How to turn a 1980s Windsor tract home into a modernized home for the new millenium

When Jean and John Hackenburg were house hunting five years ago, they found in Windsor a neighborhood they loved and a house that was, in Goldilocks’ parlance, “Just right” when it came to size. It also had a big quarter-acre backyard — almost unheard of in a subdivision — that posed all kinds of possibilities for the garden designer in Jean.

But aspects of the house, an upscale tract home from the 1980s, didn’t work for the way the couple lives now. And yet, rather than giving up on the place, set in a pretty, tree-lined subdivision in Windsor, the Hackenburgs took on the challenge of customizing it inside and out.

“A good friend of ours who is the architect (Craig Roland) said the house has good bones. I think I can work with you on this,” Jean Hackenburg said.

From the sidewalk the house looks much like the other homes on the street, architecturally speaking. But inside it’s like a new house, with a spacious kitchen, a casual dining area looking out at the garden and a revamped backyard that accommodates all the things the Hackenburgs love, from a side vegetable garden and nicely screened space for the hot tub, to a corner for John’s smoker and a shady spot for chilling out on hot afternoons.

“Working in the high-tech industry allowed me to use my creative skills, which is probably what I do in the garden,” said Jean, an accountant. “I’m a puzzle solver. That’s what you had to do in business. That’s still what you have to do. You get thrown a problem and you have to figure it out. And that’s what I enjoy. I love to figure out problems.”

Her bible is Sunset’s Western Garden Book.

“I’m on my third version,” she said. “My copy is dog-eared from looking at it. I put sticky notes all over.”

In the backyard she started by digging things up. Plants that seemed misplaced. Lava rock she found unsightly. Bricks that were all over the yard.

Jean recalls waking up at 3 a.m. one day to begin sketching a layout for the garden. They had already replaced the small deck with a long deck that stretches from the master bedroom to a casual dining area off the kitchen.

“I kept thinking that I need a landing area. And I need to use those bricks. I started drawing something casual. I didn’t want a formal garden,” she said.

She seized on the idea of using the bricks to create a walkway that started at the end of the deck and curved out in opposite directions to either side of the yard.

“We pulled up every brick; there were about 1,000. We piled them up and cleaned them off,” Jean said.

They collaborated with Seescape Landscape of Santa Rosa, which did the installation.

Choosing plants

She had been watching the sun patterns for months, which helped in planning where to place certain plants so they would thrive.

“We had seen the seasons and the way the sun was going to treat things,” she said.

There were two redwoods in the yard that had almost grown together, as well as two large cedars. She removed all but one redwood, making the formerly dark space light and bright.

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