It is no wonder that ADU’s are taking the market by storm. Adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit to your property enhances value, creates greater utility and can also add an amazing design element. Local building authorities are also loving ADU’s because they help to address housing constraints, and in turn, there are less barriers when it comes to building permits. That is a huge benefit!
If you are thinking of taking the ADU plunge then you should check out what our friends at @mightybuildings are turning out. They will build your ADU at their warehouse in Oakland and then deliver it to your property – ready to go.
Check them out at: https://mightybuildings.com/
We are super excited to announce that the ECH team is growing. Our goal is to build upon a strong, customer-centric, culture in which we are encouraged to think creatively, act authentically, and be the best service providers we can possibly be. We strive to support each other, inspire each other, and battle together. It is extremely gratifying to see the brand flourish but even more so to watch each us grow, with the help of one another.
Recently, we set out to capture team images that would reflect our core values and spirit and thought it would be fun to share the process with you! First and foremost, we had previously worked with Vivian Johnson Photography and knew she was just the talent we needed. Vivian is unique in style and her laid-back approach was just what the team needed to relax and enjoy the moment.
Next, we needed to find a location for the shoot. We pride ourselves on being creative in our approach to business and we took a similar path here. Instead of shooting in a home, or in front of our laptops, we wanted scenery with natural elements, color and warmth. After narrowing down some choices, Andrew set out to scout the locations. He sent back back an array of choices but he was thrilled with China Camp Village in China Camp State Park and what a find it was! We highly recommend that you check it out.
We are really pleased with results and will now use our photos in a wide array of media formats. We hope you enjoy this lighter look at Exceptionally Cool Homes and join us in welcoming our new team members, Allegra and Andrew!
Founder | Exceptionally Cool Homes
INTRODUCING ALLEGRA SMITH
Allegra feels grateful to have lived in numerous metropolitan cities stretching over three continents during her upbringing. Originally from the New York City area, Allegra spent the majority of her upbringing in Europe before returning to the U.S. to receive her bachelor’s degree from The Pennsylvania State University where she majored in Hospitality Management. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Allegra’s background was in high-end corporate events where she fell in love with the client-facing role, finding her place in producing the best experience around clients’ wants and needs.
INTRODUCING ANDREW GARCIA
Andrew grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a business degree. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and applies a very personal and thoughtful approach to connect with people so that he can get to know their goals and deepest aspirations. Andrew looks forward to applying valuable skills honed while working in Sales and Account Management at tech start-ups to his Real Estate repertoire.
Over the last two months, we have been running an ad campaign with the catch phrase, Your Marin Calling. These words paired with an epic coastal scene successfully conjure up visions of what it is like to experience Marin, as a home base.
For many, the last year produced a new set of priorities when it comes to where you call home. Home has always been a place to retreat to, private and undisturbed by outside forces, but never had it become all encompassing. A place to work, educate, exercise & relax. With the meaning of home expanding, Marin began to call out to the masses and the pull was undeniable.
We at ECH were here to answer the call, and continue to be dedicated to helping people follow their calling.
Not unlike a house, it is important for a team to have a solid foundation to build upon. The stronger the base, the higher you can go. As a team, we use ECH SOURCE as our guiding principles and our foundation. They come in handy as references when times are good, and especially when times are tough. We believe these behaviors represent the qualities it takes to make us better professionals and service providers to our clients.
Gibson Thomas, the Editor and Publisher of Edible Marin & Wine Country magazine sat down with us at her beautiful Mill Valley home to share stories about her upbringing, her home and things that inspire her. She is a multi-talented force with a talent for bringing people together, often centered around food or the arts.
Find Gibson at: https://ediblemarinandwinecountry.ediblecommunities.com/
A DISCUSSION WITH DESIGN PARTNER, CASS CALDER SMITH
Cass Calder Smith established the architectural firm that bears his name in 1992. Smith earned his Bachelor and Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. A native of New York City, he has lived in California since 1972. Firmly based in the modernist idiom, Smith draws inspiration from history’s masterful architects and remarkable cities as well as several epic filmmakers. Creative expression and unique innovation are characteristic of his designs balanced with intricate detail and pragmatism.
In addition to professional practice, Cass teaches design at UC Berkeley, is a Trustee on the Board for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and chaired the Civic Design Review Committee on The San Francisco Arts Commission for 8 years. He is also involved with curatorial groups at the Whitney Museum, and both the San Francisco and New York Museums of Modern Art. Smith and his work have won numerous design awards and have been published in The New York Times, Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, Metropolis, Dwell, and Interior Design among others.
