Houzz is glad to partner with the American Institute of Architects San Francisco and cover their upcoming Marin Living Home Tours
. Over the next few weeks we will introduce you to the houses that will be featured on the tour and interview the architects. That way, those of you who are not lucky enough to make it on the tour can experience it virtually. Also, in each one of these interviews, one lucky reader will win a ticket for the May 15 tour. See more details at the end of this interview.
The first house in our Marin Home Tour Interview Series is called The Hillside House and was designed by SB Architects
. It is the home of SB Architects' president Scott Lee and is on track to be the first Platinum LEED certified
home in Marin County.
The house has such an interesting relationship with the steep hillside it was built into, and there is an interesting play between inside and out. It's inspired by the bay view, the topography, the planted form on the site and a desire to leave as small a carbon footprint on the land as possible. It also contains a collection of interesting geometric volumes that manage to make up a stunning residence. The house is modern yet warm, with thoughtful details throughout (be sure to check out the rope drawer pulls in the laundry room).
We are happy to introduce you today to Scott Lee from SB Architecture.
Wow! I am guessing this house is relatively large, yet you managed to make it Platinum LEED-worthy! Please tell us about some of the details, materials, and systems that make this home sustainable.
The house is really quite small by custom home standards. It's just 3 BR and 3.5 BA. We didn't want or need a large home. The 3rd bedroom is a guestroom suite and is detached from the main house so we don't really use it unless we have guests and therefore don't use energy to heat, cool, or light it unless we are using it. The house appears to be large from the exterior because of the variety of decks and terraces at all levels. I am writing this from the master terrace which makes the 12x12 master bedroom feel much larger. Efficient design and not building more than you need is very sustainable. From a system perspective we have employed solar hot
water, radiant floor heating, solar electric by Solar City, fresh air intake and exhaust to supplement the many operable exterior doors and windows, natural day lighting, high efficacy lighting in the form of LED and fluorescent, recirculating hot water loop, energy star appliances by Whirlpool, super insulated walls and roofs, super insulated doors and windows that are thermally broken by Fleetwood and Nana, reclaimed exposed roof framing, no VOC interior paint by Mythic, FSC Certified cabinet cores, engineered Walnut flooring, high fly ash content in all concrete, home automation system that controls lighting and sun shades, close proximity to services and public transportation to limit automobile usage, low-flow plumbing fixtures by Kohler, High recycled content in all concrete counters by Concreteworks, High recycled content in the exterior stone, drip irrigation and no lawn.
Please give our readers who cannot make it to the tour a quick description of the neighborhood/context of the site.
The site is a very steep uphill slope that is nearly 50%. The site had been previously developed. The street is narrow and steep and access and staging are limited. The site affords views of San Francisco from all levels. The house is oriented to the South/West. Walking to the center of Mill Valley takes 4.5 minutes. Many houses on the street date back to the 20's and 30's and the lots are relatively small. The neighbors are lovely and have been both supportive and patient with us. We know more people on our street in Mill Valley after only living here for a few months than we ever know on our street in San Francisco where we lived for 20 years. The entire city is heavily wooded and we are blessed with a large heritage oak that frames views, provides shade, and gives the house a sense of permanence and maturity.
When I look at this house, I see all kinds of geometric play. My eyes break it down into blocks, yet at the same time I see the house as a unified whole. I'm so curious, what is your process when you are determining this kind of balanced massing? I'm imagining small model blocks and constantly changing collages - how do you do it?
As an architect I am concerned about classical relationships of order and symmetry and balance. We wanted to be sympathetic to those classical values, yet not replicate a house from last century. We wanted to make a house that respected the neighborhood and the context yet celebrated today's technology and 21st century architectural expression - - while not being cold and sterile. It was our intention to step the house back into the hillside and to break the massing with multiple roof forms and planes. The contrast between shade and shadow gives the house depth and dimension. The heritage oak presented massing challenges that ultimately worked in our favor as it has become the central feature around which the house has been sculpted.
