Modular Additions to Existing Home, California

Floor Plan
About architects

Architecture Kate Simonen, Phil Kaefer, Benjamin Parco
Area 1,800 square feet
Location Berkeley Hills, California
Year 2009
Photos Caren Alpert

Located in Berkeley Hills, California, the beautiful old house was built more than fifty years ago by Joseph Esherick - famous in San Francisco architect. George Homsey, who worked closely with Joseph Esherick, remembers that the construction of the house has begun for the sake of a single lady - Louise Nixon. She was a conservative nice woman who just wished to have a beautiful house. But, as the eighty-six-year-old architect from the state of California admits, this is not the whole prehistory of this wonderful house in Berkeley Hills.

Homsey looks back to distant times when it was a pick of Joseph's carrier. At that moment his unsophisticated and, at the same time, one-of-a-kind houses were spread throughout the country and everyone knew his name. George also remembers young "headshrinker" Nixon from the Stanford University who was looking for a new house of an Asiatic style somewhere near Berkeley Hills. Designers from Esherick Studio offered her a model of T-shaped house in Japanese style. They also proposed to cover the roof with shingle, which was typical for the Berkeley region. It was supposed to become an attention-getting house near the down slopes of Tilden Park.

The building was finally finished in the middle of 1950's. A fresh face of the Modernist American style, Lawrence Halprin, helped with landscape setting. He showed his vision of the eastern part of the house - meadow with a small runlet and a fascinating impoundment.

Nixon married Louise in 1967 and had been living in that house for nearly fifty years. Unfortunately, they had no children. Nixon died in 2003, and, a year later, his grand-nephew Eric Gimon (a physical scientist, the Energy Department insider and Technical Advisor) with his wife, Emma (Philosophy Doctor of architectural engineering), purchased the house. They faced the only problem - the former house keepers lived there only two together and Gimon's family needed more space in the house as they lived there with a little daughter Louise, two sons and a dog called Nefi. Many people for one old wooden house, isn't it?

So, the family decided to expand the territory of their new home. Emma admitted that they were worried too much about the process. They didn't want to destroy the architectural style of Joseph Esherick. Emma didn't much care about the landscape - she supposed, it was neglected and wasn't finished at all. So, at the beginning of the 2000's they decided to renew the landscape and make it so that it was combined with the overall picture of the house.

Phil Kaefer, Benjamin Parco, Gary Roth and Kate Simonen helped the Gimons to implement their desire. Kate had worked on an idea of prefab additions at the beginning of 2000s. Few years later, she cooperated with architects Parco and Kaefer, creating new modular additions to existing home. And the landscape designer Gary Roth had also joined them. He had been working hand in glove with Lawrence Halprin until he died in the year 2009.

They were discussing a lot of ideas that could allow the family extend their living space. At last, the command decided to remain the original idea of the house and to update the eating area, make a tremendous decking for Gimons to have a rest there. They wanted the family to finish their working day and come home where they, after having dinner in their new maple kitchen, will finally have a rest in their new immense deck which takes much space in the southern part of the common house area.

At first, considering to rebuild their old house as soon as possible, Eric and Emma had faced with one problem - it was too insecure to lift a crane onto the top of the hill. They had decided that question very fast and erected the frame of the modular additions to existing home in a few days. What helped them? Walls were made of prefab panels, and unique butterfly roof, despite its big size, was pointed directly ahead. That let the architect team work with no fear to damage something.

The building team had devised all parts of the modular additions to existing home the way that simplified its installing. They shifted lighting parts into big boxes, that had been placed then and there; moved electrical outlets right onto the floor and installed cordless and program-controlled light switches. Paying attention to the couple's preferences, it was known that the house owners honored environmental conditions they lived at. So, they made a decision to cooperate with the group of architects to build a modular additions to existing home with green components that will let them save their money. Heat pump was installed and electricity is generated with roof-integrated solar array.

From the very beginning of the house rebuilding, there was set a goal to construct it much better than it really had been before. Architects stated that the concept had already grown out of its initial construction and customer preferences. Gary Roth explained that his team hadn't tried to jump off the original design and had been working with finished material, just keeping it up to date.

Beautiful Prefab A-Frame House by Jens Risom, Rhode Island

About Jens Risom

ProjectThe Risom Residence
Area700 square foot
LocationBlock Island, Rhode Island
PhotosFloto + Warner

Jens Risom, a famous furniture designer, has announced himself as a talented architect. Popular magazines were shocked to learn that he built a nice summer house for his family for less than $30 000, because previously they had written that it was impossible. He got in touch with one of the popular newspapers and said that he built such an inexpensive prefab frame house they couldn’t believe.

