SAUSALITO, Calif.--Here in Marin, a county forward-thinking enough that it commissioned a world-class civic center by Frank Lloyd Wright, it should come as no surprise that many homes are truly stunning and would be envied the world over.
And the envy will probably be especially strong for those who fork over $150 to visit 10 multimillion dollar masterpieces throughout Marin, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, on April 30 and May 1. Dwell magazine, in conjunction with Marin magazine, is hosting the Home Tours. But as part of my Road Trip at Home series, I got a chance to visit four of the residences before the tours take place.
The four homes I toured provided a terrific cross-section of the best Marin has to offer: a Tiburon hilltop cacophony of windows featuring world-beating views of Marin, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, and Berkeley and Oakland; a spare but impressive floating home in the middle of one of Sausalito's best houseboat communities; a "Bridge House" that imaginatively spans a small valley and a river below; and a home at the top of a hill in a tree-studded and quiet neighborhood that emphasizes the beauty and grandeur of the outdoors throughout its modern interior.
As the home tour's official brochure puts it, these houses are "pushing residential architecture forward in Marin County... Discover the houses that are bringing the outdoors in, realizing dreams, and defining what modern design means."
Gate 5 House For years, one of my favorite things to do in Sausalito has been to go walking on the houseboat docks. And while there are several of them clustered together in a small area on the north end of town, I've long favored one specific dock for its quiet, the lush plants that residents grow outside, the many cats that wander peacefully along the wooden planks, and the whimsical art found up and down the dock.
So I was very happy when I discovered that the one houseboat included in the home tour is not only on my favorite dock, but is located right at my favorite part of the dock.
This is owner-architect David Spurgeon's Gate 5 House. Unassuming from the outside, inside it's a study in maximizing minimal space. After all, this is a house with two wide-open floors and no other rooms, save for a couple of bathrooms and a closet-cum-bunk-bed. Yet it features a fantastic gourmet kitchen, views to die for of Southern Marin's Richardson Bay, a boat of its own that allows Spurgeon to set sail for just about anywhere he wants to go, and much more.
Spurgeon, who works in Sausalito as an architect, started out by buying the aging tugboat that previously filled his slip and turning it over to the local fire department, which in turn moved it nearby and used it to set test fires. Once the slip was empty, Spurgeon began building his new home by hand in 2002, completing it three years later. "I built everything you see," he told me proudly.
The house is designed to be comfortable in all seasons. When it's warm, Spurgeon can open the wide doors that lead from the main upstairs space to a deck that looks out over the water. When it's cold, he keeps the doors closed, trapping heat inside. Spurgeon touts the house's green credentials: it has radiant heat in the floors, and bamboo flooring, low-E glass, steel siding, and manufactured lumber from new-growth wood.
The house also uses space wisely. In the lower level, Spurgeon installed closets that open both into his bedroom area and into the bunk bed room. The bunk is built on top of the closet, which is located at floor level. I thought using the closet would require stooping down, but that wasn't the case.
In the bathroom, Spurgeon displays more creative use of materials. For his fixtures here, he employed food service equipment, including a kettle caddy for the main plumbing. It feels industrial, but looks just right.
I asked Spurgeon something I've always wanted to know about the houseboats: Don't they suffer from mold, since they're smack dab in the middle of an extremely wet environment? The only corrosive he worries about, he said, is the salt from the bay water that can attack the wood and metal of the boat.
But it doesn't look like he has much trouble with that, and when I asked him if he likes living here, he glowed. "Basically, you never really lose the connection to the outside," Spurgeon said, touting the seals that show up outside from time to time and the "pelicans that come in like marauding bombers" about 6 inches off the surface of the water. "It's an absolute cacophony of stuff with all the doors open... I love it here. I always feel like I'm camping out."
And if camping means cooking in a gourmet kitchen, sign me up. … Read more