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Simply smart design

The McDonell home in Sebastopol has feature such as natural ventilation, radiant slab heating, high-efficiency dual space/water heating, high-performance glazing local and recycled building materials.

Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 11:52 p.m.

The most winning residential designs along the North Coast have one notable thing in common — they're strikingly unpretentious.



Additional winners of the Redwood Empire chapter of the American Institute of Architects Design Awards Competition. For photos of all the winners visit
DeTurk Round Barn Restoration for Built Projects: TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa was honored for its work on the restoration of the 1891 DeTurk Round Barn, one of only two true round barns remaining in California and owned by the city of Santa Rosa. Located in DeMeo Park near Old Railroad Square, 819 Donahue Street.
MTA Maintenance Center in Ukiah for Built Projects: TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa designed this striking structure to house the maintenance center for public buses run by the Mendocino Transit Authority.
Sonoma Barn for Restoration/Rehabilitation: Michael Hennessey Architecture was recognized for the renovation of an existing pre-engineered metal barn into a music room, mezzanine, exercise room, and restrooms, for a professional musician. The building is located on a private vineyard in the hills above Sonoma.
Citation Awards
Yorkville Residence for Unbuilt Projects: Alan Nicholson Design Studio was singled out for its design work on this unbuilt home conceived for the coastal hills of Mendocino County. The 2750 square-foot residence was conceived as a sheltering nest with wings to lift the heat and water to anchor and reflect the earth. The cantilevered roof is supported by two internal columns to give an economy of structure and the house is sited to wrap around an excavated rock-knoll, following the contours of the land. The design was also a People's Choice award winner selected by the overall membership.
Bayer Park and Gardens: Siegel & Strain Architects were honored in the Unbuilt category for plans for a unique neighborhood park at 1550 West Street in the Roseland area of Santa Rosa. The new public community project reworks an historic homestead and an established community garden into a unique neighborhood park with a new community hall and environmental education buildings framing a central garden that connects the street to the heart of the park.
Agave Rose Vineyards Water Tower: Healdsburg architect Obie G. Bowman was recognized in the small project category for a St. Helena water tower, part of a three acre renovation project that includes a Victorian house, outbuildings, and vineyards. The project, which was also a People's Choice winner, consists of a gravity supplied domestic water system with a new tower and tank. The tower also provides occasional recreational use for both children and adults.
People's Choice Winners Selected by Vote of the Membership
Marks Residence: Architect Michael Barron-Wike came up with the plans for restoring and preserving one of the iconic Joseph Esherick designed homes called the “Demonstration Houses.” These six homes built among the existing cypress hedgerows in 1964, became prototypes for the rustic Sea Ranch look. The design concept became so influential that the Demonstration Houses were recognized in 2006 by Fine Homebuilding Magazine as one of “The 25 Most Important Houses in America.”
Williams Selyem Winery: Patrick Mervin + Associates and D.arc Group/RBA were the designers of this winery headquarters in Healdsburg. The complex includes a new 15,000 square foot wine production area that includes a wine production room and barrel storage rooms, a loading dock, laboratory, chemical storage area and shops. Another 15,000 square-foot administrative area includes a hospitality center, barrel tasting room, wine library and administrative offices. The campus was broken into separate structures to reduce the negative impact of the construction on a hillside dotted with 200-year-old oaks and massive lichen-covered rock outcroppings and incorporates 100-year-old redwood fermentation tank staves and stones from the site.
Private Sonoma Spa & Observatory: STUDIOS Architecture's design of a dramatic private observatory and Zen spa in Sonoma was also a People's Choice favorite of the membership. The project features a 4,000 square-foot concrete, stone and glass spa with a bath suite, home theater and lounge, and a separate corten steel observatory evocative of a Mayan pyramid.

Unpretentious does not have to mean unattractive, a fact evident in the homes singled out for honors in the recent Design Awards by the Redwood Empire chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Judges selected homes that were simple yet distinctive, designed to make smart use of space with precise and measured use of materials and details. They are also not lavishly large or expensive. In fact, at least two of the three top picks were built for less than $200 a square foot, half of what one might typically pay for a custom home.

“For so many years we were building these McMansions that were so big. Now a lot of people are realizing they don't need that much space,” said San Francisco architect Nick Noyes, whose modern, barn-style home set onto a saddle on the southwest side of Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg received a Merit Award in the Custom Residential category.

Richard Stacy, whose Sebastopol, loft-style home designed for a couple with growing kids also recived a Merit Award, said, “You never know whether a humble character is going to resonate with anyone, but apparently it did.”

Both were just one step below the top Honor Award, which, in the Custom Residential category, went to a surprising 1,1000-square-foot cabin built as a getaway home in the Hopland area for two couples.

Architects Grygoriy Ladigin, Casper Mork-Ulnes and Andreas Tingulstad of SFOSL, a firm with offices in Oslo and San Francisco, designed a vacation home that is minimalist even by Scandinavian tastes. To capture views without disturbing the shallow root structure of oak trees on the 16-acre site, the architects created a house with a series of rectangular spokes lifted up onto piers that extend out among the trees to capture views. To keep within a $200,000 budget, the unadorned interior surfaces are unfinished plywood and strand board.

The judges for this year's awards, held in October in Santa Rosa, included Michael Palladino of Richard Meier and Partners in L.A., who collaborated on distinctive projects like the Getty Center; Mary Griffin of Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects in San Francisco and a fellow of the America Institute of Architects; architect and judge Julie Snow of Minneapolis and Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares.

The panel praised Noyes' Fitch Mountain home for its “simple forms, elegantly composed.”

The house is comprised of several wings wrapping around a central courtyard shaded by mature Chinese Pistache trees. It evokes the idea of a village of buildings around a town square — not unlike Healdsburg below. The series of wings, connected by enclosed connectors similar to breezeways, break down the scale of the construction so that 4,000 square feet doesn't look so imposing on the land.

“The forms are very, very simple but the detailing and the craft is very exacting,” said Noyes. Window trims are a slim inch and a half wide, giving a clean and crisp look that unobtrusively frames the views. Along the side of the house is a colonnade held by black steel columns, repeated in the front door and window frames.

For their Sebastopol home, Ron and Chelle McDonell sought out Richard Stacy of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in San Francisco. The couple, firefighters who between them have five kids, two still at home, were working within a tight budget and did much of the building work themselves with the help of friends, and acted as their own general contractor.

“For almost two years, we cut out everything else and spent basically every moment we were off of work working on the house,” Chelle said.

Practically speaking, they were looking for a design that was affordable and as small as possible without feeling cramped. This was accomplished in 2,000 square feet by keeping the ground floor open, with kitchen, eating area, living area and study all in one, undivided space, according to Chelle. “It feels gracious, but it's not a large space. The open plan is great with children because we can cook, clean, work, play, etc., and still see each other and be in contact, interacting.”

Stacy designed the house in a basic rectangle with minimal hallway space. The simple and cleanly designed exterior incorporated materials the McDonells enjoy such as glass, corrugated metal, stucco, fir and cement board, which require little maintenance.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 521-5204.

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