Jens Risom tells that he has found the triangular prefab framing in catalog and brought it to Rhode Island to construct a prefabricated house there. Eventually, the block-modular building system has become more developed, since the post-war period the reputation of such houses was almost zero. Houses were built quickly and they were of poor quality. Jens Risom has proved that prefabs can be constructed due to new standards with wooden frames, an incredibly high ceiling and more other peculiarities. Having been worked for years as a designer, it was not that hard for Jens to create his home project.

Risom was born in Copenhagen in 1916 in the family of the prosperous architect. He remembers with emotional warmth how he liked to spend his childhood with family in Denmark far from the urban bustle. He admits that his father, being the author of a book about house building, had a great influence on him and was the authority for him. His father often struggled with different situations when he couldn’t drive his project to the end. Jens, wishing to gain full control over his objects, suggested father’s struggles to be enormous. He tells with pleasure that he was always fond of design because architecture is the most elegant art he knows.

After finishing the studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts he began to gain experience in architecture, working for the architect E. Kuhn. Back at that time, Jens Risom began to think about designer career in the United States. He stopped his thoughts on modern furniture design. He stayed in Manhattan in search of appropriate conditions to start his own business. His first serious proposal became from Dan Cooper who was creating soft goods, being the reputable and well-known decorator. This proposal was not to the young and ambitious Jens liking, because he did not plan to focus his designer career on textiles. Sometime after that, he was allowed to demonstrate to the public some furniture designed by himself. This greatly increased the authority of Cooper.

Risom’s talent was noticed right from the jump, for the reason that Cooper’s works were being performed in a quiet style for many years. Over a pretty short period of time Jens found his admirers and world designers began to learn about him and come to his shows. Jens has been working with Cooper for a few years and finally he had realized that he had no opportunity to control the whole process. For this reason he had separated from Cooper and became an independent unit in the design world. All the more authority he had acquired helping Hans Knoll to finish and represent society his first collection of furniture.

The fate of the young designer was intervened by the Second World War without remorse. For several years he was serving abroad. After returning back to New York, he decided to continue his career all alone and start his own collection under his name. Jens’s popularity gradually began to move into top gear and by the beginning of the 60’s, people had come in scores to employ to Risom’s designer company.

While living with his family in Connecticut, Jens was looking for the most comfortable place on Block Island to build a summer house to have a rest there. His wife with children preferred to spend summer in their rented apartment on the seaside and far from urban hustle, remembering how they lived in Denmark. Finally, after a couple of years, he found a convenient place for house construction in the North of Block Island. Before he started to build, he had been seeking out modules for his prefab A-frame house. He was looking quite long for the most fitted materials that could cost not too much and weather out wild winds, specific to Block Island’s area. At last, he found a respectful design and construction company in Wayland, Massachusetts. It has fulfilled all Risom’s requirements and wishes – cathedral ceilings, panoramic glass wall to let nature inside, wood surfaces with a soft shade and also 10 feet of extra territory. That’s all coasted him over twenty thousand US dollars. After all of the blocks and house parts had been ordered, he developed a design for the construction of his new home. When everything was thoroughly planned, he took care of the safe order transportation through Rhode Island to Block Island. The base of the house was slightly elevated. But it had been targeted so skillfully that no one would ever guess.

It is well-known that the weather on the island is not so quiet as everyone wants it to be. Block Island is famous for its foggy moments when there is no allusion to fogs but in a short period of time, everything is covered with heavy mist and people cannot even see each other, staying quite close. These circumstances made the home being built five weeks longer than it was expected. Construction of the prefab A-frame house was completed in late spring and at the beginning of the summer Risom's family, finally, settled in a new home. However, they moved there not in a full complement, as daughters have been already living in their own homes.

Only two small floors, but the lower one contains two bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen facilities, a living room and a dining room. Meanwhile, boys territory is on the upper floor. What a magical place to escape from the routine of everyday life! Indeed, from the end of spring and till the end of autumn (those were periods of time when Jens could escape from his work and stay with his wife and sons) Risom's family was spending time providing different kinds of activities - from fishing to bushwalks.

From time to time, prefab A-frame house design was supplemented with new details; old parts were replaced with new, something had to be repaired after years that the family lived there. For instance, a building superintendent, John Spier, had helped to replace old glass parts that were rigidly attached to the wooden frame, to new parts that were not so dangerous as old ones. He admitted that to work with large glass was every time fearfully for him. He explained, that it always existed a risk that the glass would be broken to atoms and hurt him and would even make him bleed. But he knew that the new glass would be safer than the old one. Being 97 years old, Jens with his wife arrived to the Block Island to see their new glass in the frame.

Jens admits that he always worried that his summer house would look too new when he wanted to change something in it. His son Sven wonders, how his father always managed to change something and to make it better than it really was. With a faint smile on his face, he tells that his father, being serious to his creation, is proud that he has made his family happy with their prefab A-frame home. He felt that the inspiration came to him from the natural village lifestyle. Risom remembers that his life in Denmark was different from today's city life but it was so nice.