Marin Modern

Marin Modern

I love modern architecture. I don’t usually write about local architects, but I just had to do a little exploration of a local project. I discussed a project with Sean Kennedy of CCS Architecture and Pete Kasten of Kasten Builders. Up in the hills of Marin, they just finished a modern residence that combines modernism with newer sustainable practices while exceeding an extraordinary level of luxury.

This modern home is a four bedroom three bath with office, art studio, pool and a two car garage. The owners chose to retain the pool with the reworked pool house as a place to change and lounge. The views practically surrounds this property with the master bedroom upstairs situated on the north end to have a nice view of Mt. Tamalpias. The project team carefully weighed the choice between remodel and tear down and found a new structure from the ground up would be more cost effective and practical.

Northwest Exterior
Northwest Exterior

I think Cass and Sean did a great job on creating a design that continues to fearlessly push modern architecture to be more responsive to local environment and sustainability while maintaining modernism’s high ideals and elegance. This is not a box that was just plopped down on a random lot. As with any sophisticated design, it responds to the site and climate while providing a well worked out relationship of spaces internally.

The form of the house has a North South linear orientation, with main living spaces on the main floor, bedrooms and office upstairs, with the studio and additional bedrooms downstairs. The entry is given significance and warmth by a large wood and glass pivot door. The main floor is offset from the upper and lower floors to give the impression of several large sculptural slabs resting on one another with the floor to ceiling inset window over the entry giving the impression entry importance and great light while making a statement with the main floor based on solidity and presence.

Detail Window shade
Detail Window shade

There are many great details such as the upstairs sun shades. These are custom designed by CCS Architecture and fabricated for the client. It’s a strong and thick sheet of aluminum mounted flat above the windows with the outermost third of the sheet perforated with a screen pattern of small diameter holes. The functional aspect seems to work well, and the look is very clean.

Exterior detail, the West bend
Exterior detail, the West bend

There were several challenges to the site including the slope and trees. CCS had a nuanced and graceful response to one of the redwood groves that inhabit the property by putting a bend in the front face of the house. It’s not noticeable from inside but gives the mass an interesting distinction and gives extra space to trees that they want to keep for a long time.

Northwest Exterior second floor deck to open house
Northwest Exterior second floor deck to open house

This is California, so the architects truly exploit the advantage of the good climate by making the all of the main rooms open onto the spacious patio that merges seamlessly with the deck over the lower floor. Wow, I’d love to be at a party there. Sean told me that there was a lot of deliberation over the window manufacturer. Expansive yet well insulated large sliding glass panels that are easy to use (lift and push), have high precision, and are well insulated, have been a real challenge to find. After much deliberation over the performance and discussion with the client, they chose Goldbrecht. It was all shipped in a 40’ long shipping container from Germany, and is both better built and significantly less expensive than local manufacturers.

Interior main stairwell
Interior main stairwell

Looking through from the deck the windows frame the grove of redwoods and shape the light for refined entry statement. I always get a little annoyed when I see pictures of stairs in magazines for the united states that don’t show any railing or little enclosure. This always means that they either shot the project prior to installation of railing or it’s in another country. So internally I groan when a client points to such picture and says that they want ‘that’. So here’s a good looking stairwell that is also legal in the States.

Dining to open
Dining to open

The house feels expansive without feeling cavernous, and the fenestration makes the relationship to the outside seems so effortless. The floor transition from inside to outside does not hide the inescapable reality of how the door tracks need to provide good waterproofing, and the detail works well. Noticeable but not intrusive are the skylights in the deck. A closer look shows how well the selection of skylights and pedestal deck system work together and that the spacing of the tiles is part of how the skylights are placed.

Exterior deck skylights West second floor
Exterior deck skylights West second floor
Exterior detail roof deck skylight and pedistal deck
Exterior detail roof deck skylight and pedistal deck
Detail pedistal decking
Detail pedistal decking

Great design is exhibited by being able to accomplish more functionality and beauty with less cost, energy, material, or labor. However, it’s not always easy to understand unless you take it apart: Considering the deck system, it’s nice to see details such as balancing the tiles across so as to hide the concrete curb beneath the concrete tiles. This speaks to the effort made by modernist architects to solve more complicated problems with more elegant solutions.

Interior First Floor Office and Au Pair
Interior First Floor Office and Au Pair

The skylights give what would be wonderful rooms and make them magical. The downstairs studio and office are warm and responsive with the natural light. Yes, I know, I hear some of you saying, “exposed concrete inside?” and I say “YES!”, be brave, be interesting! It makes for great contrast. I get tired of the old knee jerk reaction of plastering and smoothing it all out. It’s all part of a larger composition, and I like it. Concrete may seem cold, but it doesn’t if you’re comfortable due to the warmth or cool from the hydronic heating in the floor.

Living room
Living room

The same long thin skylights are used in the living room, giving a subtle continuity. These shots were taken prior to the client moving in, so please forgive the lack of furniture or other staging. I thought I would be remiss if I didn’t show the living room. It’s a wonderful space.

Detail deck copper and window
Detail deck copper and window
Sheet copper siding was chosen as the primary exterior cladding, which is quite striking. This also gives the home a more approachable visual variation, contrasting nicely with the concrete and stucco.  Kasten Builders did an outstanding job of applying the copper with fine detail and making sure that the stucco was executed practically without flaw. For the copper, a clear finish was chosen so that the copper would turn green over a period of many years rather than months. Even still, the crew used gloves to install the copper, with a protective finish, yet there is still the unavoidable evidence of touch which gives the surface a much more interesting patina.
Exterior detail copper reflection
Exterior detail copper reflection

Note how the copper in the lower left creates interesting patterns of reflection. Warning to my clients, I may suggest this cladding… 😉

Exterior South ramp to Office
Exterior South ramp to Office
I can’t pass up mentioning that this sustainably designed home includes a fairly sophisticated natural gas powered fuel cell system. Mark mentioned,“Since the fuel cell creates electricity with heat as a byproduct, the fact that both the electricity and byproduct are both used makes the system very efficient.”  If I get a chance, I may go into more detail on another article.
Interior Kitchen from Dining
Interior Kitchen from Dining

The kitchen is open, warm and inviting, and centrally situated in the plan of the house, reflecting current trends in use. The overall palette of materials both inside and out gives the modernity warmth .

Detail Kitchen Range and Island
Detail Kitchen Range and Island
Detail kitchen range
Detail kitchen range

The following are several more shots of details that caught my attention, enjoy.

Detail Door Hardware
Detail Door Hardware
Detail Master Bedroom Sconce
Detail of Sconce used in Master Bedroom
Detail Railing at office
Detail Railing at office
Detail Skylight in Master Bath
Detail Skylight in Master Bath
There are old tricks used in new ways such as splitting a skylight between two rooms, which is nice to see, the master bath benefits from the sunlight from above in both the shower and the water closet.
Interior Master Bath
Interior Master Bath

I can’t wait to see some of the up coming projects by CCS and Kasten Builders, I’m sure they’ll please.

Front - Northeast Exterior
Front – Northeast Exterior

All Photography: Copyright 2011 Brant Fetter.


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