Bay Area Modern Cottage

Back in the late 1980s, our clients bought a former workman’s cottage on a flat lot where they lived and raised a family. They enjoyed seeing Mt. Tam from the backyard and could walk to the trails and downtown shops. They discovered over the course of years that the house had an undersized foundation and a too high water table that caused the foundation to deteriorate to the point of no return. With the children on their own, they came to us looking to build an entirely new 3 bedroom house with open living space to enjoy their local community in this new stage of their lives. By doing so, they would get the space they always wanted, in a quality house that will age gracefully.


The program the owners presented was very simple: they wanted a modern open space living/kitchen/dining/backyard, and three bedrooms. We were presented a challenge in the form of a small site and the town’s design guidelines advocating for well proportioned houses that respect neighbor’s views. Reading through the guidelines made it clear traditional house styles were preferred though not required and two story houses needed to be designed sensitively with regard to the local neighborhood context. It took some thought and numerous back and forth design discussions with our clients to conceive a scheme that satisfied all criteria. Our approach was to co-opt the cottage style form and place the reduced second story under a simple gable roof set back from the front of the house. In this way, the apparent bulk of the high roof peak could be reduced. Any dormers would then be pushed back further so as to reduce their visual impact. This approach to the massing also minimized shadowing on neighboring properties.


We accommodated for fairly small bedrooms by vaulting the ceilings upstairs and adding a bay window to the downstairs bedroom. This bay serves to further project the traditional form. Additionally, upstairs daylight is borrowed between rooms to give a more open feeling and the entire back wall in the master bedroom was made glass to embrace the view. In the front bedroom, the window is maximized.


To update the cottage style, we relied on streamlined, minimal, clean detailing that emphasized the crisp geometry of the massing. A modern concept is read through a traditional form. The upper level exterior walls are clad using sustainably harvested solid wood lap siding with clear sealer. The wood gives a lighter weight appearance above the ground floor walls which are clad with integral color three coat stucco with steel trowel texture. The stucco of the lower story has a heavier visual weight emphasizing it as a “base” from which the gable form springs. The roofing is made of gray standing seam aluminum and all other exterior architectural metals are painted to match. The front door is a custom solid wood unit and all windows have dark painted aluminum frames and sashes. We selected the colors from a family of grays to present a muted organized package.


The front of the house faces a public bike/walking path across the street. On the second floor is a roof deck that takes advantage of this opportunity to foster neighborhood interaction while also providing access to the exterior from the second floor. On the sides of the building, we used high, broad windows to bring natural light into the spaces while maintaining privacy with adjacent properties. In the master bedroom in back, a shallow but broad upper level balcony gives a comfortable perch to enjoy the yard and views.


We thank our clients and the general contractor, Designline Construction!