Real Estate

A recipe for green living

Futuristic design reuses many original materials

Knowing what you want and how to get it takes much of the guesswork out of remodeling -- especially if you work with the right design team. Clint Smith and Elizabeth Arndorfer did just that when they converted a 1940s ranch-style house in Barron Park into a contemporary home that's a recipe for "green" living.

When they purchased the house six years ago, they knew it was a temporary fix for their growing family, but wanted time to analyze their needs and work within their budget to get what they wanted -- and then some.

But it wasn't exactly smooth sailing.

"We knew that we wanted an architect with a strong 'eco' bent," Arndorfer says. She and her husband chose a San Francisco firm, organicARCHITECT, whose work had been featured in a national magazine. The project's designer, David Waldorf, presented them with a highly imaginative, cutting-edge design that they loved.

But it wasn't a typical add-on with its dramatically soaring roofline and innovative features. Moreover, the contractor hadn't had a lot of experience in "green" design, so it was a learning curve for everyone.

The couple has two girls, aged 8 and 10, and a 5-year-old son. Their goal was to break open the boxy house and create an indoor-outdoor environment, re-using original or reclaimed materials where possible.

"Initially, we were just going to expand the house in the back, adding a new master suite and a family room and home office that could double as a guest room," Arndorfer says. "But our architect convinced us that we'd be sorry if we didn't also remodel the front," she says, pointing to the new front porch with its built-in seating and colorful planter boxes.

The 1,063-square-foot addition involves a new master suite on one side of the back of the house, a family room, home office/guest bathroom on the other side, and an updated kitchen in between. Seen from the rear garden, it has a futuristic look -- a pitched cantilevered roof that offers shade in summer, while its photovoltaic panels capture the sun and generate electricity.

Large concertina doors off the dining room and a sliding barn door in the family room create natural circulation throughout the house, as do banks of clerestory windows, avoiding the need for air conditioning. The massive barn door that slides from an exterior metal frame, came from a farm in Fairfax.

While most of the action takes place at the back of the house -- the living room and original bedrooms retain the same footprints -- the entire residence now assumes a new drama without appearing disjointed.

"That's because we reused as many of the original materials as possible, so the old and new has a natural flow," Arndorfer says. The couple loved the beautifully milled redwood ceiling in their living room and wanted to replicate the look in their remodel. But the cost of installing new saw-cut redwood was prohibitive. Instead, their architect found new uses for the redwood beams and ceiling ripped from the old dining room. He also devised an ingenious solution to match the living room ceiling.

Arndorfer affectionately calls it her "chicken wire" ceiling. "We took sheets of expanded steel mesh and pre-rusted it," project designer Waldorf says. That involved spraying it with vinegar and dipping it into salt water to intensify the rusting process. "It became a family affair; we all went out to the beach and soaked the mesh in seawater," Arndorfer says.

The rusted mesh was then applied over plywood, stained to match the adjoining redwood ceiling. It results in an interesting play of light between the two materials.

Redwood beams from the old dining room were reused for window and door trims and for a loft staircase in a bedroom. Old floor planks were used for a new kitchen banquette and a built-in daybed in Arndorfer's office.

The original dining room ceiling now graces the new front porch, and sections of old redwood were fashioned into a backsplash in the home office bathroom. It also sports a cabinet found on Craig's List, and a stylish stainless-steel counter top that Waldorf found discarded on a city street. "I took it home, cleaned it up, and it's prefect for the bathroom," he says.

Green materials include flooring -- the dramatic cork floor in the family room, reclaimed wide-plank floors in the kitchen and dining area, and bamboo floors in the new master suite. Simulated stone kitchen counters (made from recycled paper products), bamboo kitchen cabinets, EnergyStar-rated appliances, non-VOC Yolo paint that eliminates out-gassing, and cement siding that emulates the original board-and-batten exterior continue the "eco" theme.

Arndorfer says the remodel took 14 months to complete and in spite of the inevitable hiccups along the way, she and her family are thrilled with their new house.

"It's a lot like giving birth," she says. "You ultimately forget the pain and tend to revel in the end result."


Project architect: Eric Corey Freed, San Francisco, 415-474-7777; organicARCHITECT

Project designer: David Waldorf, San Francisco, 415-377-7738; Waldorf Design

Building contractor: R.J. Smith & Assoc., 460 S. California Ave., #82, Palo Alto, 650-321-1775;

Landscape design: Candice Stein, 408-297-8873;

Goal of project:

Update and expand a ranch-style home, using as many "green" materials/building methods as possible.

Unexpected problems:

Roof needed to be recalculated and redone; additional permit needed for front porch

Year house built:


Size of home:

Originally 1886 sq ft; now 2946 sq ft on a 10,000-sq-ft lot

Time to complete:

14 months

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Like this comment
Posted by David Waldorf
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm

This story is incorrect. The actual architect for this house was Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT. David worked for Eric and was project manager. You can learn more at their website: Web Link

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