Home + Design Magazine
2008 CH+D Awards
Eco Friendly Architecture
by Melissa Alvarado
JAMES PIIILLIP WRIGHT ARCHITECTS, LAFAYETTE
It isn't easy being green. While environmental
concerns are a priority now more than
ever, sustainable building practices can
still be more complicated and expensive
than traditional methods. But with talk
of government-imposed construction guidelines-such
as San Francisco's proposed recommendations
for greening private and commercial new
projects-builders are getting in line
to meet the demands of today's eco-conscious
James Phillip Wright, previously known
for extravagant Beverly Hills mansions
and luxurious Malibu bungalows, made the
leap into green design with two homes
on adjacent lots in Potrero Hill. "All
these sustainable products and building
materials feel like a new palette for
my canvas," says Wright. To efficiently
utilize the L-shaped property-formerly
the site of one 1,100-square-foot house
built in the 1930s and an empty, landlocked
area behind it-Wright used eco-friendly
materials to build two new homes. Click
here to read more and for some views
Spirit of the Land Panels
By Don Butler
For architect James Wright, capturing
the meaning and history of the land was
just as important as building a statement
guest home when he signed on to tackle
a residential project in California in
2001. "What struck me about the Lake
Almanor area was the pristine quality
of the lake and how uncrowded it was,"
Wright says. "It felt like going
back in time-a real break from the energy
of the suburban grid." Wright combined
the best of both worlds, using boulders
and wood and harvesting reclaimed items
from a shuttered lumber mill to transform
a mall cabin on Lake Almanor (a watershed
of Mount Lassen) into a six-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot
getaway for the owner's guests. The cabin
was dubbed "The Rock House"
when it was finished in 2005 as a reference
to the many boulders and stone used in
traits led Wright to incorporate the area's
culture, resources, and history into the
cabin's "modern rustic" design.
Flying into the area, Wright noticed the
demolition of a lumber mill. "That
inspired the use of salvaged material
as the decor in the 'club room' of the
home," he says. The owner liked the
idea, and a stop at the mill proved to
be fertile ground for material ("a
smorgasbord of building elements,"
as Wright phrases it). Those elements
included its flooring, which became the
cabin's wall paneling, and giant 16-foot
bandsaw blades, which became the wainscot
in the game room bathroom. A large battered
mirror used by the mill staff to observe
the giant trees as they ran through the
bandsaw blades adorns the party area.
Even the control panel for the enormous
equipment was salvaged for the ambience.
Since the mill was in the process of being
torn down when Wright discovered it, the
team had to make fast choices on what...
Click here to read more and for some views
Design + Application
LD+A December 2007
LEC Panels Create Stairway to Heaven
by Rebecca Faizano
Guests seeking amusement might call the
entertainment wing at the Chapin Residence
in Salinas, CA, "heavenly."
The 4,600-sq ft space is replete with
a home theater, bowling alley, juice bar,
lounge and wine cave. But the centerpiece
of it all is somewhat more basic in function—a
brightly glowing staircase connects the
wing's upper and lower levels. Seventeen
1- by 4-ft glass steps glow a bright,
even and clear blue, and on each glass
step rests a stencil pattern of the homeowner's
equestrian ranch logo. The stairway is
a result of architect James Phillip Wright's
vision and, as he says, is "the heart
of the addition, a celebration of going
up and down."
Click here to read more and for some views
Home Style by the Sea
Winter - Holiday 2007
By Michael Chatfield
Visible throughout Monterey, Santa Cruz
and San Benito counties, the Don Chapin
Company is a key player in the building
of high-profile commercial and public-use
projects. That kind of construction must
be built to last.
his family home, Don Chapin brought the
same sense of permanence. "I give
my customers value and quality" he
says, "and I expect that in my own
The original 5,500-square-foot house and
horse ranch were built on 15 acres in
pastoral Prunedale, The addition featured
here, begun in 2004, brings the total
footage to 12,800, Offering commanding
views of the Monterey Bay, the Peninsula
and the steep golden slopes of Fremont
Peak, the site is part of Hidden Canyon
Ranch, a Chapin Company luxury home development.
