The first time architect Jeffrey Emrick spent a night on his Pismo Beach property, he did it while sitting in a beach chair, sipping a glass of scotch.
It was shortly before closing escrow on the hillside lot in May 2006. He camped out there for 24 hours, examining the trees, the light and the views, trying to imagine the house he would someday build. The vision that finally came to him was a bit unconventional—but that’s not uncommon for this seasoned architect.
Emrick is an architect and civil engineer who owns the firm Garing Taylor and Associates in Arroyo Grande. Most of the homes he designs are contemporary.
“I’ve done enough tract homes in my career,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m not interested in doing that anymore.”
Emrick, who shares his home with wife Nancy, is a believer in maximizing volume in a home. He envisioned a three-story box with an angular roofline, where the absence of an attic allows the interior space to extend all the way to the roof.
“A great big box wouldn’t be that interesting,” he noted, “but if you put something in it, it just accentuates the volume of the space.”
His final design is a playful use of geometry. Above the lower-level garage, in the center of the box, there sits an oval room which Emrick planned to use as a home theater, but is currently using as a home gym. Also on this level are an office, laundry, and two guest rooms.
A staircase that winds around the oval takes you to its top — a railing-encircled living room that seems suspended in midair. Emrick aimed to create the feeling of being on an island.
From the living room, you step across a bridge to the home’s main living area, which includes a dining room, family room and master bedroom. With windows offering views of the coastal live oak on the property, the top level has the feel of a tree house.
Emrick went to extremes to expose beams and columns, including the home’s massive redwood center column.
“Exposing structure is at the heart of modern architecture,” he explained. “It’s called honesty in architecture.”
He chose to build with numerous green materials. The exterior siding is Cor-ten steel that will never require painting. He has allowed the material to acquire a natural coating of rust.
Wanting to keep the home a shoe-free space, he used jute carpeting and bamboo — two eco-friendly materials that feel good on the feet. He also used all low-VOC paints to minimize off-gassing.
As the project began to wind down, a dwindling budget motivated Emrick to get creative with sourcing materials. For instance, he bought all of his lighting at Home Depot for about $2,500. He also furnished the home primarily with pieces he already owned.
The Emricks chose a clean, minimalistic look for the approximately 2,600- square-foot home. Their reasons were personal, rather than purely aesthetic. The couple was wed in May 2008, the month the structure was completed. So the house is emblematic of their new life together and their desire to make a fresh start.
“My last home was a ranch home out in the country that was about 3,500 square feet,” he said. “There was so much stuff. I really pared down and it feels invigorating— a huge relief.”
The few pieces he did keep were traditional in style.
“Very ultra-modern furniture may have been a little too cold,” he noted. “The way it’s furnished now, it’s warm but not cluttered and really easy to clean.”
His brother, Baywood artist Ted Emrick, created the textured glass front door and many of the modern glass sculptures in the home.
Looking back, Emrick appreciates the significance of his initial on-site campout.
“That night I worked out the entire house including structure, beam sizes, shear wall locations, heights, elevations and building sections,” he said. “It is exactly what I envisioned.”