Q&A WITH CASS:
What do you find informs your projects most these days?
It’s a number of aspects, which leads into the design agenda and process. First and foremost, it’s the client’s aspirations and requirements. A close collaboration helps this communication. Second, it’s the site for a new house or the existing house if it’s a renovation, since really understanding what you have to work with is important and also inspiring. The third is the regional context so that the home has some roots to a place. Designing a house in Marin is much different than Los Angeles. And since the beginning I have always been informed by many of my heroes from Le Corbusier on architecture to David Lean on cinema.
Over the past year, nearly all businesses have undergone a significant transformation. How has your business changed?
Prior to the pandemic my business did about half residential vs restaurants and commercial. Now It’s about 70/30 and the residential increase is mostly projects outside of the cities. For my team, this means Sonoma, Napa, and Marin mostly, but still some SF projects. I’m very satisfied with this since my preferred commissions are homes for interesting people. We certainly had to tighten our belts, but hopefully this is behind us.
Your firm is anchored both in NY and SF. Tell us about the challenges and benefits of running a bi-coastal design operation.
Well, I like challenges, yet over the years it has become pretty seamless. I have a lot of stamina and focus, which does me well as an architect and likewise working bi-coastally. From a practical standpoint I work with my great staff – some of whom are partners now. This includes an interiors team too. A key aspect that makes it work is that I have a house in SF and a loft in NYC and two staffed offices. My San Francisco office was my first, which I founded about twenty-five years ago as I finished up my master’s degree at UC Berkeley and so that gets most of my time. Although I grew up in New York City, I really love Northern California with its great natural light, natural settings, casual lifestyle, and delicious cuisine. On the flip side or maybe the complementary side, I really like New York, but for its urban concentration of culture that tends to fuel the creative spirit in me. I have friends and family in both places and do know my way around both at many levels and so it’s generally very positive. I think architects do best when they are involved in a range of places and cultures. For California clients, I think I bring a bit of New York to them and same the other way. Some of my clients are bi-coastal and so I have designed places for them in both places.
People’s priorities have changed over the last year and those changes have really impacted the spaces people want to live in. How has this shift changed the way you design a home?
I think there is a lot of ambiguity going on in people’s lives related to how and where to live, where to spend money, and how to best keep their kids educated. All of these come back to the home, which have differing degrees of priorities for my clients. Most of all its how to work from home in a way that’s efficient. I see it as the new ‘live work’ ratio. This has led to having flexible use rooms to actual home-offices in new homes and coming up with creative solutions for renovations. Pre-pandemic, most clients asked for places to work at home, but it was a pretty casual desire. Now it’s very specific and front burner. People want more space in general too so they can spread out – especially for the kids. From a process standpoint, I find clients being more focused than ever as collaborators on what they want. It seems the stakes are higher. This does challenge their budgets more than ever and so we stay cognizant of that and work hard to find cost-conscious solutions.
Do you have a dream project? Where would it be, and why?
I have two. One would be urban and very vertical located in SF or New York that I would design and live in. It would have dynamic city views balanced with well-placed walls for fine photography. Its aesthetic would be very clean-lined and more like a gallery than a home. The other dream project would be rural in Sonoma or Napa or West Marin and very horizontal with close-up and distant views of nature. All of the materials would be natural with a fine attention to detail. No sheetrock. The main spaces would be as indoor-outdoor as possible. Both places would be net-zero regarding energy usage, which I aim for on many projects. If it’s a dream project for a client, it would be for a person or family who know themselves that want an impeccable home for their contemporary art collection and a magnificent kitchen.
What elements do you feel makes a space great?
Space is luxury if it’s the right proportion and so width and height with natural light and connections to outside are imperative. Great spaces are specific to their uses and come in all sizes. Grand Central Terminal is a great space and so is an intimate bedroom that’s just the right amount of cozy. Humans like the feel of domestic spaces with overhangs and inside corners. Spaces that are too large are alienating. The materials and finishes used in any space are very important and when composed well with an attention to detail round it out. In the end it’s about ‘feel’ more than ‘wow’.
Are you leaning into any newer design trends that you can share with us?
My work aims to be more timeless than about trends. An overall trend over the past decade or so has been a greater appreciation for modernism. This was much more ingrained in Europe and now as it ascends in the U.S. it’s great. Today there is a strong trend or evolution to sustainability. In California this is about energy usage and water consumption, and to some degree materials. Most clients want a ‘net-zero’ house, meaning it produces as much energy as it uses. This is not only for the environment but is also economically driven with a return on investment.