"This is pretty close to God's country;'
to Lafayette architect James Phillip Wright,
AlA on a colleague's enthusiastic recommendation,
Don wanted a relaxed living space for
his family that would incorporate strong,
natural materials and complement the country
setting. "I want a house I can live
in:' James says, "This project -
says a lot about Don:' Above all, the
owner values his family. "He wanted
the addition to be a comfortable playground
for him, his wife, kids and friends;'
a licensed general contractor and architect-designed
and built many prestigious residences
in Southern California before choosing
to concentrate solely on architecture
and relocating north, It was a good match:
these men share guiding principles of
quality and meticulous attention to detail
that permeate their lives and their work...
here to read more and for some views
Contra Costa Times
August 4, 2007
artisan proud of their work
By Joan Morris
Aaker and Andy Smith, the house on Natasha
Drive in Lafayette was the house they
were meant to have. But for a while, fate
seemed to have other plans.
The house -- a remodeled 1940s Colonial-inspired
California Craftsman -- was out of their
price range, and a little more house than
they were looking for. There was no doubt
they wanted it, but reason kept telling
them they should look elsewhere. Only
problem was, they had fallen instantly
and passionately in love with every detail
of the home.
For three months they resisted the lure.
They looked at scores of homes and made
bids on several, secretly hoping they
would be outbid. Finally, Smith says,
they ended up looking at a house that
adjoined the property, not realizing they
were next door to their dream house.
"I remember looking over and seeing
the roofline and realizing where we were.
I knew I couldn't stand to live next door
and look at the house I really wanted,"
Smith says, "knowing that it wasn't
Fully committed to the house, they worked
out a plan and moved in about a year ago.
And they've never regretted it.
"The house takes your breath away,"
Aaker says. "I've always believed
that the home makes the marriage, and
this home gives our marriage such energy."
Aaker and Smith say they were fortunate
to come upon the house after it had been
completely remodeled by the developer,
Dave DeZerega, using the plans of Lafayette
architect James Phillip Wright.
Craftsman homes are usually dark with
small rooms. The remodeled house is open
and light, while retaining the spirit
of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Wright, who has become friends with Aaker
and Smith, says the old house had a tired
style and he wanted to freshen it up,
transforming the compartmentalized floor
plan to one with a spacious indoor-outdoor
relationship. The house is built with
all natural materials, including cedar
shingle siding, wood trellises and arbors,
stone veneers, and nature-inspired colors
for stains and paints.
When DeZerega bought the house, it was
in poor shape. The foundation was failing
and the pool and backyard, along with
the house, were slowly inching down a
slope. Wright recommended tearing away
everything but the floor structure, raising
it to excavate the basement. That solved
two problems: The slipping, cracking foundation
was repaired and stabilized, and the floor
plan could be altered to create the open
Wright also wanted to give the front of
the house a more impressive entrance.
The home is located on a narrow lot that
dips down from the road, a position that
tends to overwhelm the house.
To counter that feeling, Wright designed
a porte-cochere with a cantilevered truss
that extends over the driveway, hiding
the garages that are below and behind
the house. The porte-cochere also matches
the entrance cupola, which gives the house
an illusion of height and balance.
Aaker and Smith have added their own touches
to the house. Smith, who works for Dolby
Sound, installed a cozy home theater in
the basement with a twinkling light ceiling.
Aaker, a professor of marketing at the
Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley,
has decorated every room, keeping the
color palette earthy and neutral to match
the feel of the house.
Smith and Aaker, and their three children
-- 5-year-old twin boys, Cooper and Devon,
and 1-year-old Tea -- have settled easily
into the house, just like they were meant
to be there.
What they like best
Smith has difficulty answering this question.
Almost any place his eyes light is a favorite,
from the abundance of wood to the hand-wrought
light fixtures to the copper downspouts.
But he settles on the "feel"
of the house.
