My wife Mary discovered this property, an old fisherman's shack built around 1930, on the west side of Highway 1 in Bodega Bay. The building was in about as poor a condition as you could find a structure and still call it a structure. It had not been lived in for the previous 4 years, but from the looks of it the 10 years before that must have been pretty rough. Its timber foundation had largely rotted away, leaving the house sitting in water at high tide. The original redwood siding had been covered up at some point with a particularly bilious green shade of composition shingles, now so weathered and curled that they gave the siding a strange 3-dimensional effect reminiscent of dragon scales. The doors and windows were rotten, the roof leaky, and the interior plan was a rabbit warren of tiny spaces. Then there was the bathroom, which was just scary.
"The original redwood siding had been covered up with a particularly bilious green shade of composition shingles, now so weathered and curled that they were reminiscent of dragon scales..."
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I felt like we were nuts to even consider buying such a mess, but there was one thing that kept pulling us back in—the site was incredible. The house sits on the edge of the bay in a protected cove that looks out over water, wetlands, and parkland. Aside from one house that sits adjacent, no other man-made structures are visible. It sits right in the heart of the town of Bodega Bay—you can walk to stores, restaurants, and even a golf course—yet you feel like you’re alone on the edge of the continent with your own private bay. The design opportunity was just too good, the chance to do something extraordinary too seductive, so we decided to try to save this tired little house.
"The design opportunity was just too good, the chance to do something extraordinary too seductive..."
Then the permit process started. With coastal property in California you get to deal with both the County (Sonoma) and the California Coastal Commission. That was an education. A biological survey showed that the edge of the wetlands ran right under the middle of the house, which proved problematic in that development within coastal wetlands is prohibited and new foundations qualify as new development. However, we were able to move the house back ten feet, and that combined with a cantilevered foundation enabled us to move all of the foundation piers out of the wetlands area. Finally, after about two years of negotiations we were granted a "coastal permit," clearing the way for issuance of a building permit.
Construction began by removing the old decks (all rotten) and the bathroom addition (too hideous to even consider keeping). We then raised the remaining structure high enough to get portable drilling equipment under it, placing it upon temporary cribbing. Demolition of the old roofing and siding followed, and then the remaining skeleton was tented and fumigated to discourage the generations of termites (and their assorted friends) that had taken up residence in the remaining wood timbers.
"We completely redesigned the floor plan to maximize the westward views"
We were not allowed to enlarge the structure, but we completely redesigned the floor plan to maximize the westward views by putting the living space on that end and replacing the entire west facade with floor-to-ceiling windows. Beyond it sits a large deck, accessed by four sliding glass doors, protected from the sun and wind by a large cypress tree. On the south side, which also looks out at Bodega Bay, we added four more sliding glass doors from the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining area, all of which lead out to a narrow deck that overhangs the water’s edge.
Opening up the interior
The original house had flat eight-foot-high ceilings, but to make the new spaces feel more generous we wanted cathedral ceilings in the main living areas. We kept the old skip-sheathing (typical for cedar shingle roofing) in place and built a new roof structure on top of it, where we ran much of the electrical and plumbing along with 6 inches of spray-foam insulation.
"But I am trained as a modernist, and a Scandinavian modernist no less, so the likely solution is to paint it all white."
We salvaged the original five-panel doors as well as the interior "bead-board" paneling that had covered the walls and ceiling. Strangely, each room had been painted a different color—the only flamboyant gesture in an otherwise Puritan décor—so after reapplying the boards at random in the updated interior the end result was a patchwork of colors that was surprisingly endearing. But I am trained as a modernist, and a Scandinavian modernist no less, so the likely solution is to paint it all white. The jury is still out though, with ardent supporters of both color schemes, although I suspect that the multi-color advocates may have just worked in tech for too long.
The house is intended to be used primarily as a vacation rental, so all of the finishes have been chosen for durability. Multi-colored Brazilian slate floors (which also don't show dog hair or dirt for that matter), Ipe siding (an ironwood that grays out in a manner very similar to the original redwood siding, but is so dense it dents woodpeckers’ beaks), slate roofing, and stainless steel cabinets (try chewing through these babies, you mice!). The furniture will be a mixture of custom pieces by the Lundberg Design shop, some mid-century Danish items, and a very comfortable couch from B&B Italia. All of the light fixtures are by SkLO, a design studio that imports fantastic heavy molten glass fixtures from the Czech Republic, and the outdoor furniture will be Richard Schultz. It is all modern, with many of the pieces built from large pieces of wood that are somewhat reminiscent of driftwood, and all of it has weight (a signature LD trait).
"You feel like you're alone on the edge of the continent..."
As we approach completion in October, I am genuinely thrilled with the way it is coming together. I love the fact that we saved this decrepit little shack from sinking into the mud, and I think it will prove to be a very special place to spend a few days on the California Coast. I hope it will be an interesting combination of modest and elegant, that the design will prove timeless, and that nature will be ever-present in the weather, the tides, and the countless birds that feed in the shallows just outside the back door. I hope it proves to be a great place to fall in love, or perhaps to rediscover it...