Modernizing the Craftsman

During the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century, Craftsman homes emerged as “landscape art” with design ideals including creativity, integrity and simplicity. Today, many designers and manufacturers attempt to mimic the Craftsman style by copying the look but ignoring the basic ideals of the period.

Robert Myer, principal of LoftStyleHome, imagined utilizing a hillside in Walnut Creek, Calif., to create his vision of the first modern Craftsman home. Myer’s design talents, matched with his determination, allowed him to fearlessly forge ahead to create the showcase home he envisioned. Located in San Francisco’s East Bay region, LoftStyleHome is a design/build firm specializing in high-end home design with expertise in custom-crafted interiors. 

As Myer saw the project, it would utilize natural building products as design elements in the Arts & Crafts style, but also would feature advanced home technology available today. And with the lot abutting a hillside, the home needed to blend with the landscape and take advantage of the panoramic view of the Bay Area.

“We wanted the homey feel of a Craftsman with open spaces and 21st century technology,” Myer says.

With more than 20 years of experience in the building industry, Myer’s interest in building began early as he was born into a family owning a chain of lumberyards in Northern California. “I literally grew up on the floor of the lumberyard,” he explains. These early experiences groomed him to become the visionary builder who wears many hats.

“I was the builder and developer which was the only way I could make my dream come true,” he adds. To realize his vision of the Modern Craftsman, Myer personally selected the lot for the house and then acted as general contractor and designer. After sketching a rough floor plan and design, Myer then partnered with LRS Architecture to get the plans on paper. 

One of Myer’s strongest supporters on the project was his financing agent, Harland Wilke, who later took on the role of project superintendent. Wilke also bears a heritage based in the building industry as his father and grandfather were plasterers and he began his career in the drywall business. “Rob (Myer) approached me about getting in on this and it sounded like a fun project,” Wilke explains.

In spite of outsiders’ recommendations that the project be altered to a less radical design, Myer held firm. “My peers in the building community came through the site and much of the advice they offered was to pare down the design in order to appeal to a larger number of prospective buyers, but we wanted something new and fresh.” While Myer recognized his design may not appeal to a mass audience of home buyers, his design ideals superseded sales concerns.

Some aspects of the house required redesigning during the construction process, Myer says. “Before we broke ground, we had a model, a shell and we really didn’t deviate. The interior changed somewhat but the exterior never really changed from the model.”

Occasionally the team needed to alter design plans for practicality reasons. The original blueprint called for only one laundry room, and Myer realized this plan was not sensible for a family in a three-story home. “I felt it was important to have two laundry rooms with one adjacent to each cluster of bedrooms, so I added a full-size laundry room to the third floor.”

To make the home’s height less daunting, Myer developed the plans to include smaller sets of stairs instead of one long staircase. “We wanted to break up the stairs so we staggered the levels,” Myer explains. “It’s on a very steep hillside, so we have a three-story house broken into seven levels.”

Myer takes pride in the property and particularly in one sizable room defying obvious designation, located right off the great room. He details the space: “The open voluminous room could be utilized in many different ways, which is one reason we didn’t stage furniture in the room. We wanted people to define its use themselves as it could be a dining room, living room, game room or just a great room to sit in and read with all those windows. Its use is really very flexible.”

The 3,800-sq.-ft. structure, located in Walnut Creek, Calif., utilizes natural elements including knotty hickory flooring, alder cabinetry and exposed-beam ceilings in true Craftsman style, and blends modern amenities into the design. The home’s sleek kitchen features color-infused concrete countertops and a stainless steel backsplash, while the master bath features flat sinks, a slate shower with pulsating jets and shares a double-sided fireplace with the master bedroom.

“I chose products that I felt were going to give the aesthetic I was seeking,” Myer says. His hand-selected products include a Kohler WaterHaven shower, Jacuzzi bath and Andersen windows as well as Techshield radiant barrier sheathing on the roof.

Wilke adds, “I think visitors will be very impressed by the kitchen. The Wolfe range with commercial-looking hood and the stainless steel appliances look incredible.”

For comfort, energy efficiency and security, the home also features many state-of-the-art building technologies. Fully automated communication and monitoring systems include an expandable, wireless alarm system and a structured wiring system that allows lighting to be controlled from any Internet connection.

In order to maximize the view and climate offered by the East Bay, the LoftStyleHome team needed to work with nature. “The slope of the lot was very challenging, trying to get the house to look comfortable on the steep slope,” Myer says. “And the Bay Area is such a mild climate, I wanted a lot of outdoor living space so we put on decks and other outdoor attachments, including more than 800 sq. ft. of decking and patio.”

Myer and Wilke are quick to share credit for the project’s success with the hands-on builders contracted for the project including Steve Sauvain from American Construction, and Tim Dennis and Johnny Freeman of Tim Dennis Construction.

“It was a real collaborative effort because I chose subcontractors based on what we’d done in the past,” Myer explains. “Steve Sauvain and I have such a long-standing relationship, I can relay messages historically when elements needed to be like past projects. I could say ‘Remember when …’ and he knew just what we needed.”

The cooperative atmosphere also helped when the house’s wine closet was built and needed to be removed and constructed several times. Myer’s appreciation for his team shows. “The wine closet was built three or four times. Johnny Freeman was such an easygoing guy and recognized the necessity. Having the right guys made it easier to put it up and then take it down and change it.”

“The finish carpenters were outstanding,” Wilke agrees. “Looking at all the trim work, it’s impeccable — like the crown moulding and the trim around the doors — there are no flaws at all in the workmanship.”

And when a drainage issue caused unexpected water to rise through the concrete floor, Wilke stepped up to solve the problem. “It took a lot of time and effort to figure out where the water was coming from and how to get rid of it,” Wilke says. “We created a basin underneath the slab and diverted the water into the drainage system.”

Thanks to the collaborative relationship between everyone involved, Myer was able to finally realize his goal of blending the advancements of modern technology with classic Craftsman design. Spanning three years from land acquisition to completion, the successful creation of a modern Craftsman home required a strong design/build relationship and a belief in the designer’s dream. 

“Without a partner like Harland (Wilke) who embraced my vision and trusted me, we couldn’t have created something so impressive.”