"My greatest pleasure is to sit on
the couch in the family room and just
look at everything," Smith says.
"The woodwork, the details, the views.
It's all there."
Aaker also focuses on the overall feel
of the house, which she describes as peaceful.
"Everyone feels it," Aaker says.
Smith is pleased, too, with the new home
theater, only recently completed. In a
house that is designed to be open and
light, the theater is dark and cozy. It
draws the family together. It also provides
some privacy that had been missing. A
television in an open space can be distracting
to other members of the family.
There are dozens and dozens of them, from
curved-front doors and rounded cupboards
to the 61/2 bathrooms in the main and
The driveway and pool area are paved in
quartz bricks imported from Israel.
The formal living room or parlor is located
to the left of the main entry and contains
an inglenook fireplace.
The floors throughout the house are a
combination of maple wood and travertine
When the couple wanted a dining table
for the great room, they turned to the
man who had fashioned the kitchen counters,
who found a matching slab of granite for
At the rear of the property is a towering
70-year-old palm tree, and scattered throughout
are smaller palms, all offshoots of the
original tree. Smith says it gives the
place a feeling of continuity.
Wright designed repetitive touches in
the house, which pleases the eyes of Aaker
and Smith. All the interior wood, from
the kitchen cabinets to the laundry chute
door, is made of cherry and has three
vertical slats. The trusses also are repeated
throughout the home.
The central staircase is at the heart
of the house, and climbing from the lower
floor to the top affords a breathtaking
view of the backyard, pool and valley
beyond. Smith says he doubts anyone is
enamored of climbing stairs, but he enjoys
it because of the view, seen through windows
11/2 stories tall.
The refurbished pool was reinforced to
anchor it in place, and Wright designed
a pool house that has a bar, a guest bedroom
and a full bath. Aaker says they love
having guests drop by, and the pool house
is in frequent use.
(Not really) drawbacks
The pool house also serves another purpose
-- a sound wall. Highway 24 runs some
distance behind the home, and while it's
not visible, traffic sounds do float up
the hill and through the trees. The house
helps buffer the drone, but Smith and
Aaker actually like the sound of civilization
that does filter through.
They are both city kids, and sometimes
the hills of Lafayette are a bit too quiet.
They enjoy, Smith says, reminders that
civilization is nearby.
One reason the house was on the market
so long is that in this day of gigantic
master bedrooms, this one is small in
comparison. But Smith and Aaker say they
prefer having the space given over to
the communal areas of the home -- the
great room, the kitchen, the dining room.
Their bedroom is plenty big enough, they
Joan Morris is the Times Home & Garden
editor. Reach her at 925-977-8479 or email@example.com.
Seeking 'Peek' experiences
A Peek Inside is an occasional feature
that offers a look at some of the East
Bay's most interesting or unique homes.
And we're always looking for candidates.
If you know of a home with a certain something,
then let us know about it. Homes should
reflect the owner's personal style rather
than a professional decorator's vision.
Send us a note explaining why the home
is special, as well as names, addresses,
phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Photos
will endear you to us.
E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org (put A
Peek Inside on the subject line), or mail
to: A Peek Inside, c/o Contra Costa Times
Home & Garden, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut
Creek, CA 94596-8099.
A closer look
To see panoramic views of the Aaker-Smith
house, go to architect James Phillip Wright's
Web site, http://jamesphillipwright.com/panoramic_1.php,
and click on the "Lafayette"
Two Houses, One Lot
No more Home Depot specials
Builders hope to tap top of market with
two gems on Potrero Hill
Amelia Glynn, Special
to The Chronicle
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Misha Breyburg is giving his company an
extreme makeover, homes edition. "They
aren't for everyone," he says. "But
it only takes two."
who is vice president of business development
for Structura General Contractors, is
referring to two luxury spec homes on
Potrero Hill, tucked between 19th Street
and what would be Utah Street, were it
not for the bustling Highway 101 freeway
butting up against the property.
home by the freeway? Impossible.
a few Bay Area architects and developers
thought so. The double lot on 19th and
Utah and the original small, plain-faced,
single-family home there were passed over
for years, until Structura's founders,
Michael Plotitsa and Misha's father, Edward
Breyburg, purchased them in 1999.
