Modern Manors

Modern Manors

Top-notch 20th-century homes.

In the East Bay, where houses designed by Arts and Crafts masters Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan define a regional aesthetic and burnish our local pride, the Modernist mode often gets short shrift. On a recent afternoon, the folks at Modern Home Tours—an Austin, Texas–based group founded to introduce people to this 20th-century genre—opened several private residences here to the public, letting fans revel in dwellings where modern design holds sway in all its minimal, functional glory.


Flattering facelift (top to bottom): Owner Joanne Koch transformed a small Berkeley structure into an expansive-feeling family home. Here, the lower-level office. Minimalism meets nature. Photos courtesy Koch Architects.

Phoenix rising

11034 Broadway Terrace, Oakland, Robert Nebolon Architects

On a sunny day, the view from 11034 Broadway Terrace in the Oakland hills dazzles with light reflecting off the Bay and a horizon line sweeping from San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tam, and beyond. Twenty years ago, after the Oakland Hills Fire swept through, the view was all the site had going for it. But in 2003, architect Robert Nebolon tackled the pines, ferns, and poison oak that covered the lot and built a four-bedroom, 4,400-square-foot home that blends with the sloping landscape yet also stands out with stark, angular lines. The dwelling’s three discrete spaces climb up along the hill, leading the visitor through a cool, plant-filled entryway into a brighter, glass-paned living room, and finally up into an aerie of bedrooms, kitchen, and dining room whose floor-to-ceiling windows frame the stunning bayscape.


Mid-Century modernista

1101 Oxford St., Berkeley, Koch Architects

In 1999, architect and Mid-Century design aficionada Joanne Koch saw a listing for a 1952 North Berkeley fixer-upper designed by post–World War II modernist architect Roger Lee. She pounced—and was soon happily stripping 50 years of paint and residue from wood-lined walls and sloped ceilings. She went on to fill her new home with period-appropriate, atomic-age furnishings.

Despite a 1,125-square-foot floor plan, the house feels large thanks to an abundance of plate-glass windows that look out onto woodsy, vine-covered slopes. “I love the flow and connection between indoors and out that makes this tiny space deceptively expansive,” says Koch.

Super-sleek (top to bottom): Transformation in Moraga. Horizontal lines lend serenity to the Hammond Place master bedroom. Photos courtesy Geoffrey Holton & Associates and Ellipsis A+D.

After eking as much room as possible out of the floor plan, Koch found her family still needed more space, so with a graceful hand she added a new lower-level bedroom, an office, and a carport, all of which respect the property’s 1950s minimal elegance.


À la L.A.

1234 Cambridge Drive, Lafayette, Swatt Miers

Growing up in the Mid-Century Modern hotspot of Los Angeles, architect Robert Swatt frequented buildings authored by masters of the movement. His childhood school was created by Richard Neutra and his grandmother’s store was drafted by Rudolph Schindler, so it’s no surprise that when planning his own family residence in 1995, Swatt drew on his earliest design memories.

His Lafayette hillside property with its sharp lines, minimal decor, and integration with nature is deeply in touch with SoCal Modernist style. Visitors wind their way down stepped terraces into a sunny entryway that spills into a terrazzo-tiled sunken living room with Eames-ian coffee tables and chairs. High, wood-beamed ceilings, stark white walls, large-scale windows, and a broad, sloping skylight maximize the play of air and light. Open staircases and an exposed upper walkway create unifying sightlines throughout the interior.

One of the most eye-catching elements in the house—a row of wood-framed glass doors at the back of the living room—offers a sheer, airy wall that, whether opened or closed, frames an enchanting vista of the sleek patio with pool and the wooded landscape just beyond.


SoCal style (top to bottom): Architect Robert Swatt designed this minimalist home (complete with luxe pool) for his family. Indoor-outdoor living in Lafayette. Photos courtesy Swatt Miers.

Rancher redux

12 Hammond Place, Moraga, Geoffrey Holton & Associates and Ellipsis A+D

Built in 1959 as a suburban rancher with its signature single story and open floor plan, this Moraga residence had something of a midlife crisis in the 1980s. An unfortunate remodel by the then-owners added an oversize second-story master suite, altered ceiling heights, and generally muddied the original design. In 2004, Geoffrey Holton and Associates and ellipsis a+d came in to do a much-needed makeover.

From the street, the new slatted cladding wrapped around the garage and front porch creates sharp horizontal lines that draw the eye and blend with the original siding. Inside, the 2,300-square-foot residence has more open space. An airy steel-clad staircase (whose geometric lines echo the exterior) winds around the central light well and leads across a catwalk to the second-floor master bedroom. Windows high on the upper level illuminate the main living area with its lounge and bar and define the space as the heart and center of the home.

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Jeanne Storck is a writer and Web designer living in San Francisco. Reach her at

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