Interior designer Glenda Martin worked on the offices of some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies and, later, on the luxurious homes of the people who founded them. But what she considered her best work was her smallest—a 650-square-foot barn-turned-house that she designed for herself in Sonoma County. Halfway through the six-month project, Martin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She lived in the home for only eight months before passing away. Through the windows Martin had carefully placed at each end of her bedroom, her family could see the sun setting in the west and a full moon rising in the east.
“The orignal staircase was really a ladder,” says Jessica. “I had a hard time imagining how my mom would fit proper stairs into the space, but I had no doubt they would be beautiful.” Minimalist floating stair treads were Martin’s answer.
Glenda Martin renovated the small barn to make it a home for herself. She designed the kitchen to take up nearly half of the first floor.
When Martin purchased the barn, the small loft was paneled in rough knotty-pine planks. Martin recreated it as a peaceful, light-filled retreat. She was a tall woman and could stand up completely only in the center of the room, but because the space was centered around rest and reflection, that didn’t matter.
“My mom was very happy with this house and with living here,” says Jessica. “Looking at it, I can see the full arc of her career and everything she adored: the stone wall she fell in love with in France, the pebble tile in the bathroom and the smooth floors with radiant heat beneath. After she died, I thought it would be a sad place, but it’s the opposite. It has a wonderful energy.”
Today, her family keeps the house as Martin designed it and uses it as a retreat for family and friends. “My mom loved beauty; she sought it out and created it,” says Jessica. “People called her Glenda the Good Witch, and she really was. She could make beautiful things happen.”
Jessica believes that Martin loved the barn because of her rural roots. “I think she was reliving her childhood,” she says. “It became a quiet and healing place that helped her prepare for what lay ahead. While she was sick, she received visitors often. For many, it was like a pilgrimage. Her friends still visit the barn and say they feel her energy here.”
The desire for a ficus tree in her home was what launched Martin’s design career. “She wanted a huge ficus tree for the center of the staircase, but my family had no money to buy it,” says Jessica. “One of the neighbors suggested Mom establish herself as a landscaper so she could get the tree for a wholesale price, and then the rest of the neighborhood could buy their plants from her. Mom thought it was a great idea.”
After Martin passed away, she left a plethora of notebooks containing her inspirations. The photo shows her at age 17, leaving Missouri for California.