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Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"Northern California is one of the most expensive places in the world to build," says architect Olle Lundberg. "My work tends to cost in the range of $700 per square foot." But not this large, open-plan weekend house in the wine-country town of Healdsburg. By eschewing costly materials and labor-intensive building processes, Lundberg Design was able to bring the project in for a relatively cheap $200 per square foot—and include several environmentally friendly features that should lower long-term energy and maintenance costs.
Ever at home with alternative solutions—his own residence is a decommissioned car ferry purchased in Iceland and docked in San Francisco Bay—Lundberg turned to industrial building technology typically associated with warehouses. In effect, he built a two-story, 4,700-square-foot shed on a 30-acre site with awesome views of Dry Creek Valley, home to some of Sonoma's top vineyards. At under $1 million, partial prefab never looked so good.
The structure's exterior consists of tongue-and-groove galvanized steel forming a straight- forward rectangle, four walls and a roof. The 6-inch-thick panels are filled with polystyrene foam that keeps things cool in summer, when daytime high temperatures average 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and warmer in the winter rainy season, when the mercury dips to 40 degrees. "They have an R value of 50, the same as for a refrigerated warehouse," Lundberg says. Since they were pre-finished inside and out, they required no paint or drywall—the exposed industrial surfaces were part of the scheme.
To maximize views, Lundberg installed a two-story expanse of gridded glass in the center of the house's rear elevation, which faces east. Although not south-facing, as conventional eco wisdom would dictate, the glazed wall still confers solar-heat and daylight benefits. (Sometimes, those benefits can be too much of an asset, which is where an 8-foot-deep overhang comes into play.) At night, Lundberg says, "You practically don't need lights. Reflected moonlight and exterior lighting are almost enough."
On the front of the house, gridded glass reappears in the middle of the upper level, above the recessed entry. Its 8-foot-high double doors are aluminum with translucent glass panels, and the punched plane and materials shift make the metal box seem less monolithic.
Inside, Lundberg worked with a minimal materials palette. The ground-level flooring is concrete. Maple is used on the second level, white marble tile in the bathrooms. The skylight-capped staircase is steel with concrete treads.
Lundberg's economy of materials even extended to the oak and stainless-steel kitchen cabinetry, "recycled" floor samples for a discontinued line. However, he certainly did not skimp on scale. "One of the great things about metal building technology is that volume is relatively inexpensive," he explains. "The cost difference between an 8-foot ceiling and a 12-foot ceiling is very minor."
The ceiling reaches a stupendous 25 feet in the living area at the center of the three-bay floor plan. In the bays to either side—one holding the kitchen and dining zone, the other holding the den—the ceiling drops to a practically intimate 12 feet. The long open space is articulated by steel framing and furniture groups: the sinuous maple plywood and the angular steel, aluminum, and glass of the dining chairs and table; the white leather-covered seating in the living area; and the chunky red rubber-coated form of the lounge chair anchoring the den.
Directly over the den and the kitchen-dining zone are three bedrooms. The scale of these rooms dictated oversize windows, so Lundberg used standard sliding glass doors—the "cheapest way to do really big windows," he explains. They provide great ventilation as a bonus.
What went up in about a year can be dismantled even faster. Should that ever happen, the steel is recyclable, and the concrete can be ground up. Proof that green isn't only the color of money.