All these years later, Joseph Esherick’s 1961 McIntyre house is still “in touch with nature’s moods, from rain and clouds to stars and moonlight,” as House & Garden proclaimed shortly after it was built. Designed by an architect known for straddling the line between fine art and understatement, this house is unusual both in its scale and use of cast concrete. Just over 9,000 square feet, the muscular, landmarked building has the added distinction of an elaborate garden designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who, like Esherick, was near the peak of his career when Henry and Winifred McIntyre commissioned it.
The couple were Chicago transplants who hadn’t quite warmed to the balmy California climate or, indeed, the idea of modern, open-plan living that was beginning to take hold. They requested a private, compartmentalized floor plan with bedrooms and living spaces organized around a show-stopping atrium that faced the pool garden on the south. Two steps down from the living room, the atrium was used as a garden room and contained several fully grown trees. “In an article published after the house was built, Mrs. McIntyre was quoted as saying that the climate is not at all what people think it is, that it’s not comfortable to be outside, which I thought was strange for someone coming from Chicago,” says Richard Beard, FAIA, who oversaw the renovation. “That led to Esherick’s design of this atrium space, a controlled environment, warm and cozy.”
Overlooking the Burlingame Country Club, the north side of the house contains the bedroom wing, where a stretch of metal balconies rest on concrete buttresses. As appealing as it is architecturally, this section was disconnected internally from the common areas, and the kitchen was cut off from the living and dining rooms. No doubt that’s why the property languished on the market before the current owners purchased it. “It didn’t really live like most people are used to living now, so it challenged most people; they didn’t know what to do with it,” Richard says.
For the new family of five, his firm brought it into the 21st century by opening up the anachronistic plan without changing the footprint, in the process highlighting the best elements of Esherick’s design. As a fan of his work, Richard was the ideal architect for the job. He knew this house and has worked in Japan, where he became familiar with Japanese Metabolist architecture. This postwar movement explored the idea of organic cells emanating out from an open space and debuted around the time the house was built. “There’s a generally Japanese feel to the house in its private courtyard orientations and detailing,” Richard says. “It has a pavilion-like arrangement of spaces, and the exterior forms represent the interior spaces accurately and intriguingly. The office, atrium, kitchen, and main bedroom all have expressed [hip] roofs that are linked together.” Interior designer Paul Wiseman, too, had worked with Esherick on his final house, and selected furnishings that reference the midcentury vibe but refresh it with larger-scale pieces and citron accents that echo the colors of the garden.
In what was essentially a gut renovation to update all the wiring, plumbing, HVAC systems, and finishes, the design team swept out several walls to create axial views through the house. Without changing many room locations, the new configuration opens the kitchen to the family room (formerly a dining room) and the south terrace. Visitors enter a generous foyer on the west side, at the heart of the house. In front of them is the pièce de résistance—the sunken atrium in its 20-foot-tall glory, and a new view straight through to the east side of the house.
The atrium roof’s exposed concrete roof beams incorporate a sculptural drainage system around the 24-by-32-foot skylight opening. Its detailing recalls some of Louis Kahn’s work, and Richard has a theory that connects the dots. “Esherick was from Philly, and Kahn, who worked so much with concrete, was designing a house in Philadelphia for Esherick’s sister around this time.” Richard says. “I have to think there was a lot of professional exchange of ideas.”
Throughout, windows and doors were replaced with energy-efficient models, and the new atrium skylight was fitted with LEDs. To open subtle sight lines, the design team inserted tall, slotted windows on select interior and exterior walls. On the atrium’s north wall, for example, they provide a visual connection to the stair hall and bedroom wing behind it. The bedrooms breathe more deeply, too. Previously, “each bedroom had its own sitting area but there were communal bathrooms; it was a very odd plan,” Richard says. The three bedrooms were given en-suite baths, and a large dressing area was added to the main bedroom. This suite opens to northern views and a private walled garden on the south, which has a circuitous outdoor connection to the pool terrace. Outside the bedrooms, the concrete balconies were cleaned and patched, and the metal railings replaced with low-profile, code-compliant railings and planters that provide greenery.
In the partial walkout level under the bedrooms, the architects exposed the concrete framing to gain ceiling height, developing the space as a game room and additional bedroom. They also cleaned up the open concrete stair and stairwell, which conveys light down from the hallway, and preserved the handrail.
As You Were
It’s not only the new light and views that make the home sparkle. The finishes—meticulously refurbished or replaced—reflect the original limited palette: stucco on the outside, wood, concrete, and drywall inside. “We had to match a lot of the resawn Douglas fir that was kept in place,” says builder Louis Ptak, who is also a student of Esherick. “That style of milling has changed in the last 60 years, but you can’t tell what we patched in.” The kitchen received new oak cabinetry, and the flooring is wide-plank American oak.
Although the house hadn’t been touched since its completion, Halprin’s multilevel landscape was substantially altered. Working with landscape architect Todd Cole, Louis executed a “hybrid restoration” of the original design. A reflecting pool had been modified as a swimming pool, which was allowed to stay. “The landscaping was a little more complicated because Halprin’s design had been covered with many layers of redesign in diminishing quality,” Louis says. “We kept peeling back the layers in collaboration with Todd Cole. We uncovered and refreshed a lot of the old site walls.”
Freed from its faded surfaces and constricting floor plan, the renovation presents a more comfortable yet refined version of Esherick’s commission. And while it might not have been Mrs. McIntyre’s cup of tea, the update makes it relevant for a new family in a very different time. “It’s a clear nod to the 21st century, but much as it originally was,” Richard says.
Plans and Drawings
Architect: Richard Beard, FAIA, principal in charge; Adam King, senior project manager, Richard Beard Architects, San Francisco
Builder: Louis Ptak Construction, Pacific Grove, California
Interior Designer: Wiseman Group, San Francisco
Landscape Architect: Strata Landscape Architecture, San Francisco
Lighting Designer: Hiram Banks Lighting Design, San Francisco
Project Size: 9,165 square feet
Site Size: 2.2 acres
Photography: José Manuel Alorda
Countertops: Neolith, Oro, statuary marble
Entry doors and hardware: Torrance, Collier’s International, Liberty Valley
Faucets: Dornbracht, Kohler, Pfister
Kitchen backsplash: Heath Ceramics
Lighting control systems: Lutron
Roof windows: Collier’s International
Roofing: Johns Manville
Sinks: Julien, Kohler
Warming drawer: Wolf
Windows: Torrance Steel Windows
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