When Bob Weissberg brought a prospective architect to the five-acre parcel in Arroyo Grande that he owns with wife Sooz, the architect examined the tangle of poison oak and oak trees — and he politely declined.
After a second architect turned him down, Bob decided to step up to the drafting table himself. He works in market research, but has been passionate about architecture for many years.
Bob considered this an opportunity to tailor the home to their lifestyle and needs — something he accomplished with the help of general contractor Kevin Hunstad.
A top priority was to integrate the home with its environment. To this end, Bob designed a single-story, mid-century modern-style structure nestled among the oak trees and set lower than their private road.
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Much of the five acres is filled with naturalistic landscaping, which was designed and installed by Weissberg with the help of landscape designer Hector Mendoza, once truckloads of poison oak were cleared. Paths loop around the house and meander among oak trees, with sitting areas scattered throughout. A large fish pond, capped with a waterfall, runs the width of the front of the house. A bridge crosses the water feature and leads to the front door. Drought-tolerant plants, such as succulents, cacti and Mediterranean-climate varieties, thrive with minimal irrigation in the sandy soil.
The home is 3,000 square feet, yet feels intimate, with “no grandiosity,” according to Sooz. Although the floor plan is open, individual rooms are not oversize. For instance, the dining room is just large enough to accommodate their dining table, which seats eight. Large windows, offering views of the pond and landscaping, keep the space from seeming cramped.
“It feels intimate when it’s just the two of us, but we can always have guests over,” said Bob.
Bob dislikes soaring ceilings, because “they make you feel like you’re living in a church,” he said. So the home has angled ceilings for interest, but none taller than 12-1/2 feet. The highest ceilings are in the living room, yet are clad in cedar for a warmer, more inviting atmosphere.
The couple loves to cook and entertain, so the kitchen is the hub of the home. It faces the living area with a large counter island that wraps around the kitchen for casual seating. There are no upper cabinets between the kitchen and living room, allowing the cook to easily interact with guests. Copper accents and hunter green lower cabinets with a distressed finish bring rural charm to the space.
The couple wanted the master suite to be a quiet retreat. It is not oversize, yet includes numerous amenities. There is a fireplace, but no television. In a partitioned sitting area, Sooz has a library and an office where she works as a telecommuting employee for Thomson Reuters.
“It serves as my personal sanctuary, so in that regard, it’s well-suited to be off the master,” she explained.
The bathroom has a separate vanity area for Bob and Sooz, each with its own entrance to the shower. Their large closet also is two-sided.
Two guest suites are located on a wing separate from the master suite. Each room has its own patio entrance to further give both guest and host a measure of privacy.
The Weissbergs stayed within their budget by choosing off-the-shelf items over custom or high-end whenever possible. Bob believes that these items are often easier to maintain and repair than more upscale options. For instance, they went with vinyl win dow casings instead of wood because they won’t need repainting, “and if anything should happen, they are much easier to replace,” said Sooz.
For countertops, Sooz insisted on laminate, which is easy to clean and doesn’t require special treatment, such as sealing. Laminate also offers a wide spectrum of looks. She chose countertops with a speckled appearance that mimics the look of stone in the kitchen, an aqua-colored countertop in the mudroom, and a bathroom counter that reminds her of beach glass.
When plans for stained concrete floors fell through, they chose a gray-toned ceramic tile that is economical, and more durable than wood — a must with two dogs and three cats in their household.
Saving on materials allowed the couple to splurge in other ways. The house has a built-in sound system. Also, there is aseparate structure on the property that includes office space for Bob, a sewing studio for Sooz, a media area and more space for guests.
To put the finishing touches on the house, Sooz worked with interior designer Jennifer Nogle Thompson of Interior Motives. Their goal was to create a warm and comfortable space suitable for displaying art. They chose simple, understated furniture and a palette of golds, browns and greens. Not one to fear color, Sooz punctuated the home with saturated hues such as a rich cocoa color for one guest suite. Even the painters warned that it would make the room seem small, “but guests always compliment it,” she said.
Art permeates every corner of the house. Many pieces were created by friends and local artists. Sooz displays several pieces of her quilting. There are also items picked up during trips to Santa Fe. “We’re pretty eclectic,” said Sooz of their collection.
The house was completed in September 2002, and the couple believes it is a perfect fit.
“It never grows old,” said Bob. “We’re really proud of what we’ve made out here.”
TIPS FROM BOB AND SOOZ WEISSBERG
EASY CARE MATERIALS Although natural materials are trendy and can be beautiful, remember that many require regular maintenance, such as sealing. Some are porous and difficult to sanitize. If you are a stickler for low maintenance, don’t rule out man-made materials. Many are created to mimic natural materials and offer an array of design choices.
WATER-WISE PLANTS One of Bob’s favorite droughttolerant plants is Fremontia (also known as a flannel bush), a California native that requires little to no irrigation once established and has a lovely yellow bloom. Others are Melaleuca, Leucadendron, Echium, Agave and oakleaf geranium.
BE BOLD Bold, saturated color can be comforting, rather than jolting, if you stick with earth tones. A deep cocoa or a rich burnt orange has impact. But because they are earth tones, they are also comfortable and welcoming.