“WE SHED A LOT OF TEARS along with our clients,”
architect Joshua Aidlin of the San Francisco firm Aidlin Darling Design says.
Less than a year after it was completed in 2016, the 3,100-square-foot
weekend home the firm designed for David Rice and his partner, Barry
Mehew, was consumed by wildfires. Set on a hillside near Glen Ellen, the
home had taken “four years to design and build,” project architect Cherie
Lau recalls with a sigh.
But Rice, who heads the San Francisco tech startup behind Life360
— an app that connects family members during a crisis — reassured
everyone involved that, unlike others less fortunate, they could and would
rebuild. And, gratifyingly for the designers, he and Mehew wanted precisely the same house again.
Rice grew up in San Jose but has lived in Europe, Asia and other parts
of the United States; he met Mehew, a financial consultant from London,
on vacation 18 years ago in Cape Town. Living in England, as well as their
experiences around the globe, helped hone their taste for the kind of spare,
international-style environment that Aidlin and Lau created for them.
During the last 18 years the couple has tried to incorporate a similar
modern sensibility into their four-story Victorian home in San Francisco
with some success, but “we were always limited by its physical footprint,”
Rice says. “In the country, without such constraints we had exactly what
A winding dirt road cuts across their 26-acre property up to the ridge
where their single-story getaway home once commanded panoramic views
of Sonoma Valley to the west.
The structure consists of two small standing-seam zinc-clad volumes, set
slightly apart on the hill in a north-south axis and linked by a long glazed
box of a floating bridge held aloft on slender steel pilotis (piers). Modular,
practical, with no two-story glass spaces, the relatively low-budget design
had the playful quality of “a garden pavilion that embraced the outdoors,”
The glazed bridge contained south-facing living and dining areas with
modern furnishings, a library in the middle, and the north-facing master
suite; retractable glass doors at each end opened to spacious decks shaded
by flat, cantilevered, heat-reflecting albedo roofs. The tubular bridge had
openings at each end providing cross-ventilation; its cedar wood-clad
ceilings and distressed oak floors contrasted pleasingly with the sleeker
interiors of the zinc-clad sections north and south. The north structure,
with concrete floors and white-painted walls, had two guest rooms, and
the south one had a galley kitchen with retractable Fleetwood aluminum
doors opening onto a deck and a swimming pool.
Two zinc-clad sections of the house were sunk into the earth. The rest, a glass and
wood “bridge” that contained living and dining spaces as well as the master suite,
was attached in the rear, held aloft above the sloping hillside on delicate steel columns or pilotis. The concrete entry courtyard gave way to a boardwalk sheltered
by a cantilevered canopy. The living spaces had west-facing glass walls with views.
Their wood-clad ceilings added warmth, and their modernist furnishings were
enhanced with custom details such as the steel mantel for the fireplace.