Monday, November 16, 2009

House in the East Bay Hills

Fernau & Hartman Architects recently completed the redesign of this Northern California home. With breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay and a colorful past, the house was reimagined as a light and open environment suited to the owners' art collection as well as the surrounding landscape.


When our clients, a couple approaching retirement, moved back to the Bay Area from Los Alamos, NM, they were drawn to this secluded site and mid-century modernist house that had briefly been the home of Robert Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty in the 1950’s and was originally designed for the painter and art theorist Erle Loran. Perched high above a dense three- acre oak woodland, the two-story house, with garage below and living spaces above, was dark and mostly chopped up into small rooms. The two exceptions were the living / dining room and an adjacent painting studio, awkwardly added by Loran, standing high above the ground on rectangular piers. The studio was oriented for north light and completely turned its back on wide panoramic views of San Francisco Bay to the south and west. One of the remaining elements is the brick fireplace, at one time the site of meetings that drew the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The owners were fond of both the original house and the associations they had, through Los Alamos, with the previous occupants, but they wanted a house that was much lighter, more open, that would allow for their art collection and that connected better to both the immediate oak-filled site and the more distant landscape.
Panoramic views on the upper level are framed and carefully selected and external sunshades of cedar slats protect from the predominantly southern sun. The kitchen and living area each open to new ipe decks, where the oak canopy, at railing height, results in a nest-like enclosure in the treetops with views out to the Bay and San Francisco in the distance.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Piper House

Fernau & Hartman Architects recently completed this custom Northern California home. Offering stunning views and opportunities for outdoor living, the house engages its site while responding to the lifestyle of an active family.


Located in an oak woodland just beyond the manicured sprawl of suburbia, the Piper House stretches out snake-like along the contours of the East Bay Hills of Northern California. As the house weaves between the trees of the north-facing slope, it finds patches of sun and catches stunning distant views. The dominating presence of Mt. Diablo rises to the east while a dense forest of pigmy oaks runs uphill to the south. Summers here are hot and winters are mild, allowing for outdoor living much of the year.

A robust family of five with roots in South Africa, the clients were accustomed to outdoor living and wanted a house that facilitates dining and lounging outside. Moving freely between the indoors and outdoors, they see their home as a base camp and cook nearly as often on the outside grill as they do on the kitchen range. Feeling connected to the site was also a high priority. Despite needing to be large enough to accommodate the family, the relatively exposed nature of the site suggested to us an alternatively quiet and recessive house.

The combination of these desires led quickly to a linear plan that hugs closely to the contours of the site and carves along its length a continuous outdoor room. The thin section facilitates daylighting, solar gain, and natural ventilation. The house wraps around the slope under a single roof with deep eaves that create shelter, dip for sun protection, and rise for views. This undulating shed forms a southern, uphill courtyard that is the primary living space onto which all major interior spaces open. The family, like sandpipers at the edge of surf, constantly move in and out, sitting, eating, cooking, showering, and sleeping, depending on the time of day and the time of year.