On our first interview, I discovered the clients for this home, a professional couple, lived in a traditional red brick colonial. Initially perplexed, I soon realized they had chosen me because they envisioned their new home from the outset as a contemporary response to their land and the needs of their extended family.
The Strathmoor House is located on a gently sloped parcel in the area devastated by the 1991 Oakland firestorm. When we began the design process in 1996, the area was only partially rebuilt and remained studded with charred remnants of houses and landscaping. Our design needed to respond to effects from the few immediate neighbors who had rebuilt as well as the advancing redevelopment of the area.
The extended street frontage of the shallow site left the building area particularly exposed to the noise and view of passing vehicles and pedestrians on the uphill side. The initial design criteria required privacy from the street and attention to the western views of the San Francisco Bay. To establish privacy we introduced a curved shell wall, clad with cement board panels, that conforms to the street edge and presents an opaque textural surface. The shell wall is a study of carefully moderated transparency, both acoustic and visual, with minimal windows set on the module of the cement panels. The entry breaks through the wall, again a study in transparency with a combination of clear and translucent glass set in a steel frame. Above and behind this wall are two vaulted metal rooflines that hint at a dramatic interior volume. This is a home that has its back to the street; an opaque shell that, when opened, reveals a surprise of volume and transparency.
The entry sequence blurs the distinction between indoors and out. Rough cement plaster walls extend inside to become the walls of the entry volume. Envisioned as a space between the buildings, like an exterior plaza, the entry volume organizes the flow through the home. The experience of this “outdoor space” is enhanced and strengthened by building elements that address the space with raw finishes typical of building exteriors. Rough cement plaster, metal siding, stained concrete floors, and galvanized stairs all provide a seamless transition from the streetside entry through to the view side of the home and a two-story window wall opening to the garden. Facing south, this window wall shines daylight into the surrounding spaces and dramatically opens views to the San Francisco Bay. We tied the second-story living area to the ground floor and garden with a grand staircase that descends from the upper patio. Developing tension, even vertigo, circulation between the kitchen and outdoor patio is constrained to a narrow metal bridge of perforated steel. This bridge provides an unusual, suspended view back into the core of this hillside home.
Landscape design is by Topher Delaney