Stainless Chef

Originally published in 

Designer John Picard isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty in the kitchen, or washing the sand off his feet in the bathroom. This ecological pioneer’s half-lot home is designed for maximum efficiency—and comfort.

Picard Residence

Gotcha!, a resource of U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information Management & Systems, defines “early adopter” as “a minority of clients/users that are the first to perceive value in new products, services, or ideas, begin to use them, and become adept with them before the majority of eventual clients/users does.” Designer, contractor, and environmental consultant John Picard, the man behind multimillion-dollar ecosensitive ren-ovations of Sony’s Culver City studio lot and New York headquarters and the Clinton administration’s “Greening of the White House,” is perhaps the earliest adopter of them all. As he contemplates the area of his basement that will eventually accommodate solid-oxide fuel-cell storage, Picard notes, “Nothing will be here for at least 15 months, but for me that’s nothing.”

Having a basement in Manhattan Beach, California, is unusual enough, but the differences between Picard’s house and the neighbors’ hardly end there. Inspired by industrial and commercial projects, the approximately 2,500-square-foot half-lot home was framed in tubed steel (the ever-affable Picard questions how the wood-framed houses that dominate the area stand up, and provides his own answer: “I guess the termites are holding hands in the stucco”). Because of the small footprint, Picard wanted every inch of the living space to be usable—which is made possible by the steel frame and a service core that runs the entire height of the building. This chase contains all of the home’s extensive mechanical and electrical systems: “You just plug each floor into the back of the house,” Picard explains, as though it were as simple as charging a cell phone. With eyes ever-focused on the future and minimizing waste, he says, “If I had to do some surgery on the spine, it would be like undoing a zipper, compared to doing a major demolition and having to follow a system throughout the house.”

One thing Picard won’t be changing any time soon is the Bulthaup System 20 kitchen installed on the third floor. He explains, “It’s got an enduring aesthetic design—it’s contemporary but conservative—they don’t add any bullshit.”

Opening onto the open-plan living and dining rooms, the aluminum kitchen with its nine-foot-long stainless steel island and Miele appliances has become a focal point of the house. Pressed in one seamless sheet of steel, the island, Picard says with the obvious pride of a satisfied customer, “is an amazing piece of engineering.” He adds, “The functionality took me a while to get used to. If you don’t read Bulthaup’s book and you don’t understand why the System 20 works the way it does, you’re really spinning your wheels—it’s like buying a four-wheel-drive Range Rover and never taking it off-road.” Now that he’s adapted to the design, Picard, who favors cooking fresh ingredients in the steam oven or on the grill, comments that “it’s almost like having two kitchens.”

The open plan of the third floor is echoed in the master bedroom suite below—a philosophy that also carries over into what is usually a home’s most private area, the bathroom. Where the System 20 is the showpiece above, from the master bedroom it’s impossible not to notice the egg-shaped Agape tub. Picard glibly remarks, “When you’re spending $6,000 on a tub and $2,000 on a faucet fixture, you’ve got to make sure what you’re buying is something that stands out.” But not having a bathroom door comes with a price: “You can actually stand at the front door and look through the side panel window at the reflection in the glass closets and see someone in the shower—until the glass steams up, it’s a peep show.”

For the time being this is a concession that Picard is willing to live with. Although his house “is half the size of the last one and a quarter the size of the one before that,” he’s never been more at ease. “The design of this house,” Picard concludes, “was more important than the size, materials, technologies, and engineering—the feel is the best feature.”

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