written by:
photos by:
October 18, 2010
Originally published in Live/Work

The late architect David Boone was always one to take his work home with him—he just kept it in the home’s office. The new residents of his 1972 house embrace a more fluid approach to the live/work divide.

Screen-printing home studio
Verda Alexander and her son, Apolo, collaborate on a project in their first-floor studio.
Photo by 
1 / 19
Modern living room with redwood ceiling and chairs by Knoll and Vitra
In the living room, local artwork and an elegant redwood ceiling watch over a side chair by Warren Platner for Knoll and an Easy Edges side chair by Frank Gehry for Vitra.
Photo by 
2 / 19
Modern living room with Wiggle chair by Frank Gehry and local artwork
As his parents look on, Apolo plans his commute under a fire-top piece by the artist Michael Ricardo Andreev and alongside a Wiggle chair by Frank Gehry.
Photo by 
3 / 19
Outdoor view of bedroom pod and living room
Alexander walks from the bedroom pod into the living room under her freeway-inspired sculpture, titled Run A Way.
Photo by 
4 / 19
Outdoor view of multi-leveled home
Orpilla pecks, Apolo pedals.
Photo by 
5 / 19
Hallway bridge leading from living room to bedroom
The bridge leads from the living room to the bedrooms and from the studio to the garage.
Photo by 
6 / 19
Wood-and-metal credenza by Christopher Deam
Orpilla and Alexander’s first furniture purchase, a Christopher Deam credenza, now inspires a much larger collection of furniture.
Photo by 
7 / 19
Home studio space by the window
Inspiration crowds Alexander’s studio desk.
Photo by 
8 / 19
Garage with white cupboards and toolkits
A garage full of cupboards can’t contain Orpilla’s toolkit.
Photo by 
9 / 19
Outdoor deck with furniture by Richard Schultz
Those hammers and saws built a home for the family’s chickens, watched over by Apolo among outdoor furniture by Richard Schultz.
Photo by 
10 / 19
Sunroom with slanted roof and ample dappled light
Alexander and Apolo find a sunny spot for story. The slanting roof and ample dappled light makes curling up no chore at all.
Photo by 
11 / 19
Modern little boys bedroom with space decorations
Apolo's bedroom is unmistakably that of a young boy, as the old-school computer font and clear debt to NASA suggest.
Photo by 
12 / 19
Modern bathroom with wooden handrails
A salon-style hanging of art and the wooden handrail-cum-towel rack give the bathroom a handful of subtly stylish touches.
Photo by 
13 / 19
Living room hallway with wall art and Wire chairs
The long hallways do as much to delineate the home's space as the windows do. A pair of Wire series chairs for Knoll by Warren Platner add a space-age modern feel to the home's leafy vibe.
Photo by 
14 / 19
Modern living room with designer chairs
For a slightly funkier feel, opt for a variety of high-design chairs around your table. A less rigid approach to hanging art can also ease the hard lines of much modern decor and add to a more bohemian vibe to your home.
Photo by 
15 / 19
Dining room with big glass windows and cut-out ceiling window
The family is never far from the outdoors, as this lush view from the dining room attests.
Photo by 
16 / 19
Little boy playing with chickens through the glass window
Chicken under glass? Apolo will settle for eggs for breakfast.
Photo by 
17 / 19
Wooden outdoor deck
From the deck you really get a sense of the two main volumes of the house. One faces inward and the other out, a fine representation of Boone's ideas about the division between work space and living space.
Photo by 
18 / 19
Outdoor path
There's little concern about privacy considering the canopy of trees that surrounds the house. Alexander, and the chickens, take advantage of their sunny Northern Californian clime.
Photo by 
19 / 19
Screen-printing home studio
Verda Alexander and her son, Apolo, collaborate on a project in their first-floor studio.
Project 
Orpilla / Alexander Residence
Architect 

What if your home office was “either/or” instead of “and/or”? Picture it, the work-from-homer’s ultimate fantasy: You nine-to-five it in the studio, no distractions, the place to yourself; home feels a mile away. Come closing bell, you seal it off and head back to cozy household comforts, bad workaday vibes safely entombed behind you. Imagine the clarity! The balance! This is the impossible dream: a home office as close as the next room, but a world apart.