Accustomed to constructing multiunit buildings,
which the younger Breyburg calls "high-end
Home Depot specials," the company
hired a draftsman to draw up plans for
four condominiums. Then things became
had seemed like a straightforward proposal
disintegrated into a drawn-out battle
with neighbors who wanted to protect their
views, their attorneys and the city's
took a new twist in 2000, when Misha Breyburg
saw the plans and voiced his concerns
to the founders that, based on the reductions
in square footage required to meet the
planning department's proposed compromise,
the company would probably lose money
if the structures were ever built.
I first met Breyburg, he was wearing a
tight white T-shirt and a black Hustler
baseball cap. He is unapologetically Republican
and proudly drives an eight-cylinder,
gas-guzzling Mercedes. He describes himself
as financially conservative and socially
liberal. He voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
was 6, His family immigrated to the United
States from Russia to start a construction
business. Now 34 and very much an American,
Breyburg nonetheless possesses a stereotypical
immigrant mentality and believes that
opportunity abounds. Getting ahead, to
him, is simply a matter of going after
what you want.
father and his partners built their business
on sheer hard work," he said. "Before
he came to the States, my father had never
even held a hammer. I remember him coming
home with his fingers cut and bloody.
I don't think you need to work that hard
to be successful."
has had his hands in everything from retro
Eastern Bloc T-shirt designs to sushi
restaurants (he co-founded Blowfish in
San Francisco) and now, the development
and construction of luxury houses.
architect James Phillip Wright from the
years he lived in one of Wright's properties
in Los Angeles, so he pitched him on the
idea of working with Structura to build
on the problematic Potrero Hill site.
I first visited the properties and took
a look at the original, approved drawings,
let's just say the whole thing looked
pretty bad," Wright said. "If
it weren't for my friendship with Misha
and his commitment to the project, I would
have never agreed to take it on."
best known for his Malibu beach bungalows
and classical Beverly Hills mansions,
worked with Breyburg to turn what was
essentially a larger-than average lot
into two single-family homes that share
the use of a four-car garage that runs
the length of the 19th Street property.
is a believer that often, the more complicated
the project, the better the results. "For
me, the most difficult site to design
for would be one in the middle of the
desert with nothing around it," he
said. "Undesirable circumstances
force me to come up with unexpected solutions
and these unusual details that become
the most valuable and appreciated aspects
of my work."
the designs of these tandem homes were
influenced by many of the same environmental
characteristics, they are architecturally
Utah St. house emphasizes the relationships
between vibrant colors and creative shapes,
while the more traditional layout of 2311
19th St. showcases uncommon uses of sustainable
building materials layered against creative
landscaping and high-end finishes.
Breyburg and Michael Plotitsa started
Competent Builders in San Francisco in
1986 to serve the middle-class multiunit
market in the Bay Area.
Sam Raiter, now vice president of operations
for Structura, became a partner in 1989.
Misha Breyburg was going to school --
in his words, "becoming Americanized."
He attended Golden Gate University, where
he studied sociology and marketing and
worked a brief stint with a marketing
company during the dot-com boom. Like
many, he lost his job during the bust.
with the corporate world led him back
to the family business in 2002, but not
brought with him new ideas about marketing
and running an American construction business.
He persuaded his father and Plotitsa to
re-brand the company, changing its image
of constructing multiunit buildings in
the outer Sunset and Richmond districts
to building and developing luxury spec
homes in the hipper neighborhoods of Potrero
Hill and Bernal Heights.
To gain a better understanding of the
real estate market, and because "it
didn't make much sense to buy and sell
through another agency," Breyburg
received his real estate license in 2002.
in Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill is
more affordable for Structura, compared
with the Marina and Pacific Heights, Breyburg
zoning constraints heavily dictated the
form of both homes -- Utah Street in particular,"
said of the three-bedroom, three-bath
errors in the original, approved drawings
also led to some interesting outcomes.
