Depardon describes Koch’s four-by-eight module (based on the industry standard for a sheet of plywood) as “a sandwich – an outer layer of plywood, an inner layer of Sheetrock, and what they called a foil insulation” – a document written by the house’s original owner describes it as an “aluminum reflective radiant barrier” – which, says the architect, “was falling apart” from neglect. The entire house, he adds, “was a mess,” with much of the interior “too far gone to save – we gutted it.”
The structure’s exterior, however, finished in redwood siding—chosen for its sturdiness and resistance to rot—“had held up very well—we just gently power-washed it,” Depardon says. The architects chose a moss green for the infill panels, as the originals “had deteriorated to such a degree that we couldn't tell what color they’d been.”
“We took the terrace off because it made the lower level really dark,” Depardon explains. “Also, there was an incredible Japanese maple tree in front that was planted when they built the house, and the terrace was killing the view of it from the upper level.” The house’s original aluminum frame windows “were quite elegant, but single-pane—energy was not an issue at that time. We matched the aluminum, but put in new thermally broken glazing.”
The architects greatly admired the structure’s siting, not only for the way it captured southern and eastern light through ample fenestration, but also for the design’s interplay with the property’s preexisting elements. “It’s nestled by this amazing three-story retaining wall, and the old stone and modern clean house play off each other very well. There was also a fountain in front that’s very Roman in flavor—all these relics make the place feel kind of special.”
“Originally there was a wall right down the middle of the lower floor where the pole is,” Depardon explains. “It was relatively dark, and we felt the best thing to do was to open it all up.” While Koch’s design featured wooden walls, “we decided not to put the plywood panels back in, and chose Sheetrock to lighten it all up.” The architects also replaced the original concrete floor with one incorporating a radiant heat system.
On the second floor, the architects maintained the existing exposed post-and-beam structure. “That’s an amazingly small tensioning rod,” Depardon says of the bar between the two beams. “But if you didn’t have that, the house would open up – the roof could push the outer walls out.” Depardon and Ogawa exchanged the original furniture-grade Luan mahogany ceiling for a stained birch plywood and replaced what was left of the old cork floor with a new one.
“We left the roof exactly as it was, with the old four-by-eight-foot modules,” Depardon explains, noting that the original panels, attached to the two-by-four frame, effectively held the house together. “It’s an unbelievably tight structural system, and we had to recreate it – we couldn’t just layer Sheetrock on it.” The architects also removed a wall, opening up the public space, and installed a long bench beneath the windows. “The area near the eaves is so low you’d have hit your head,” says Depardon. The bench serves as a cue to sit down.
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels made from frosted Japanese rice paper between layers of glass.” The architects created skylights and installed rooftop solar panels that heat the water and first-floor radiant system – changes Depardon considers faithful to Koch’s philosophy of rationality and cost-effectiveness. “The idea was, this is a great little piece of architecture – let’s try to be respectful of it.”