That search for a work-from-home Cibola might end in Orinda, California, in the hills east of Berkeley, at the house of Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander. It seems too perfect: two pods split by a sky bridge, one for working, one for sleeping, plus a dedicated studio. But its reality is as complex as its vision is simple. Can you really divide your life into just two categories, leisure and toil? And if you could, would you?

The late architect David Boone, famous for his office buildings, designed Orpilla and Alexander’s home for himself in 1972. The house hunches into the hill, perched on metal I-beams and concrete piers, nestled into a hillside with views of Mount Diablo. It’s about 2,800 square feet and consists of two identical slant-roofed boxes: an office, kitchen, and living room (in Boone’s day a bit of corporate entertaining certainly counted as billable hours) in one; bedrooms in the other with a studio below.

Outdoor view of multi-leveled home
Orpilla pecks, Apolo pedals.

The reality is less glossy. We grow into our homes, and the result is that both house and human change—the relationship is symbiotic. We disobey floor plans. With each basket of laundry left in the hall, Boone’s Spartan separation makes less and less sense. So Orpilla and Alexander didn’t think much of putting a dining table in what was once Boone’s office, next to the kitchen. Or handling paperwork in a spare bedroom. Or stashing exercise machines in the wine cellar, which also houses Alexander’s silk screens, below the bedrooms.

That wasn’t quite what Boone had in mind. The architect, who died last November, was one to bring his work home with him, and he designed a system of dedicated spaces in his house to accommodate that overflow. His firm’s (McCue Boone Tomsick) corporate work included the offices of the industrial titans of his day like Chevron, NASA, and IBM and came to define the California high-tech, high-design of the 1960s and 1970s. MBT’s campus for IBM in particular epitomized Silicon Valley chic; its buildings are big, glassy, industrial-modern, hidden in the valley’s rolling greenery—temples to serious work; the office as laboratory. Unsurprisingly, Boone’s house so perfectly reflected the same values that MBT used images of it in their marketing brochures.

Today, Orpilla and Alexander’s practice, Studio O+A, treads similar ground, designing offices for the online elite: Yelp, PayPal, Facebook, and others. But unlike the shining corporate beacons of the past, Web 2.0’s workplace seems to be listing more toward the living room than the boardroom. Yelp’s office is designed like a Haight Street Victorian’s great room, stocked with vintage furniture. Facebook’s,  in an unassuming, remodeled Palo Alto chemistry lab, is full of snack bars, Guitar Hero practice rooms, and even a DJ booth—the office as rec room. Forget healthy separation: These offices are designed for programmers who eat, sleep, and play precisely where they put in their overtime.

Modern living room with redwood ceiling and chairs by Knoll and Vitra
In the living room, local artwork and an elegant redwood ceiling watch over a side chair by Warren Platner for Knoll and an Easy Edges side chair by Frank Gehry for Vitra.

Orpilla and Alexander know what that’s like. Their home was designed to be half business, and as if that weren’t enough, they continue to blur those boundaries by working in an office that feels like a home. Their actual offsite workspace—the two-floor San Francisco headquarters of O+A—is a jumble of homey comforts and design-studio chic. Upstairs is a maze of rooms and side rooms, connected by half walls and indoor windows and filled with piles of Orpilla’s stuff scavenged from the junk shop next door. “We could’ve torn it all out, made it superslick,” Orpilla says. “But the character of the building was more interesting to us. It’s like a house.”

In fact, the San Francisco space got so comfortable, Alexander had trouble getting anything done. So she moved her art studio into the Orinda house from its former home in one of the O+A office’s side rooms. “I like the separation,” she says. At home, she can seal herself off from the world and focus on her art. That was the idea, at least.

But on a typical day, getting to her worktable means stepping over her son Apolo’s cardboard-box fort spread out on her studio floor. Each end of the sky bridge has its own furnace and it’s possible to spend a whole day in one part or the other. Sometimes Alexander tries, shuffling from her bedroom to the studio downstairs. But Apolo breaks the rules. His toys are everywhere. He’s outgrown the desk in his room and has taken over the rest of the house. Orpilla and Alexander have to find solace where they can, and that means crossing the dividing line  themselves—their office is in a spare bedroom next to Apolo’s, where they pay bills while keeping an eye on their chickens in the backyard.

Outdoor view of bedroom pod and living room
Alexander walks from the bedroom pod into the living room under her freeway-inspired sculpture, titled Run A Way.

