There's a little bungalow south of Santa Cruz that seems way bigger inside than it did before a deft remodel.

Creating that roomy feel was always Mary Watson's vision for the 1959, single-story home she and her husband, Joe, purchased in 1983 to use as an oceanside getaway from their main residence in San Jose.

The place measures less than 1,100 square feet, but it finally feels big enough to host a party in the kitchen -- which it occasionally does.

It was Mary Watson's keen eye for detail and her belief in the home's potential that led the couple to buy it, despite the fact the front screen door fell off in her hand the first time she opened it.

Joe and Mary Watson’s kitchen cabinets have a consistent pattern to other elements at their home in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013.
Joe and Mary Watson's kitchen cabinets have a consistent pattern to other elements at their home in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

"We had always wanted a beach home," she says. They chose this one even though they realized they'd eventually have to take the interior down to the studs and make several upgrades.

But it wasn't until 2009 that they launched what turned out to be a nine-month transformation from 1950s-awkward to attractive, uncramped, informal beachy chic. Work on the home was finished in May 2010. In 2011, they took on the first phase of a landscaping project.

Before the remodel, the kitchen featured bright-pink tile, a storage room between the kitchen and backyard and a linen closet that consumed most of the space along a short hallway.

From several vantage points, the house had a closed-off, cramped appearance. The bathroom door, for instance, took up considerable space just to open and close.

But the house also had a lot to recommend it: a great neighborhood with friendly people, a quick walk to the beach, an open front room and wood-beamed ceiling in the kitchen and living areas. With its two bedrooms and one bath, it had just enough room for the Watsons and a few guests.

"Unlike most smaller houses, this place didn't have a long hallway creating a ton of unusable space," Joe Watson says. "We liked the fact that the house was so open in the front," with its combined living, dining and kitchen area.

Because the Watsons owned the home for quite awhile before starting a remodel, Mary knew exactly what her priorities would be. They kept the cute '50s bungalow facade, but expanded the kitchen; made better use of that hallway; and added a pocket door to the bathroom. They also replaced the Sheetrock, central heating and insulation, plus the plumbing and electrical systems.

For years, Mary Watson researched the kind of changes she hoped to make. "Every time she'd look at a catalog, she'd take pictures she liked and put them into a binder," Joe recalls. "That thing was, like, this thick," he adds, defining several inches of space between his thumb and forefinger.

A lamp detail in the second bedroom of Joe and Mary Watson’s home in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013.   (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)
A lamp detail in the second bedroom of Joe and Mary Watson's home in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

Bikes and other stored items were banished from the old mudroom area off the kitchen to a newly built shed at the rear of the house. The door leading to that addition was removed, and the opening widened. In the kitchen, new cabinetry with vertical wooden planks on the doors was installed, as well as a blingy backsplash.

With the open-plan living room/kitchen/dining area already in place, the kitchen expansion into the former storage space opened up the whole front of the house.

"We have done a lot of big houses, but this was fun," says George Flath, the Watsons' contractor. "We got to work with Mary and Joe on how to be creative and efficient with the (available) space."

Room for guests

The dining room table, with its attractive gray-brown finish, is situated comfortably opposite the cooking area, bridging the distance from the living room to the kitchen and blending with the living-area seating -- a sofa and two chairs. Counting dining chairs, living room seating and the breakfast bar's three stools, the area accommodates a dozen or so seated guests, plus others taking advantage of the standing room in the kitchen and its new extension.

Widening of a doorway that leads from the entrance to the bedrooms, as well as eliminating the old linen closet, also has improved the home's flow. For storage, Mary Watson has used a silvery chest of drawers that takes less space than the old linen closet.

The bedroom’s of Joe and Mary Watson’s home mirror each other in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013.   (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News
The bedroom's of Joe and Mary Watson's home mirror each other in Aptos, Calif., on Thursday., Sept. 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

Flath says, "This house was ... unique. It was a small house, and they didn't want to push any walls out; it was a 1,000-square-foot house that has turned into a little jewel."

The bathroom feels more spacious than before with the pocket door and a no-step shower, set off by a wall that's partly glass, replacing the old tub.

Mary Watson decided to keep some of her favorite elements, too, including woodwork that emphasizes the verticality of the kitchen cabinetry while echoing the paneling on the home's front facade and a white fence beyond.

The same kind of care was lavished on lighting. The Watsons chose to minimize use of task fixtures in favor of natural illumination, track lights and rope lights on dimmers. The few lamps on tables are consistent in style, shape and size.

A palette of white, gray and pale blue-greens has been deployed throughout the house, from the white walls to gray-upholstered bar stools and new backsplash. Mary Watson says that using the pale hues seems to expand the look of spaciousness in a way that brighter tones might not.

The causal, beachy furniture is not fussy, overstuffed or overwrought. Mary Watson used the light blue chairs now in the living room as inspiration for the other pieces. "You find one piece, and you work around it -- searching for deals or occasionally splurging" on an item that makes a statement, she says.

Colorful spaces

The boldest interior colors are found in the artwork -- bright yellows. Those colors are also found in the frontyard at this time of year, where yellow kangaroo paw growing near the entrance hints at the vibrancy of the art inside.

The drought-tolerant landscaping, with succulents and native plants, won the Watsons a neighborhood-improvement award.

Mary Watson's ideas have brought a sense of beauty and unity to the whole space. The look of outdoor concrete pathways is reflected in the sparkling gray of the kitchen backsplash, whose small alternating squares of glass and granite also echo sparkling grays and glossy browns found throughout the house. All the pieces fit together -- which was the idea.

"I love our little house," Mary Watson says. "Oh," she adds, "don't look in the backyard. That's next."

She and her husband aren't sure yet what the rear landscape will look like when redone, but plans are starting to take shape. One thing is certain: There will be ample room for Joe Watson's tomato plants.