In the fall of 1991 a horrific firestorm swept over the hills of Oakland and Berkeley, destroying over three thousand homes and burning six thousand acres in one afternoon and evening. The affected cities decided to streamline the building process and allow residents to quickly reconstruct their homes and lives. Many fire victims chose to rebuild and others moved away and sold their land. This created a significant opportunity for local architects and builders to reconstruct these neighborhoods. The firestorm had left a clean slate for many.
The site we found in the fire area was to be a home for our family, and we too had a clean slate. Remnants of the foundation provided only minor clues to the house that had once been there. The denuded landscape had opened up previously obstructed views of the San Francisco Bay. For the first time, we intended to live in a home indefinitely, and we wanted to build something appropriate to the site that resonated with our personal aesthetics as well. I had become fascinated in the mid-1990s with the old industrial buildings of California’s Central Valley. Their grace and timelessness drew me on repeated, long drives into the valley, eventually resulting in the book Structures of Utility. For the Norfolk house, I envisioned a juxtaposition of these agrarian forms reaching westward—gesturing towards the bay view.
Conventional in plan, the house is unconventional in structure and form. Vaulted ceilings supported by exposed bowstring trusses are mixed with integrally colored rough plaster walls and unpainted wood surfaces. The living room is wrapped with a floor-to-ceiling window wall and a mitered glass corner to capture the magnificent bay and city views. The second-floor curvilinear balcony is delineated in bright purple to add an additional touch of visual excitement to an already dramatic space.
At the suggestion of landscape architect Topher Delaney, we made the entry sequence indirect, with the driveway entering from the side street. This approach created a protected entry court in the spirit of a European piazza. From the court up to the house is a cascading stair, its landings reinforced by wood and steel trellis elements.