The idea of a cabin in the woods seemed perfect to Jennifer "J.T." Thomas and her husband, Rich Meyer.

After all, they had first met in a similar setting at Lake Tahoe. Plus, Meyer is a mountain guide who leads adventurers on treks through locales from the Sierra to Alaska and beyond. Thomas is a high school counselor and formerly the Cal women's soccer coach. They're very active parents. Both coach their 11-year-old son's soccer team and frequently host a rampaging mob of nearly 30 boys after games.

So when they saw the 1937 cabin up for sale on Woodmont Avenue at the crest of the Berkeley hills, they should have jumped at the chance. Instead, their first thought was: "Well ... we're not really sure."

The interior of a remodeled 1937 one-bedroom cabin is seen on Woodmont Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, July 25, 2013.  Architect Gustave Carlson,
The interior of a remodeled 1937 one-bedroom cabin is seen on Woodmont Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Architect Gustave Carlson, of Gustave Carlson Design in Berkeley, managed the project. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

"We loved the cabin idea, of course, but the place needed a lot of work," Thomas says. "It was really dark, and there were add-ons that really made it feel closed in."

Fortunately, Berkeley-based architect Gustave Carlson envisioned a renovation that could lighten up and open up the cabin.

Owner of Gustave Carlson Design, an award-winning firm specializing in custom home renovation, new construction and sustainable elements, he redesigned the home from the foundation up, stabilizing the structure, salvaging most of the original redwood paneling and maintaining what Thomas calls that "cabiny" feel the family loves.

"He totally got what we were about," she says. "And now it's absolutely perfect. It still has that cabiny feel, like a place up in the woods. But it's also a modern home. It's totally us."

The home was originally a 1,450-square-foot, one-bedroom, clapboard-clad space -- likely a summer retreat back in the '30s. Rooms that had been tacked on piecemeal over the decades had enlarged the space to about 2,400 square feet, but the floor plan was choppy, with no flow, Carlson says.

"The original cabin was basically these two main rooms and a loft, which was the one bedroom," he says. "Then add-ons in the '40s and '60s were not done well, and the circulation didn't work.

"So we opened it up in this area," he says, motioning to doorways off the living room that lead to Thomas' office in one direction, and to what could be used as a formal dining room in the other. Instead, that room currently holds the family's pool table, surrounded by sports team pennants and historic framed photographs of Teddy Roosevelt on some of his mountain expeditions.

Now the home is a 3,100-square-foot, four-bedroom showplace. The original charm remains, but the house also has a spacious, contemporary kitchen, and green elements everywhere, from roofing and windows to insulation and lighting. Next to the loft, a second floor was added. It includes a master suite, complete with steam shower and his/her closets.

The kitchen of a remodeled 1937 one-bedroom cabin is seen on Woodmont Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, July 25, 2013.
The kitchen of a remodeled 1937 one-bedroom cabin is seen on Woodmont Avenue in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday, July 25, 2013. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

"It was important to us, and to the owners, to maintain the original feel of the home, and a big part of that was the redwood paneling," Carlson says. "Our contractor (Berkeley Craftsmen General Contractors) took each piece out, labeled it, refinished it. You don't get this old vertical-grain, clear-heart redwood anymore. And if you can find it, it's very expensive."

Also preserved were many of the original doors, the ladder to the loft and the quirky two-sided brick fireplace, which warms the living room and pool-table room on foggy, chilly days, its chimney exposed all the way to the high ceiling, with an interesting twist in the brick along the way.

The contemporary jewel of the home is the kitchen, by Berkeley's KitchenSync design studios. The walnut cabinetry is crafted in simple, clean lines, and an open space next to the large island accommodates a long kitchen table. Big glass doors extend the space out to a patio, the yard, a play area and the driveway.

"We were really all about the kitchen, even though I don't really cook," Thomas says, laughing. "It's a hangout spot. We have events for the kids in the house all the time, all these 11-year-old kids running all over the place. So we just throw food out there on the big table and let them have at it, and then Rich and I go sit at the counter.

"The house absorbs boys like nobody's business," she adds. "They can be all over the place, and it's not chaos."

Other important elements preserved during the renovation were natural landscape features, specifically the property's towering redwoods. And a big plus for the design was the flat, double lot -- a rare find in these hills, and a bonus for a family that loves the outdoors.

"A really important feature of our work, no matter the style of the home, is that it fits into its environment," Carlson says. "Here, we have these mature old cedars and redwoods, these established camellias. We didn't want to just come in and take down the old growth. Why do that and plant a few maple saplings, then wait five years for them to fill out?

"This (remodel) maintains that feel of presence, of history, of something that's been here a long time," he says.

Carlson's firm designed the stone paths that run through the yard, and then brought in Katherine Vincent Landscape Design of Orinda for the native grasses and other plantings. The full renovation took about 18 months, from locating the property through developing the plan and completing the construction, Carlson says.

When Thomas and Meyer were deliberating about whether to buy the home, the factor that sealed the deal was that the then-owner was a huge Cal Bears fan.

"When she Googled me and saw a photo of me with Oski (the Bears mascot), she knew we were the right people," Thomas says. "She was thrilled that tradition would be preserved, along with the house."

Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/giveemhill, or read her Sunday Give 'Em Hill column.

remodel at a glance

Time to complete: About 18 months
Budget: Approximately $700,000, including foundation and landscaping
Primary sources: Gustave Carlson Design (www.gustavecarlsondesign.com); Berkeley Craftsmen (www.berkeleycraftsmen.com); Katherine Vincent Landscape (925-376-6137); KitchenSync design studios (http://kitchensyncdesigns.com)