ashes were spread over the bamboo in the backyard, and we like to think we can still feel his spirit here at the home. It just adds to the magic of this place!” Rich in history, Tienlyn and Nikko are fascinated by all of the stages the house has gone through, and they thrive off of the energy that the many people who’ve enjoyed the space bring. But before they could coin their nest the gathering place for their many friends, some renovations were in order.

The first thing the couple did was rip out the carpet that spanned the entire length of the home — and then the carpet underneath that, followed by linoleum, and then another layer of carpet underneath that! As Tienlyn explains, “It was like rings on a tree. It almost felt like an archeological dig and we were going back in time with each layer.” The entire renovation took just under six months, and they proudly accomplished it all themselves — everything from the demolition, to the plumbing, to dry-walling, tiling and laying flooring. While staying true to the home’s integrity, character and open floor plan, in the end, Tienlyn and Nikko created a space that balanced her modern aesthetic and his love of all things eclectic.

In addition to the home’s unique layout and storied past, the central location can’t be beat. The house is nestled in Professorville, a historic area of Palo Alto, CA that contains homes originally built by and for Stanford University professors, and while the lot itself is a private, serene escape into the past, Palo Alto’s rapidly-growing downtown is just a short walk away. “We are really thankful to be able to live in such a special place, in such a cool town, Tienlyn gushes, “There is so much going on in Palo Alto right now — it’s definitely at the forefront of some of the most innovative things happening in this day and age. And then, at the same time, the home we live in is rooted in such rich history. That mix is pretty special.” –Sabrina

Photography by Nikko DeTranquilli

The original vaulted wood ceilings span from the couple's bedroom space to the kitchen (the back of the house to the front). They were not only a huge selling point when it came to purchasing the home, but it also inspired their approach to the entire renovation as the floor plan is completely open and there are few walls within the home. After they finished renovating, the plan for decor and furniture was a mix of modern and eclectic, opting for plenty of textures over colors. The cowhide rug is from Etsy, the faux fur throw is from Pottery Barn, the headboard was handmade, and mirrored side tables from AllModern.com.
"This place is filled with history," Tienlyn says, "and we are so lucky to add to it."
The view from the sunken entryway. Their home is bright, fresh and neutral, which allows the darker accents to really pop -- even Mao Mao finds it relaxing. In addition to their personal preference, with a unique layout (where the bedroom is open to the living room and kitchen), using neutral colors on the walls and for the furniture pieces helped tie all of the various-functioning spaces together.
"Mao is probably the biggest conversation piece in the entire home!" Tienlyn laughs, "She adores people and has more friends than we do!"
Nikko built their headboard custom so it would fit into their space and decor perfectly. As a sweet gesture, he even carved their initials on Tienlyn's corner of the bed as a romantic surprise that she cherishes to this day.
This dressing table was Tienlyn's grandmother’s. Tienlyn recalls spending hours playing with her makeup and perfumes here. Now, she purposely doesn't keep anything inside the drawers in an effort to retain the fragrant smell it still has from when it was her grandmother's. "Every once in awhile, I’ll open one up and inhale all those wonderful memories. It keeps me close to her, even now," she reflects.
In order to accentuate the grandness of the ceilings, they hung a chandelier from IKEA.
Their 1,200-square-foot open floor plan.
Steps from their bed is the living space and lounge area. In keeping with the history and stories of the home, most of the artwork inside was done by someone in the family or people they personally know. Nikko painted the pieces in the bathroom, the painting above the bed and in the living room are both by Tienlyn's grandmother, and the lightning piece was done by her father. The watercolor portrait of a young Tienlyn was painted by a family friend.
A close-up of the artwork above the sitting nook in their bedroom. "We still need to add a piece from my mother, who is an incredibly talented painter as well!" Tienlyn says.
Tienlyn's family has an awesome collection of beautiful furniture, and she and Nikko try to incorporate it into their home as much as possible. These chairs in the living space were Tienlyn's paternal grandfather’s and the chest was from her maternal grandmother.
"I picked up this Helmut Newton Biography at a garage sale when I was just getting interested in fashion as a career," Tienlyn says. "His photography was very influential for me!"
Directly across from the wall of artwork wall is this nook. Before he became a photographer and producer, Nikko used to refinish furniture, and this chest was one of his pieces. The clock was Tienlyn's grandmother’s. "We have the exact same taste in furniture and this clock is one of my most treasured possessions," she says.
The view from their bedroom space toward the front of the house and entry. Along the right-side wall is plenty of shallow storage, from the entrance to the stepped-up living room space. With limited square-footage, vertical space was key, so wall mounting the TV helped them gain valuable surface area on the hutch.
Beside the chest and chair is the doorway leading to the bathroom and dressing room. Originally, there was no door, so this sliding one was installed in the renovation.
Their dressing room is not only handy, but has its own window, which makes getting dressed in the morning easier and more fun.
Nikko refurbished this dresser for the bathroom in place of a standard countertop. "It really makes it feel more like an actual room you can enjoy," Tienlyn says, "rather than just a bathroom."
The pineapple paintings were a creation of Nikko's, inspired by their favorite trip to Hawaii.
For Tienlyn, accessories and clothing are not just appreciated for their function, but also for their design. Because of this, she prefers to display them rather than store them away.
The view from the bedroom towards the kitchen.
Before beginning the renovation, this corner was a barely functioning kitchen. "We replaced all of the plumbing, the countertop, and the sink, and switched out the fridge. We also utilized the cabinets to hide a lot of our appliances and maximize counter space," Tienlyn says. The IKEA rail system not only allows for plenty of easy-access storage for their dishes and cups, but becomes a statement piece on the wall.
The couple's kitchen, while farmhouse style, is still accented with plenty of luxe, modern touches. On the wall to the left, Nikko and Tienlyn installed a mirror to make the room feel larger and to reflect the light.
These egg cups were a gift from Tienlyn's sister, purchased from the Tate Museum in London. "I wanted to make sure there was room in the kitchen to display things we loved," Tienlyn says, so Nikko built these shelves on top of the mirror to highlight some of their favorite objects.
White subway tile and butcher block counters are hallmarks of farmhouse style, but by accenting with plenty of modern accessories, their personality could really sing. In addition, the kitchen is never without fresh produce. "Having organic, fresh veggies is a huge must for us! We’re avid supporters of Community Supported Agriculture, and grow our own as well."
Off of the kitchen is the entryway, where, again, shallow storage and space-saving, wall-mounted hooks and decor rule. "We had a neighbor once who used to walk his dog down our alley," Tienlyn says, "he was a pilot and still flew his plane well into his 80s. When he passed away, we lacquered one of his flight maps of San Francisco from the 1960s onto this print."
In the entrance hangs another mirror which reflects the mirror in the kitchen opposite it. Below it is an IKEA shoe cabinet which is host to many decorative items and memories. "We used to live in Australia and the first week we were there, staying in the outback as we apartment-hunted in Melbourne, we discovered this perfectly preserved kangaroo skull," Tienlyn recounts, "We brought it back with us and it’s still one of our most beloved possessions because it reminds us of a very special time in our lives."
Outside the gates of their home, you'll find these elaborate door knockers that Tienlyn's mother purchased from a market in Dali City in China. "They’re more decorative than functional, but they’ve become something of a signature of the home," Tienlyn says.
This courtyard is the first thing you see when you walk in through the front gates toward their home. "It’s like entering a completely different world, somewhere between an enchanted garden and the English country villa," Tienlyn says. They enjoy playing up the stable feel with antique collectibles like pumps and wagon wheels.

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