Can you describe your approach to design challenges? Is that something you embrace?
Design challenges are typically related to architectural problem-solving. As architects, we do embrace this as a key to what we deliver. Often, it’s a gauge to our success and the more we do it the better we get. This covers the creative challenges of how to best situate a new house on a site, to how to fit a kitchen in what was a closet. My approach is listening to clients to best understanding the problems to solve. Then its design iteration mixed with tenacity to aim for a specific mastery to the project at hand. Clients that want and understand the challenges of creating a masterpiece are always gratifying.
A DISCUSSION WITH DESIGN PARTNER, LAUREN GEREMIA:
Lauren Geremia is the founder and principal of Geremia Design, a San Francisco-based studio that creates signature spaces through custom interiors and art curation. Acclaimed by Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” and Architectural Digest’s “Ones to Watch,” Lauren draws on her fine arts background to develop a narrative that provides depth to every project. She is inspired by unexpected architecture and clients who seek creative collaboration.
Initially characterized as an “upstart designer for tech,” Lauren’s early clients include Instagram and Dropbox. Her portfolio includes a wide range of commercial, residential and hospitality spaces. Lauren is a hands-on designer who leads her team from ideation to completion while cultivating long-term relationships with artists, galleries and vendors to source unique pieces tailored to each project. The result is a functional space with a cohesive vision that supports rituals and aspirations.
Q&A WITH LAUREN:
You have done different types of work in the Bay Area. Do you prefer working with commercial or residential clients?
I started off by myself designing bars, restaurants and commercial spaces in San Francisco. The interiors appealed to people working in tech, and through word of mouth and happy hour connections, I was hired to design several offices for tech firms. After building a business primarily focused on office design, we expanded our market by designing homes for the same clients. As our company grew, our clientele became more diverse and established. We have continued to build a portfolio based on good design and amazing homes.
Where is your company headed now? What is your ideal project?
Now, we seek to design properties that we feel emotionally attached to. Our team thrives in the face of design challenges, especially those presented by different architectural styles and locations. Our design process remains largely the same, even as we redefine our client base. We are excited to work with people who are willing to get creative, who share our values, and who are invested in the architecture and history of their homes.
What are some interesting projects or locations you have worked on recently?
We have done work in the San Juan Islands, Cincinnati and New York. The change of scenery is always refreshing, but our recent work on AutoCamp Yosemite, which features Airstream campers, tents, cabins and a clubhouse was especially rewarding. Our experience with commercial and residential spaces made for an easy transition into the hospitality world — designing hotels is very exciting for us.
We have connected before on the shared values that shape our brands and our affection for California. Can you talk a bit about how the California landscape informs your work?
It is nice to work with a lot of natural light, and in California that comes with the territory. It is such a privilege to work in places like Bolinas and Stinson — waterfront communities that aren’t commercialized or over-inhabited. Many of our clients embrace nature, and want a space where they can connect with family and do the things they love. We know how to support and design for that lifestyle.
What has been the most impactful change you have made to your living space since you started sheltering in place?
I have been painting a mural in my house and making smaller art to send to friends and family. It has been nice to reorganize rooms and drawers and to rearrange and style my space. My house feels more lived-in and my routine feels more efficient and thoughtful. I feel refocused on my design voice, my direction, and how to tackle whatever manifests next for design.
What are some interesting requests you are getting from clients?
We are seeing people move out of the city to homes that offer access to nature, seeking space and privacy and definition. We are seeing a need for multi-purpose spaces, as people are working, socializing and educating their children under one roof. People are using rooms that they never used before, building play structures, and cleaning garages to make space that they didn’t know they needed. Our clients are looking to make the most of their properties, and have more time to engage thoughtfully in planning their spaces, which is very exciting for us as designers.
What are the positive ways to look towards the future of how we view our homes?
Looking forward, I believe that people will value safety, health and family more than ever, which will inspire them to create sanctuaries specific to their lifestyles. Homes will be expected to provide many of the things we once enjoyed in the outside world and to bring natural elements inside. A well-organized home office, functional gym, home classroom environments and separate areas for isolation that promote privacy and focus will be important spaces to consider. Our clients are looking to make the most of their properties, and seem to have more time to engage thoughtfully in planning their spaces, which is very exciting for us as designers.
Founder | Principal Designer
Christian is an award winning landscape designer, licensed contractor and urban farmer. For over 22 years he has created beautiful and productive outdoor spaces. Combining his formal training in classical design and his passion for sustainable agriculture, Christian has created innovative landscapes in his native England, Jordan, Nepal, Australia and throughout the United States, with food at the heart.
