“I like the term ‘warm modernism,’” says Phil Rossington, AIA, who designed the home on Myrtle Street in Redwood City, Calif., when describing its style. No cold glass and hard steel edges in this house. Instead, comfort and functionality drive the design of this single-family home.
Originally a renovation project for Rossington Architecture in San Francisco (rossingtonarchitecture.com), extensive termite damage necessitated a teardown of the existing structure and construction of a totally new house. Anthony Murphy, president, A. Murphy Construction in Point Richmond, Calif. (murphyconstruction.com), who was educated in Ireland as a construction technician, managed construction. The warm modernism style attracted Murphy for several reasons.
“Most of our work is modern. It’s a little more challenging than working with classic casing and baseboard and wood coverings. A minimal style means there’s less room for error and it won’t be as easy to cover any errors you might make. But I prefer the challenge,” he says.
Modern homes can be sterile. “If you walk into a house or structure and don’t feel comfortable, you failed,” he insists. “You can have nice lines that are very clean, but if the space is uncomfortable and not cozy, in my mind that’s not a success. A home that’s too cold can look crisp and clean but the warmth is gone. I’m not an architect, but those are my thoughts on it.”
Myrtle Street runs through an eclectic neighborhood in which every style and bastardization thereof is present, Rossington observes. Neighbors were concerned how modern this home would be, so he arranged a meeting with them to discuss the design process.
“I have always [had similar meetings with neighbors], in San Francisco especially,” he notes. “People come out of the woodwork to protest almost anything. So if you’re proactive and send drawings to the neighbors, they can speak up in an environment you control. I even make my clients talk to the neighbors.”
The design concept was to wrap the house around a courtyard in the back. All rooms flow onto the back deck in the courtyard which serves as an extension of the indoor space. On the front of the home, a porch commands the attention.
At once, the porch both engages with the neighborhood and creates privacy behind it. The porch concept emerged early in the design process to reverse the effect of the previous structure which turned its back on the street. The porch is rooted aesthetically to the site using long horizontal lines that also reach to the ground and attach themselves, Rossington says. Aiding this cause is the wood railings on the porch that match the fence encircling the property. “It helps relate the home to the site; it reinforces that they’re designed together.”
Effort also was made to relate the home to the neighborhood, and to fit snugly into the context of the single-story homes on either side.
A detached garage creates a space in which to store cars and a woodshop, and provides green benefits by eliminating infiltration of harmful fumes into the living space. The woodshop can be accessed through French doors opening to the courtyard described previously.
The owners came to the table wanting a green home, Rossington remembers. “They wanted to make it affordable as well, not doing unnecessary things for the sake of making it green. They made smart decisions,” he says.
Rossington calls attention to a few examples of this home’s green elements, including: the porch overhang and sun screens on windows “which stick out 2 ft. but dapple the sun just enough”; operable clerestory windows that allow hot air to rush out for natural cooling, and also provide natural lighting; percolation pits in front and back that grab water off the roof and slowly release it into the ground to minimize runoff; and solar panels to generate electricity.
“Much of the green in this home is common-sense green,” Murphy says. “Even the way the home sits on site to take advantage of natural lighting and passive cooling is green. It just makes sense.”
Secrets of success
Murphy feels strongly that the three main entities on any project — designer, builder and owner — must be on the same page from day one. “Too often, you have the architect and client on the same page while the builder is a square peg. When you have those three people heading in the same direction toward a common goal, that’s when you have success. On this project, we had success because communication levels were kept open. There was a lot of, ‘What do you think of this or that? This approach might be less expensive.’ Creative ideas were allowed to flow in all directions will little stress,” Murphy says.
“One point I’d like to make is that lowbidding — the bid system — is such a walking disaster,” he insists. “The most important thing a client can do is to perform due diligence on the builder, and to research the work they’ve done. The biggest factor shouldn’t be the dollar. Anyone can lowball.”
Residential construction: 75%
Single-family construction: 80%
New construction: 15%
Design/Build projects: 50%
A. Murphy Construction
Point Richmond, Calif.
Residential construction: 80%
Single-family construction: 90%
New construction: 50%
Location: Redwood City, Calif.
Size: 2,500 sq. ft.
Cost (not land): $1.1 million
Brick/stone/stucco: Cultured Stone
Locksets & hardware: Baldwin
Insulation: Owens Corning
Paint/stain: Benjamin Moore
HVAC: Carrier, Rinnai, Dayton
Doors: T.M. Cobb
Exhaust hood: Sirius
Microwave oven: Panasonic
Tubs: Americh, American Standard
Toilets: Toto, Coroma
Shower faucets: Grohe
Sinks: Porcher, Catalano
Sink faucets: Grohe
SENSIBLE GREEN FEATURES
Photovoltaic solar panels (3.7kW)
Fly ash in the foundation
On-demand water heater
Low-E dual glazing on windows
Heat-gain mitigation sunscreens
More than 70% of nonbuilt area is permeable
Water-runoff percolation pits
Operable clerestory windows
Large sun-shade porch overhang