Besides sustainability, what other considerations went into choosing the materials? How do they relate to the site?
We wanted to make a sustainable house but we did not want sustainability to define the aesthetic. We chose natural materials and colors that would age gracefully and patina over time. The Western Red Cedar siding is a modern interpretation of traditional shingles or clapboard siding. The dark grey and black of the trim and windows and doors gives the house an elegance familiar in the shingle style. We wanted a warm home that would comfortable to raise children and did not aspire to museum quality finishes. Erin Martin added quirky interior design elements that made the house less serious and more playful and inviting.
At risk of sounding a bit wackadoo, as I browsed the images of this house I thought of an REM T-shirt I have from the '80s that says "EARTH AIR FIRE WATER". I kept seeing these elements indoors and out and in
between. Were you playing with these elements or was I listening to REM while looking at your images?
I love REM! We love the outdoors and nature is what makes Marin so appealing. We wanted to bring to the house elements of nature such as the warmth of fire (three types - - fireplace, fire pit, and EcoSmart), the coolness of breezes, the thrill of showering and bathing outdoors, and the natural coolness that comes from being nestled against the earth.
Speaking of indoors and out, the lines between the two are certainly blurred with this house. How did you approach the relationship between the two?
We wanted to provide a variety of places to enjoy the elements in different ways. Covered porches, outside rooms, and sunny terraces allow our family and guests to take advantage of Marin weather in a variety of settings, most with views of San Francisco. Pocketing multi-sliders at both the Master and the Living Room extend those important spaces to adjacent terraces that are furnished for comfort and activity.
When designing residences, what kinds of features do you feel make a house a home?
It's the quirky things that are unique to the family and that may not appeal to everyone - - but that's OK. A home is a place that has been crafted to allow a family to enjoy each other and live a lifestyle all their own. Places for
interaction are the most exciting to design. At the Hillside House we designed the upper level to be the great room. The kitchen, dining, living, family rooms and terraces are all connected to each other physically and visually so that we can entertain and lounge and cook and eat together. Erin Martin was great at helping us furnish the house with found objects that reflect our sensibilities. Everything in not new - - there are many garage sale and flea market pieces that are mixed with fine and polished new things and I think that the juxtaposition between old and new, light and dark, soft and hard, rough and smooth are the things that add texture and
Please tell those attending the tour some of your favorite details and/or features that they should take notice of while on the tour.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful home with us Scott!
- The connection between the garage and the upper levels of the house was difficult to design and build but well worth it in terms of functionality.
- The separation between the guestroom and the main house makes both guest and resident feel a sense of privacy.
- The exterior entry foyer and the salvaged wood and chain swing are fun.
- The sculptural staircase and chandelier connect all levels.
- Salvaged wood at the stairs and ceilings add warmth and reinforce the notion of the modern cabin.
- The synthetic lawn is the perfect no maintenance view terrace.
- Brian Kennedy is an artist and a friend who fabricated the black steel and grout master armoires, the fireplace surround and the entry door knob.
- Guests love the outdoor shower with a view of SF.
- The master shower with the NANA wall with open view make it function like an outdoor shower.
- The master tub is outside and custom made by Concreteworks.
- The kitchen is small but very efficient with concealed appliances and nooks and crannies.
- Rope cabinet pulls are a clever Erin Martin invention.
- The kids room ceiling wallpaper is unique and playful.
- Heath Ceramics installed by TEAM TED TILE is amazing and makes all the baths and laundry rooms exude a hand crafted sensibility.
- The master headboard is cow fur from Kyle Bunting.
- The outdoor family room at the upper level is playful and durable.
- Laundry chute connecting all levels was tough to work in, but functional.
- The elevator functions more like a dumb-waiter and is very utilitarian and makes vertical living with kids a little easier
The AIASF is giving away a ticket to the Marin home tour to one of the lucky readers that will share their thoughts about this house and interview.
For your chance to win the ticket to the Marin Living Home Tours, comment on this interview by Sunday, April 25, at 5pm EST.