Moving Mountains

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By Aileen Kwun / Photos by Joe Fletcher
Rebuilding on a challenging site in Mill Valley, California, a couple optimize a winning view that was there all along.

Jack Dangers and Ellen Corrigan had one cat, a load of oversize vintage synthesizers, and a music library of more than 10,000 records to consider when they decided to build a new home in Mill Valley, California. It was a long haul, but not a long distance, to the finished result: a two-story structure with a standing-seam metal roof, nestled along a cascading hillside where their previous house once stood, with views of Mount Tamalpais to the northwest. A member of the British electronic group Meat Beat Manifesto, Jack had moved to Marin County in the early 1990s after meeting Ellen, who works in digital marketing, at a music festival in San Francisco. 

At the Mill Valley home designed by architect Chris Deam for residents Jack Dangers and Ellen Corrigan, the view begins from the top. Sun studies of the steeply sloped site informed the choice for a standing-seam metal, diagonal ridge roof, which Chris refers to as the home’s "fifth facade". 

At the Mill Valley home designed by architect Chris Deam for residents Jack Dangers and Ellen Corrigan, the view begins from the top. Sun studies of the steeply sloped site informed the choice for a standing-seam metal, diagonal ridge roof, which Chris refers to as the home’s "fifth facade". 

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"I met Ellen there—and that was it, really," he recalls. "He told me he was going to move over to the Bay Area, so I made him actually do it!" Ellen adds, with a laugh. For more than 20 years, the couple had lived in a nondescript, one-story midcentury home tucked into the sharp, nearly 45-degree slope. Like other properties nearby, their lot lies in a wildland urban interface (WUI) zone, a designation for sites that are in close proximity to undeveloped areas. 

Together with Nick Dine, Chris also designed the concrete planters, pillows, and powder-coated steel lounge chairs on the front deck; all are part of the Modern by Dwell Magazine home collection for Target. Predominantly native, fire-resistant plantings dot the property, which sits in a wildland urban inter-face (WUI) zone. 

Together with Nick Dine, Chris also designed the concrete planters, pillows, and powder-coated steel lounge chairs on the front deck; all are part of the Modern by Dwell Magazine home collection for Target. Predominantly native, fire-resistant plantings dot the property, which sits in a wildland urban inter-face (WUI) zone. 

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"In this area, there are so many environmental factors to your lot," Ellen explains. "You get to know those factors well when you live here for a while—and those are things that you learn to ask about." Though they had grown attached to the home, over the years the couple had also become well-acquainted with its pain points, including drainage problems and groundwater leaks that had begun to take a toll on its structural integrity—most crucially at the back deck, where they loved to host friends. 

After deeming the original structure unfit for renovation, Chris worked with the couple to raze it and rebuild. With the addition of a lower level, the top floor now sits higher, with clarified sight lines. In the kitchen, a pass-through window connects to the deck, where the couple often entertain; Chris, Jack, Ellen, and Lara Deam enjoy the view. 

After deeming the original structure unfit for renovation, Chris worked with the couple to raze it and rebuild. With the addition of a lower level, the top floor now sits higher, with clarified sight lines. In the kitchen, a pass-through window connects to the deck, where the couple often entertain; Chris, Jack, Ellen, and Lara Deam enjoy the view. 

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As she and Jack considered other options in the area, along the way they consulted their longtime friends Chris and Lara Deam, who also live in Mill Valley and are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of buying and building there. It helped, of course, that Chris is an architect who had renovated his own home with Lara, who founded Dwell in 2000. 

The barware, candle holders, dining set, lantern, terracotta planters, outdoor seating, and side table are all from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target. The fire pit is from Restoration Hardware.  

The barware, candle holders, dining set, lantern, terracotta planters, outdoor seating, and side table are all from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target. The fire pit is from Restoration Hardware.  

The couple toured nearby properties for nearly two years but found that most required extensive updates—and nothing compared to the mountain view outside their window. They resolved to stay put. "We had been talking to Chris for many years about how to restructure the house, and he was super passionate about it. It just made sense to work with him to rebuild here," Ellen says. "And Lara was obviously inspiration for getting the motivation to redesign. Just knowing her pushed me to think more about design and the home." 

Walnut panels make up the floors and ceiling, in a subtle material nod to the former home’s midcentury provenance. Jack and Ellen lounge on a Thayer Coggin sectional, which is joined by a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe and a coffee table by Brad Ascalon; Chris designed the custom built-in shelving.

Walnut panels make up the floors and ceiling, in a subtle material nod to the former home’s midcentury provenance. Jack and Ellen lounge on a Thayer Coggin sectional, which is joined by a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe and a coffee table by Brad Ascalon; Chris designed the custom built-in shelving.

After determining the structure was unfit for renovation, Chris razed it and set out to rebuild it from scratch, repositioning it to include an additional lower level and to enhance the mountain view. The first wall to go was in Jack’s studio, where the only option for getting out a giant, 650-pound synthesizer from 1969 was straight through the side of the house. While Chris worked to complete construction in the following year, the couple rented a home in Sausalito, just 15 minutes away by car. 

The three stoneware vases featuring an abstracted wood-bark pattern are from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection.

