In 1960, architect Daniel Liebermann — who apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright — built a house on a hilly site in a new way, designing a structure that curved along a Marin County ridge and was embedded partially in it. The house’s West-facing wall of windows allowed it to melt into its surroundings, and it was fittingly made of rustic materials: salvaged brick, exposed radial beams of Douglas fir reclaimed from a bridge in Ukiah, and skylights obtained from WWII bombers. After 50 years, those rustic materials needed a face lift, and the house’s new owners brought in and SmithBuilt builders and Dwyer Design to modernize it without detracting from Libermann’s vision. We got a chance to check out the renovation during this year’s Marin Living:Home tours hosted by AIA SF – read on for a first look!
Initially, SmithBuilt’s team of Kevin Smith and John Lovell were handling the project on their own, but the difficulties presented by the house’s curved walls led them to tap Vivian Dwyer a year into their work.
The team removed all of the signature wood beams, polished and reinstalled them — in the process improving the ventilation and creating space for insulation and wiring for overhead lights. The Radius House, as its called, was a trailblazer of green building in 1960 because it drew warmth from the sun and the ground, but the effect was too much warmth and too little air circulation. The semi-detached guest or child’s room was left untouched, so you can see the difference in the photos. With the house’s West-facing wall of glass also providing the lion’s share of light, the original design also provided wiring for lighting only in the vertical metal pipes.
The remodel also included entirely revamping the kitchen and installing a hidden pocket door into the wall dividing the living area from the bathroom, so that the residents could close off the master bedroom. Built into an existing wall, the door was such a technical feat that its craftsman could only shake his head when asked to describe how he did it.