Berger also chose an optical illusion to extend the view.
Because the home faces a busy street and has no front-facing
windows, he set a five- by 10-foot trimless mirror into the living room’s back wall. When you look at it, you think you are
looking out another window, watching ferries pass by, until
you realize that the water is actually behind you.
Berger even considered the neighbors’ views. Because
the home is downhill from a populated area, he created an
understated and low-lying facade out front and took pains
to protect others’ views from inside the house as well. One
of the home’s most stunning features is a white-beamed
skylight, akin to something in a modern art museum, that
sits over the stairwell and tilts toward the water, away from
The skylight serves two purposes. It draws light into the
back of the windowless rooms. And because it’s tilted, says
Berger, “it makes it so that when the people up the hill want to
enjoy the stars and view at night, it isn’t ruined when — boom
— the people down the hill turn on their lights.” Tom Ganley,
the home’s builder, also constructed a little wall surrounding
the skylight to shield it even further.
Details like these are what helped the home design be
approved on its first pass, something of a rarity in the town’s
challenging building environment. But when it comes to
Tiburon design, the bow-tied, bespectacled Berger is as close
to a sure thing as it gets. A longtime resident, he served on
the design review board for four years, part of the time as
its chairman. He was on the planning commission for six.
And he’s spent six years on the town council, serving both
as mayor and vice mayor. But this is not the architectural
equivalent of insider trading. “I don’t have some magic
wand,” Berger says. “It’s just that I guide my clients not to
propose something that’s going to get turned down. You can
design your way around a number of problems, and every-
body comes out singing kumbaya.”
The one part of the plan that was not originally considered
was that the owner’s long-term girlfriend became his wife. She
had always had a fair amount of input in the design process,
but once her status became legal, her needs moved more to the
forefront. A professionally trained pastry chef, she had very
specific ideas about the kitchen, so that room now has a large
travertine island for prepping, as well as high-end appliances
and fixtures, such as a Dacor range, Sub-Zero refrigerators and
Dorn Bracht faucets. The faucets are square, which is some-
what unusual but keeps with a theme that is echoed throughout
the house. Most of the fixtures, pulls or railings are pleasingly
geometric, in square or rectangular shapes.
The kitchen cabinets are all constructed of anigre, an
inexpensive African hardwood. Its use is one of the many
ways the owners cut costs to build the home on the luxury
equivalent of a shoestring budget, about $450 per square
foot. Anigre can be found on the kitchen island and most of
the cabinetry throughout.
The light color palettes, African wood, and limestone and
travertine are consistent in the home, as is the emphasis on
horizontal shapes throughout. At one end of the great room,
the kitchen is laid out in a rectangle. At the other end, the
sleek fireplace is oblong. Not only does the seven-foot glass
fireplace cut a dramatic shape, it sits on an even more pronounced 12-foot travertine hearth.
It’s not an accident that the upper floor is dominated by
horizontals. As Berger stands in the great room and points
towards the straits, he asks, “What are the relevant forms
you see outside? I wanted the water line to transition right
through the house.” As a result, the home has a harmonious, almost zen-like feel.
Opposite page, top to
bottom: The sofa and
table echo the color of
the travertine hearth;
the skylight shines
over the stairwell. This
page: An elegant place
to play chess.
In the living/dining area, sliding
glass doors stretch the entire length
and height of the room, opening
onto a limestone deck.