The three stoneware vases featuring an abstracted wood-bark pattern are from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection.

As an artistic household, the couple held great respect for the creative process and "let Chris do what he does, without putting too many parameters on him," says Ellen. "He definitely pushed us to do something different, and we gave him the freedom to do that—he had the vision." 

Chris designed a custom built-in desk in the den for Ellen, who often works from home. 

Chris designed a custom built-in desk in the den for Ellen, who often works from home. 

With the home’s front entry leading downhill and into the top floor, the architect approached the roofline as "the fifth facade," designing a clean, standing-seam metal structure with nary a fenestration in sight. "There are no vents or stacks coming out of it," says Chris, "whereas in a normal house you have all the ‘chicken pox’—the chimney and all of that." Conducting sun studies of the roof’s impact on the lower deck and working within the constraints they generated helped inform the distinctive roof form, he explains.  

The pillows, wooden animal figures, and tray-top side table near the large window.

The pillows, wooden animal figures, and tray-top side table near the large window.

Bifurcated by a diagonal ridge, the roof geometry is equally striking inside, where warm, neatly delineated planks of rich walnut mirror the floors and converge at an uncanny angle to form the ceiling. "This place is built like a boat," says Chris, who worked with local craftsmen at Braintree Woodworks to execute the highly technical build. 

Webbed-seat chairs by John Vogel bookend an expandable walnut dining table from West Elm.

Webbed-seat chairs by John Vogel bookend an expandable walnut dining table from West Elm.

The upper floor measures roughly 1,000 square feet and contains all of the public areas, centralized around a walnut staircase, which is joined to a long row of custom casework filled with LPs that are now on proud display at the heart of the home. 

The adjacent volume houses the galley kitchen; the Ball clock is by George Nelson Associates.

The adjacent volume houses the galley kitchen; the Ball clock is by George Nelson Associates.

The rich material palette extends from the stairwell and into the adjacent galley kitchen to form what Chris refers to as the "datum line"; in a modern twist on traditional wainscoting, it forms a crisp, trimless border of walnut paneling from the countertops down, with expanses of white above it.

The adjacent volume houses the galley kitchen; the Ball clock is by George Nelson Associates.A portion of Jack’s massive collection of more than 10,000 records is displayed in a low-slung walnut shelving unit built along the upstairs stairwell entry. 

The adjacent volume houses the galley kitchen; the Ball clock is by George Nelson Associates.A portion of Jack’s massive collection of more than 10,000 records is displayed in a low-slung walnut shelving unit built along the upstairs stairwell entry. 

Entering the kitchen reveals the home’s most winning feature—an expansive deck that sits perched atop the new lower level, with framed, elevated views of Mount Tam. "The connection between the indoors and outdoors is such a celebration of the mountain, and of Mill Valley," says Ellen. Furnished with a full dining and lounge set, as well as a gas fire pit, it effectively doubles as an outdoor living room. 

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Downstairs are more shelves of records, the master and guest suites, and Jack’s music studio. 

Downstairs are more shelves of records, the master and guest suites, and Jack’s music studio. 

Downstairs are the master and guest bedrooms and Jack’s sound studio, an audiophile haven flanked by two floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with even more vinyl. A custom, extra-wide set of double doors—made to accommodate the reentry of his prized vintage equipment—leads to a revamped space that’s filled to the brim with gear. Built with a wood slat ceiling, acoustic wall panels, triple-glazed windows, and walls composed of double layers of Sheetrock sandwiched with mass-loaded vinyl over sound-isolating resilient channels, the studio was designed to be soundproof for Jack, a night owl, as well as for Ellen, an early riser. 

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At just under 2,400 square feet, the home is now flexibly optimized to the couple’s needs. "It’s the perfect size for us, because we use every single room. There’s no forgotten wing here, no unused corner," says Ellen. "The best thing is that Chris knew our kind of crazy—he knew how many pieces of vinyl we had and how important that was to us, and that we had to make it a part of the design." For Jack and Ellen, home is now a place that’s safe and sound. 

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Shop the Story

Modern by Dwell Magazine Outdoor Dining Chair
Modern by Dwell Magazine Outdoor Dining Chair
The Outdoor Dining Chairs from Modern by Dwell Magazine for Target feature sleek, slim profiles that take inspiration from line drawings, ensuring that the seats don't obstruct views of the landscape.
Modern by Dwell Magazine Outdoor Sofa and Cushion
Modern by Dwell Magazine Outdoor Sofa and Cushion
Made for the deck or patio, the Outdoor Sofa from Modern by Dwell Magazine is one of Chris Deam and Nick Dine’s favorite pieces they designed. Available in either white or gray—with navy or gray cushions—it's inspired by line drawings and is built with a comfortable, but slim tube frame.
Modern by Dwell Magazine Elephant Playing Card Figural in Natural
Modern by Dwell Magazine Elephant Playing Card Figural in Natural
"The process of designing the animals was some of the most fun I had on this project," says Chris Deam about the animal sculptures in the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target.
Modern by Dwell Magazine Whale Coaster Set
Modern by Dwell Magazine Whale Coaster Set
Setting out to create something decorative is "not the typical starting point for a modernist," says Chris Deam the animal sculptures in the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection.