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Alan and Joy Ohashi of Oakland's Ohashi Design Studio balanced minimalism and green architecture in their renovation of a house in the East Bay Hills.

By Jean Victor. Photography by John Sutton.

Typical is a knock in the design world, synonymous aesthetically with suburban ranch-style houses and tall juniper hedges. So when architects Alan and Joy Ohashi were asked by an East Bay couple to make a typical suburban ranch-style house more contemporary and eco-friendly while keeping with the neighborhoor fabric of 1950s homes, it required more than a nudge to move the design vocabulary away from typical and toward harmonious and refined.

"Our main objective was to 'clean up' the existing house, which has a lot of Swis-chalet tweaks like peaked roofs and brackets," says Alan Ohashi. "But is also had these gorgeous, dead-on shots of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge, and we wanted to capture the views in a better way." Although much of the original

footprint remains, maximizing the view involved replaceing solid walls with glass and demolishing more than half the house to create a roof that rises from 7 to 14 feet in height. A metal roof, custom aluminum windows and a mix of cedar and stucco siding add a fresh face to the suburban street.

Inspired by the view, the architects blurred the boundary between inside and outside by using the same materials on the interior and exterior. “Our goal was to create a place where there was almost no division between house and garden,” says Joy Ohashi. “I think that is what creates the sense of harmony in the house.” The granite at the entrance extends into the foyer, and the cedar siding on the porch and terrace continues seamlessly onto the living room walls. A channel of black river rock that borders the living room appears to flow onto the terrace, where it becomes part of an abstract Japanese garden. The 600-square-foot terrace, the only major addition to the house, is partially surrounded by solid walls to focus attention to the Bay while concealing views of the industrial area below.

A palette of sustainable natural materials is used consistently throughout the house, furthering the serene mood. The owners wanted to be able to see the grain in the wood and watch it age, so clear finishes were used on the cedar walls, walnut cabinetry and eucalyptus floors. Luminescent Heath tiles on the fireplaces playoff a long black granite hearth, which in turn echoes the hue in the nearby river-rock border. Sliding doors between the living and dining rooms, made of rice paper laminated between two sheets of glass, are reminiscent of traditional Japanese shoji screens. In the bathrooms, warm shades of brown and beige are repeated in the stone counters and floors, walnut vanities and textured straw-colored ceramic tiles. A window of Pilkington channel glass in the master bathroom allows for diffused light while providing privacy.


Apart from selecting sustainable materials, the architects made the home a more eco-friendly place by adding solar power. The southern exposure and metal roof lent themselves to an atypical technology – thin-film photovoltaic cells that generate between 60 and 80 percent of the house’s electrical needs. The lightweight, flexible peel-and-stick solar cells adhere to the roof between the ribs and are far less visible than traditional solar panels. Radiant heating takes the chill off the concrete floor – enhancing the material’s thermal-mass benefits – and an on-

demand water heater translates into energy savings. “The goal wasn’t to make this house an example of solar living or take it 100 percent off the grid, but rather to incorporate sustainable elements in a reasonably priced, workable way that supplemented the conventional system,” says Alan Ohashi. “I think we created an intelligent case scenario for green technology that reflects how people really want to live.”

Now far from typical, the suburban redo is proof of how a mix of natural materials and a few bold design strokes that also happen to be sustainable can make any architectural statement green.