McDonald Mansion

In 2006, ROBA began collaborating with historical design consultant Paul Duchscherer on restoration, rehabilitation and alterations to one of the most historically significant structures in Santa Rosa.

McDonald Mansion, Santa Rosa, California

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Mableton’s Evolving Plan

The floor plan illustrates the various additions that occurred to the McDonald Mansion after its initial construction.

Evolution of the McDonald Mansion Plan

It also shows the configuration of the house in 2005, at the onset of the design process for its current remodel. The process of researching the history of the house, its builders and occupants, its city and neighborhood, and the multiple layers of its physical changes over time, has been painstaking and gradual. While some of Mableton’s remaining mysteries may never be solved, the following descriptions summarize the primary findings resulting from historical research and from physical evidence observed on the site.

Area A represents the remaining extent of the original structure.

Area B represents the earliest changes, which were undertaken by Mark and Ralphine McDonald only a few years after the house was first built. Primary among these is the addition of a large formal dining room, placed on axis with the original main hall, and with its west wall in the form of an angled bay. Flanking the dining room are other added spaces, which include a master bedroom and bathroom on the south side and a breakfast room and butler’s pantry on the north side. All of these new first floor rooms are separated from the original main hall by a long transverse hallway. Like the former rear verandah it replaced, this hallway is aligned at either end with exterior stairs. To further facilitate interior circulation, the hallway also contains a staircase that provides access to newly developed second floor spaces.

The McDonalds’ growing family had outgrown the confines of the home’s original plan, and this likely fueled the initial expansion plans. Beyond the needs met by the new first floor additions, the previously undeveloped attic level provided ample space for additional family bedrooms. Above the original structure, a bedroom was place in each corner (with the central space above the main hall occupied by a large skylight). The second floor of the new (yellow-shaded) addition allowed for a large sitting room above the dining room, with a bedroom on either side. As the second floor rooms were developed, it was necessary to add dormer windows to each, which resulted in significant changes to the appearance of the original roofline.

Area C indicates a subsequent minor addition by Mark and Ralphine, a south-facing bay window off the master bedroom.

Area D indicates further changes made to the house while under the ownership of Mark Jr. and Isabelle McDonald. They relocated the kitchen from its original basement site to a new addition adjacent to the breakfast room, added a new master bath and closet space, expanded verandah space on the south side, and added a balcony off the breakfast room on the north side. It is likely that Mark Jr. and Isabelle also added two second floor bathrooms (on the north and south side) between the bedrooms added above the original portion of the house. While dormers matching those of the upstairs bedrooms were added for these bathrooms, their asymmetrical placement disrupted the roof’s previously balanced configuration.

Area E represents additions made in the 1970s-1980s, in the years following the McDonald family’s ownership of the property. These included expanded spaces for the master bedroom closet, dressing, and bath areas.

Area F indicates the locations of original exterior staircases that were removed during the remodels of the 1970s-1980s.


Area G indicates where earlier, poorly planned additions made to the rear (west side) of the house were removed. This was a particularly important exposure in that it adjoined a combination of public (Dining Room), private (Master Bedroom), and utility (Kitchen) spaces.

Area H represents the new additions that supplanted these spaces, and resolved various space planning problems. Central among these was a lack of any direct connection to outdoor living spaces on the building’s rear (west) side. This was resolved by the addition of a raised outdoor terrace that extends primarily from the Dining Room (on the same level), and includes direct access to the garden level via a pair of exterior staircases. This terrace also provides exterior circulation for newly reconfigured Kitchen/Family Room area (north side) and Master Bedroom suite (south side). The addition includes an equivalent expansion of living spaces situated directly below, which adjoin the garden at ground level. Comprised of two small wings with a connective link, the new addition re-establishes a sense of symmetrical balance that had been lost on the rear façade. While significant, the massing of this addition remains respectfully subordinate to that of the remaining historic structure.

Next: Mableton’s Latest Changes