If they followed Boone’s plan, Orpilla says, “we’d run the risk of having it feel like two houses.” As Orpilla sweeps a toy car off the back of the couch, Alexander elaborates on the incompatibility of their lifestyle with the rigid, closed plan Boone had for the place. “This place is an architect’s idea of a house,” she says.

That intended rigor of function is perfectly expressed in the architectural details. Often used because it’s so forgiving, the wood here achieves
an almost clinical severity: Every line is perfect. When Orpilla and Alexander moved in six years ago, the house was painted all white. Way too stark, they thought, so they opted for a deep reddish brown, accented by bright Eichler-orange doors. But the chromatic makeover came with a strong reverence for some of the home’s original details, including a molded fiberglass shower and frameless doorjambs. Orpilla seems especially enthused and has clearly become a kind of lay MBT historian: “This Schlage hardware, this is something they did in the IBM building, and then Boone put it in his house. The towel rack is a wooden handrail. I just love it!”

A wall of closets in the bedroom pod keeps the place neat—they even hide the washing machine. “I call it the monk’s house,” Alexander says, basking in the clarity. Standing in the garage—also lined with closets—Orpilla is less romantic about Boone’s motives: “How else did a modernist keep it neat? You need a place to put all your shit.”

Outdoor deck with furniture by Richard Schultz
Those hammers and saws built a home for the family’s chickens, watched over by Apolo among outdoor furniture by Richard Schultz.

But, as they say, there’s nothing more useless than an unloaded cabinet. And as artwork, toys, and drawings and spreadsheets brought back from the city office crowd each other for space in hallways and stairwells, as life bleeds into work, that modernist clarity fades. Ironically, though, the house’s design—which Orpilla considers “rigid”—has fallen in line with the more flexible lives and work of its inhabitants. “We like it this way,” Alexander says. “It feels more open.”

Over a lunch of eggs from the hardworking fowl out back, Orpilla talks about building what he calls their “3 x 6 Case Study Coop.” Plain chicken wire was too boring, so he riffed on Boone and used wood, carting home Douglas fir strips in his car. “It’s fantastic,” he says proudly, but it was also, technically speaking, a chore, yard work. But if you can design a chicken coop—or a house—with the same rigor as an office building, and enjoy doing it, does it still technically count as work? Though Boone may have had a clear answer, it’s hard to tell which side of that line Orpilla and Alexander fall on.

After they first moved in, the couple learned of an expansion Boone considered that included a third node cantilevered over the small stream out back, with a new master bedroom and a hot tub. “Kind of a pleasure pod,” Orpilla says. These days, it hardly seems necessary. Two messy halves, the one seeping into the other, are enough.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
131
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016
through living room
A second-story addition and a new indoor-outdoor focus revive a nondescript house in L.A.
April 25, 2016
Modern living room with Flexform sofa and Jens Fager candelabra
An Antwerp home blurs the boundaries between art and design.
April 25, 2016
hillside haven  1
This backyard is its own modern retreat in the Berkeley Hills.
April 25, 2016
Two studios flanks a central volume at this home in Mexico
Art and life meet in the middle at a family retreat in Central Mexico.
April 24, 2016
natural instinct swedish family home kitchen table unfold pendants muuto lilla aland chairs stolab
With Alvar Aalto in mind, a renowned Swedish architect crafts a serene home on a long-held family plot.
April 24, 2016
clearing the table coffee tables boxinbox philippe starck glas italia storage
A half-century later, furniture designers are catching up to painter Yves Klein’s visionary Table Bleue.
April 23, 2016
A deck looks out onto the beach in Australia
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 23, 2016
against the grain sustainable hudson new york home black walnut flooring furniture
An architect-turned-falconer considers animals and nature when designing his own home.
April 23, 2016
Aerial view of Copenhagen
@littlemycph finds symmetry in buildings and streets.
April 22, 2016
Josué Azor retuned to his family’s plot to build a new home, designed to resist future quakes and decorated with custom artwork and furniture.
In the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, a young Haitian photographer builds anew.
April 22, 2016
backyard with outdoor shower concrete pavers and wood fence
A hillside Virginia home located on a notch between two ridges is fun for the whole family.
April 22, 2016
Twin houses in Canada
Twin cabins rise together on charming Chaleur Bay in New Brunswick.
April 22, 2016
toy story industrial kitchen los angeles renovation toy lofts brass shelves steel wall hayneedle pot rack verona range
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 22, 2016