Paradise Evolved

If the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry — to echo Steinbeck — the same can be said of even the most well-conceived bachelor pads.

It was a confirmed bachelor who approached architect Miles Berger in 2006, asking for help replacing his hillside teardown in Tiburon’s Lyford Cove. Though the owner (who prefers anonymity) had a serious girlfriend, his list of must-haves leaned considerably more toward poker nights than Better Homes and Gardens. He wanted a workout room, a garage big enough for his car collection, and a game room for his pool table and card table, where he held a weekly poker game. Oh — and he wanted to maximize the view.

It’s impossible to talk about this site without mentioning the view. The elegantly modern home that now sits here is practically swallowed by it. Think of watching Ayala Cove, Angel Island and Raccoon Straits on an IMAX screen all day, and you start to get a feel for why the owner held on to this property for more than 20 years, even with the “dump” — Berger’s word — that stood here before. It was a clapboard triplex, built in the ’40s or ’50s when Tiburon was a funky railroad town, and it was literally falling down the hill.

So Berger was commissioned to create an entirely new home, and from the beginning he understood that everything needed to be about the view. At the owner’s request, he perched the top floor — a loftlike great room — where it could best encompass the view of the straits. Then he made sure that every water-facing wall was constructed of glass. In the living/dining area, sliding glass doors stretch the entire length and height of the room, opening onto a limestone deck. In the master bedroom below, windows are the main attraction. And in the game room beneath that, an assemblage of windows reaches 17 feet high..Cedric Glasier

Berger also solved a dilemma. “One of the problems with many sites in Tiburon and Belvedere is that they orient toward Angel Island,” he says. “But the most important view is the Golden Gate Bridge.” To rectify this, Berger designed west-facing corner windows that contain no mullions (the metal trim that usually holds the glass in place). Instead, there are seamless right angles of glass, opening to a bay and bridge view.

Berger also chose an optical illusion to extend the view. Because the home faces a busy street and has no front-facing windows, he set a five- by 10-foot trimless mirror into the living room’s back wall. When you look at it, you think you are looking out another window, watching ferries pass by, until you realize that the water is actually behind you.

Berger even considered the neighbors’ views. Because the home is downhill from a populated area, he created an understated and low-lying facade out front and took pains to protect others’ views from inside the house as well. One of the home’s most stunning features is a white-beamed skylight, akin to something in a modern art museum, that sits over the stairwell and tilts toward the water, away from the neighbors.

The skylight serves two purposes. It draws light into the back of the windowless rooms. And because it’s tilted, says Berger, “it makes it so that when the people up the hill want to enjoy the stars and view at night, it isn’t ruined when — boom — the people down the hill turn on their lights.” Tom Ganley, the home’s builder, also constructed a little wall surrounding the skylight to shield it even further.

Details like these are what helped the home design be approved on its first pass, something of a rarity in the town’s challenging building environment. But when it comes to Tiburon design, the bow-tied, bespectacled Berger is as close to a sure thing as it gets. A longtime resident, he served on the design review board for four years, part of the time as its chairman. He was on the planning commission for six. And he’s spent six years on the town council, serving both as mayor and vice mayor. But this is not the architectural equivalent of insider trading. “I don’t have some magic wand,” Berger says. “It’s just that I guide my clients not to propose something that’s going to get turned down. You can design your way around a number of problems, and everybody comes out singing kumbaya.

The one part of the plan that was not originally considered was that the owner’s long-term girlfriend became his wife. She had always had a fair amount of input in the design process, but once her status became legal, her needs moved more to the forefront. A professionally trained pastry chef, she had very specific ideas about the kitchen, so that room now has a large travertine island for prepping, as well as high-end appliances and fixtures, such as a Dacor range, Sub-Zero refrigerators and Dorn Bracht faucets. The faucets are square, which is somewhat unusual but keeps with a theme that is echoed throughout the house. Most of the fixtures, pulls or railings are pleasingly geometric, in square or rectangular shapes.

The kitchen cabinets are all constructed of anigre, an inexpensive African hardwood. Its use is one of the many ways the owners cut costs to build the home on the luxury equivalent of a shoestring budget, about $450 per square foot. Anigre can be found on the kitchen island and most of the cabinetry throughout.

The light color palettes, African wood, and limestone and travertine are consistent in the home, as is the emphasis on horizontal shapes throughout. At one end of the great room, the kitchen is laid out in a rectangle. At the other end, the sleek fireplace is oblong. Not only does the seven-foot glass fireplace cut a dramatic shape, it sits on an even more pronounced 12-foot travertine hearth.

It’s not an accident that the upper floor is dominated by horizontals. As Berger stands in the great room and points towards the straits, he asks, “What are the relevant forms you see outside? I wanted the water line to transition right through the house.” As a result, the home has a harmonious, almost zen-like feel.

Cedric GlasierOnly when you reach the bottom floor do you remember this was supposed to be a bachelor pad (well, that and when you see the huge flat-screen TV in the garage). This is where the owner’s 15 by 34-foot game room resides. With 19-foot ceilings, it’s less man cave than man vault. It contains a pool table, a card table, and a wine cellar holding a collection of French wines. Next door is a fully outfitted workout room, which Berger designed so that should the house ever be sold, it could be converted to two kids’ rooms, creating a four-bedroom home.

As he stands in the man vault, Berger rues one of the features that was cut because of the owner’s changing life — a proposed Juliet balcony, which would have opened from the second-floor master bedroom, overlooking the cavernous game room below. When the now-wife got wind of that, she put the kibosh on it quickly, treasuring her sleep.

Which, says Berger, is both good and bad. “Things transitioned from being a fantasy bachelor pad,” he says, “into what has now become a loving couple’s home.”