Christian co-owned a design and fine gardening company in the U.K for 12 years, winning awards at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. His primary work focused on the redesign and construction of country estates and London Townhouses. Leaving the UK in 2008, he travelled the world learning strategies for farming and survival in desert environments while working and teaching for both for-profit and non-profit farms and education centers. He was constantly inspired by the common connection cultures have to their environment and growing food. This inspiration moved him to relocate to Marin County, in Northern California, in 2012, where he opened The Backyard Farm Co, an edible landscaping business that creates urban farms and teaches families how to grow their own food.
Q&A WITH CHRISTIAN:
Can you tell us when landscape design and sustainability began converging for you?
After leaving my design firm in the UK I began a four-year self-study of regenerative land use and system design in drylands (much like California) around the world. I witnessed firsthand the effects of environmental and social decline caused by poor natural resource management. It was a paradigm shift. I never saw design again in the same way. I felt a responsibility to begin redefining our exterior spaces and neighborhoods into resource-producing eco-systems. Factoring in high-end design was the biggest (and non-negotiable) challenge. I am a visual artist at my core.
Your business incorporates both landscape design and farming – Are your clients mostly individuals or do you work on commercial projects, as well?
We work with primarily residential clients and have recently branched out into commercial spaces developing a rooftop garden for a large tech company campus in downtown San Francisco. Our clients typically have a strong sense of design and are excited to explore beyond the conventional ornamental landscape framework. I’m a proponent of creating outdoor environments that become places for relaxation, recreation, and reflection, but food and habitat need to play a significant role in the narrative, as we look ahead to the next decade. We have the creativity and drive to model this anywhere and look forward to exploring more with wineries, restaurants, developers, public spaces, and more corporate campuses in the years to come.
There has been a palpable shift in priorities over the last few months. How has this affected your approach?
While the backbone of our approach has remained largely the same, the demand and awareness for growing food closer to our built environment has increased significantly. Our dynamic team is made up of former commercial organic farmers and experienced designers and architects, so the feedback loop between both sides is invaluable to our project progression and design success.
Shelter in Place has been a unique experience for us all. What has been the most impactful change you have made since it started?
We have increased our own home food production by forty percent! It’s been transformational. We are now able to grow a significant portion of our household food and still have a surplus to share with friends and family. Cooking more at home, preserving fruits and vegetables, and exploring new recipes, has been something we don’t usually have time to do. We barely go to the grocery store anymore. That feeling of self-reliance calms the nerves. It also keeps us busy outside – exercising and breathing fresh air – which are great stress relievers.
Have you had any interesting requests from clients since SIP?
We have been commissioned to transition a water-thirsty lawned estate in Atherton to food production and habitat creation, woven together with a fantastic sculpture collection. It will become a playground for grandchildren and adults alike to play, explore, and use the natural resources more responsibly. There is nothing more compelling than partnering with clients who are as excited about growing food, reducing water consumption, and collecting art as I am. Those elements fuel our creative fire like nothing else.
What attracted you to California?
The climate in the Bay Area is near perfect for our design approach – farmers and designers alike. People are open to pushing the creative envelope a little more here, and we have a wonderful ten-month growing cycle. California also welcomes varied architectural styles, which creates endless opportunities for new and original works of art with each new landscape inquiry.
How would describe your style and approach?
I am particularly drawn to crafting narratives that connect deeply with memory. Stimulating sensuality and surprise. Curiosity and wonder. A series of new, yet familiar interconnecting spaces evocative of chapters in your favorite book. Our projects are highly personalized. We work extremely closely with our clients, forming creative partnerships which can take the design in a myriad of directions. The hallmark of a good designer is having the ability to adapt to, and carefully weave together, the idiosyncrasies of each environment and the personalities who call the space home.
Founder | Principal Designer
In life, Audrey Emmons understood the meaning of breaking new ground. After all, she was the first female architect to be employed by esteemed Bay Area architect, William Wurstler, in the 1950’s. In the 80’s, Emmons was commissioned by her friend to build a family home in Stinson Beach. The result was a transcendant home that quietly merges with the natural beauty that surrounds it. Light infused, open spaces, connect with both water and mountain. Materials are natural and understated. The walls were designed to feature the homeowners art and the T-shaped structure created two courtyards aimed for congregation.
– E.C.H. would love to hear about the elements of your property that make it special. Connect with us for consideration to be included on “The List”.