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Turn Toward the Light

Lauren Murrow | April 9, 2014 | Story Architecture

Improbably, this swath of Nicasio wilderness provides a microcosm of San Francisco: The city that used to be a refuge for hedonists and hippies is now a playground for tech transplants. Likewise, these 40 acres, once the site of the getaway—and psychedelic parties—of the Grateful Dead, is now the weekend retreat of a tech entrepreneur and his family. The couple were past their own youthful rebellion, but, in keeping with the land’s free-spirited history, they were seeking a funky escape where their two sons could roam outside uninhibited.

Surrounded by rambling streams, grassy trails, and mature oaks, this isn’t your typical manicured Marin lot. The home is fronted by a dramatic, 100-foot-long glass hallway, which architect Neal Schwartz, who headed up the project, planned to shield from direct sun with a wooden solar screen. After testing half a dozen varieties of wood for the job, none of which warped as desired, Schwartz reconsidered. He decided to embrace the weathering process with eucalyptus wood, a local invasive species. “Architects hate it,” he says bluntly. “It’s weak, and it moves like crazy under duress.” He and the project’s structural engineer developed a loosely connected system of eucalyptus slats that will allow the wood to morph naturally in the rain and sun. Thus, the home’s name: Crook | Cup | Bow | Twist, after the four categories of wood deformation.

The windowed corridor was purposely left bare, highlighting the shadows cast by the staggered wood. And rather than proofing the home’s facade against the rugged landscape, Schwartz gravitated toward steel and cedar, materials that will fade, rust, and patina naturally over time.

By design, this is not a house to hole up in. “Everything about it propels you outside,” says Schwartz. He deliberately avoided the typical bird’s-eye view, instead tucking the sizable five-bedroom into the crook of a hill—a natural cleft that divides what the builders dubbed the “tame” and the “wild” sides of the property. Each end of the house feeds onto trails forged years earlier by a horse-boarding facility. Upon crossing the home’s threshold, you’re confronted with a picture window that frames the crest of the hillside beyond. “You’re not even looking at the architecture,” Schwartz gloats. “You’re slapped in the face with that hill.”

Originally published in the April Issue of San Francisco.

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