Raising a Cottage from a Rancher

As an established design/build firm located in San Francisco's mid-peninsula, we routinely are asked by our clients to find that elusive architectural sweet spot that lies somewhere between frugal and unaffordable, overwhelming and unobtrusive, cute and functional. Lately, another maze of criteria have been added by our various building jurisdictions in a backlash against what has come to be known as "mansionizing".

The silicon valley and its dot com explosion has heaped much prosperity on this area---and a building boom of awesome proportions. Unfortunately, the boom has been characterized by the architectural equivalent of woodland clearcutting. Older homes have been demo'd, their lots stripped to bare earth, and bloated new residential forms have risen in their place.
Not surprisingly, local residents no longer react to the prospect of new construction hopefully. An application for building permit no longer foreshadows an enhancement to their neighborhood but rather as a threat to their quality of life. The outcry of old neighborhood associations in planning and council chambers has been deafening.
Local planners and building officials, for their part, have reacted to the furor by erecting ever more complex constraints on building...trying to enforce a kind of architectural conscience. In addition to the more common constraints on acceptable floor area, building officials now regulate lot coverage ratios, structural massing, and even architectural style.
Within this tense environment, designers and builders must now heed multiple masters. Effective projects must respect the ambitions of our clients, our building jurisdiction, our planners, and now our neighborhood watch. Our role is partly designer, partly builder, and partly spin doctor.
The evolution of this 50's era California Rancher into a traditional Cottage form illustrates both the obstacles to local design and construction and our sometimes tortured passage through them. More importantly, it shows the importance of a client who can temper his project ambitions with consideration of adjacent homes, the character and quality of their neighborhood, as well as the broader priorities of the host community.

I had known my client, Jay Furlong, professionally for several years before becoming involved in his Madrono Avenue project. Jay is the founder and manager of Stanford Painting, a large and well reputed mid-Peninsula contracting organization. Over the past half dozen years, we had conspired on several successful peninsula projects and had, in the process, gained some insight and respect for one anothers operation and philosophy.
During the same period, Jay and his wife, Laura, had been engaged in the preliminary stages of their project's concept development with a local architect but had, as they described it, "hit a wall". I was invited to an interview in February of 1999.
My drive to that first interview provided a variety of important information about the project's physical, social, and aesthetic context. Two blocks from the local high school, Madrono Avenue is a cozy, tree-canopied, family neighborhood littered with the trappings of children and young families. Balls, hoops, strollers, bikes, and scooters abound. Most of the houses occupy smallish lots sited close to the street. The styles of homes are diverse and range from 1 to 2 stories. The Furlong house, like its neighbors, was of 1940 vintage, with low pitched roof and a California Ranch profile. Situated on a corner lot and, thus, saddled with more restrictive building and massing setbacks and more public view lines, I knew this project would be a challenge.
In late April of 1999, after an appropriate period for circling and sizing one another up, I was asked to assume control of the embryonic project.