Welcome to 1969 pix
That's when Alexander Girard put his upbeat modernist imprimatur on a Northern California house by Don Knorr
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
At a 1969 house in Woodside, California, Alexander Girard incorporated letters from his client's last name into the front doors.
This 1971 photograph shows an oak towering above Don Knorr and Associates's 4,000-square-foot house. Photography: Morley Baer/courtesy of the Morley Baer Photography Trust, Santa Fe.
Girard designed the living room's lounge chairs, which are on castors, and the glass-topped table. The wool tapestry comes from Crete.
The tongue-and-groove redwood siding.
The entry's bench upholstery, which Girard made from Cretan handbags.
The 96 cupboard doors wrapped in Girard textiles in wool, linen, or cotton, glued and ironed on.
Bronze legs for the custom bench.
Girard's wool upholstery on one of the living room's chairs.
The front door's steel panels with their finish of pulverized glass sprayed on, then fired.
Antique toys on the living room's redwood shelving.
The 55-foot-long storage wall runs three quarters of the house's length.
The kitchen island's counter of fossilized marble.
A Girard greeting card.
His graphic featuring the word love in various languages.
Girard's Tilt Swivel executive chair, upholstered in vinyl and wool.
The master bedroom's curtain in his Palio pattern.
Eames chairs covered in leather, a granite-topped table, and an aluminum pendant fixture in the kitchen.
A Girard fabric covering a pillow.
In the master bedroom, the 7-by-8-foot custom headboard of painted plywood references the client's Ukrainian heritage. The illuminated niches hold his travel souvenirs.
Beniamino Benvenuto Bufano's powdered-granite sculpture is part of the 3-acre property's original landscaping by Anthony Guzzardo.
In a guest room, Girard designed the drapery's Garden of Eden raw silk, the chair, and its wool upholstery.
EXCEPT WHERE NOTED, PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIC LAIGNEL
Think modernism. California in particular. Inevitably, mental flash cards show Los Angeles projects by Pierre Koenig, Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, et al. Yet "Case" and "Study" aren't the last words on the subject. Northern California boasts its own modern heritage, much of it brought to light in Pierluigi Serraino's new book, NorCalMod: Icons of Northern California Modernism. Here we discovered a little-known collaboration between Don Knorr and Associates, designer Alexander Girard, and client Robert Scoren, a dentist who still lives in this Woodside residence, 30 miles south of San Francisco—and is still very much house-proud. The 1969 design, intact and unchanged, remains the sole collaboration between architect Don Knorr and Girard, who apparently became lifelong friends after this project but never worked together again.
But first, the backstory. Predating the house commission was a Palo Alto dental building that Knorr, an Eero Saarinen disciple, was designing for Scoren's group practice. Wanting to jazz up his suite, Scoren wondered aloud how he could contact the long-admired Girard. "Just call him," Knorr advised. A phone conversation led to dinner. And the rest is design history.
Knorr's architecture for the house consists of three simple rectangular volumes enclosed in tongue-and-groove redwood, rubbed with linseed oil—the modernist dictum to the nth degree. But to those equating modernism with austerity and impersonality, Girard's contributions to this project retort, "Look at me!" His opulent eye, to borrow from the title of a 2000 show at New York's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, surveys every inch. Kitsch and color, texture and dynamism. They're all there, starting at the main entry, where 10-foot-tall double doors in- corporate a mirror-image word game with the name Scoren. Each letter appears on a square panel of color: red, orange, blue, black, white—all brilliant to this day, thanks to pulverized glass sprayed onto ferrous steel panels and then fired. "It's like dental veneers," Scoren explains of the complex finishing method.
The doors open to a glassed-in entry that shares the house's central volume with the living room. Contiguous dining, kitchen, and family zones occupy the wing to the right, four bedrooms and two and a half baths the wing to the left. With this pavilionlike plan of overlapping spaces and indoor-outdoor connections, realized with skylights and glass sliders, the 4,000-square-foot interior clearly hits all the right modern notes. Posts and beams, salvaged from a lumber pile Scoren found at a dismantled railroad trestle in nearby Eureka, are held in place by mortise-and-tenon joints. Hemlock clads the 10-foot ceiling, and terrazzo slabs 1 foot square cover the radiant-heated floor. The construction, he says, "has not a piece of hardware in it."
If that envelope sounds somber, its contents are the epitome of jazzy—starting with the central entry, which introduces Girard's passion for textiles. Who else but a true devotee would deconstruct handbags from Crete to turn them into upholstery for a pair of custom benches? But Girard saved his real genius for a 55-foot-long grid of color that starts in the dining area and runs through the kitchen. This wall incorporates 96 cupboards, each fiberboard front sporting a different Girard textile—a mix of brights and neutrals, solids and patterns, all affixed via white glue heat-set with an iron. They hint at the designer's range of more than 300 fabrics and wallpapers designed from the 1950's to the '70's, just as the sunken living room's furniture speaks of Girard's place in Herman Miller's star team, joining George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, and Charles and Ray Eames.
Girard's fascination with folk art was legendary, and he gave Scoren plenty of opportunities to show off finds from around the world. Against a window in the living room, Girard set a grid of redwood shelves specially designed to hold antique toys. Travel souvenirs have their place in the master bedroom, in the illuminated arched niches of a 7-foot-tall headboard fashioned out of plywood and painted blue-and-white—giving a nod to Scoren's Ukrainian heritage. Girard's lively textiles reappear here and in the guest rooms in the form of curtains. His Garden of Eden pattern, in raw silk, could have been launched days, not decades, ago. It's that vivid.
Could this project be duplicated today? Obviously not for the $125,000 it cost then. Even with the pool house Knorr built in 1987 and the guest house he added in 1998, the 3-acre site is dwarfed by neighboring spreads with correspondingly huge mansions. Check back in 38 years to see how they hold up.