The space allocated for the stairway that
leads from the main living area to the
master bedroom was not large enough to
accommodate a standard staircase, so Wright
created a winding stair with fan-shaped
steps. "We pushed the limits of the
stair code to squeeze a unique but functional
staircase into a very tight space,"
Street home is an amalgam of three distinct
designs, represented by three connected
cubes of contrasting color and size. Its
outward forms and colors speak directly
to its inner styles and functions. The
home's detached design and large, light-filled
living room give center stage to the panoramic
views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin
Peaks and Marin hillsides.
entry path passes through an enclosed
water garden (complete with waterfall
to soften the noise from the freeway)
created from natural outcroppings of rock
and earth. It leads to the heavy glass
front door and first visual design environment
-- a bright, carmine red stucco cube.
Inside are the dining room and wet bar.
A terrace and rooftop spa occupy the upper
in the center of the home is a wenge cube
(pronounced WENG-ge, a dense, chocolate-brown
African wood), which houses the kitchen
on the main floor and the master bedroom
and bath upstairs.
graduated steps from the kitchen culminate
in the third cube -- the west-facing living
room. Its corner fireplace, wide views,
14-foot floor-to-ceiling triple-paned
windows and arched ceilings make it at
once spacious and intimate. The silent
movement of the highway below juxtaposed
against the backdrop of the cityscape
creates the perfect intersection of tranquility
19th Street design, Wright used sustainable
building materials in modern and often
unexpected ways. He chose engineered lumber
(made from the waste from sawmills) for
the staircases, exposed beams, window
and door trims, and other structural components.
Usually covered by drywall, this environmentally
friendly product was transformed into
an interior design element that provides
textural and tonal contrast.
siding, a European composite wood-panel
siding system, lines the facade in San
Francisco row-house proportions, achieving
a pairing of modern, sustainable materials
with traditional form. The exterior detail
work incorporates Trex, a material made
from a combination of reclaimed wood and
privacy and natural color contrast, Wright
constructed a wire mesh cage filled with
soil and native wildflower plantings that
borders the gently curved main entry staircase.
(Think giant Chia Pet.) Although initially
contained within the mesh structure, the
plants will eventually grow past the wire
to create a solid, green living structure.
decks off the top-floor living room take
in the 270-degree views.
"These homes took a lot more work
and effort than other projects, but they
were a lot more satisfying," said
Raymond Ferreira, chief foreman for Structura.
"I was skeptical of the use of materials
like Trex for finishes, but now I like
the way the door frames and window trims
jump off the wall. Some aspects of building
these houses were like creating special
effects in the movies."
-- -- --
are often not interested in architecture
and design," said Breyburg. "They
want to maximize square footage, and they
don't mind if they obstruct views and
anger the surrounding community in the
process. So much of development is about
in the making, the Potrero Hill homes
were listed at $2.2 million and $1.9 million
in August. Construction took two years,
and cost between $300 and $400 per square
foot. The grand opening event on Aug.
25 drew hundreds of prospective buyers,
architects, curious neighbors, friends
walks out saying 'Beautiful,' 'Wow!' "
said Breyburg. "These aren't your
typical cookiecutter properties."
The Utah Street house is in escrow, Breyburg
said last week, and the 19th Street house
remains on the market.
would like to continue building these
types of structures as both the developer
and contractor," said Plotitsa. "Financially,
it makes a lot of sense." The two
houses are expected to return upward of
40 percent on investment because they
are essentially two properties on one
luxury residential homes are securing
good returns, Breyburg says more middle-of-theroad
buildings can still be constructed and
sold with a lot less time and money at
stake. "What we are noticing is that
by building homes like these, we are building
a brand," says Breyburg. "Calls
and requests for our services are beginning
both houses sell, Breyburg plans to take
a month off to vacation with his Russian
sweetheart, who lives in Moscow. He hopes
to come home engaged.n.