Set against a dramatic sloping hillside, Case Study House #26 is a stunning example from the experimental architectural program that ran from 1945 to 1966.

Completed in 1963 by architect Beverly (David) Thorne, the San Rafael home was acquired in 2015 by Cord Struckmann, an architect, and his partner, Alfonso Cordon.

“When it came on the market, it was relatively well published…so if you lived in the Bay area or even nationally, it was difficult to miss,” remembers Cord. “We liked the house, it had a nice language and feel to it, and it was working for us to move out from San Francisco, so it was a good match,” he continues.

The living room of Case Study House #26, showcasing a rectangular fireplace and natural clerestory.
A loft area creates a natural clerestory, providing additional light and depth to the living room below. the light fixtures and fireplace are original to the home. Photography by Robert Jordan. 

To own a piece of architectural history, such as an intact Case Study House, is truly an extraordinary experience. “We would like to change as little as possible and as little as is necessary with the architecture. And I think this is what we have done so far,” says Cord. The couple decorates the house with more freedom because it is easily reversible, using furniture and art to add modern touches to the home.

Salvage What You Can

While many original features were still intact, the home’s kitchen had seen an extensive remodel in the 1970s. The previous owners brought in high-quality St. Charles metal cabinets in an array of colors, while opening up the space to allow for better views.

“We wanted to keep the cabinets because they were quite unique and [such] good quality,” says Cord. However, their once colorful façade had been painted over several times and needed extensive refinishing. Finding the right contractor to sandblast and powder coat the heavy metal cabinets turned out to be quite a challenge. “We had to go to body shops to find people to refinish these cabinets,” states Cord. “But eventually we found one who was interested, but under the condition that they can set up the shop at our site, not at their shop,” he continues. Because the body shop didn’t want to dedicate such a large area to a kitchen remodel, Cord cleaned out his shed to create a clean environment, allowing a high-quality finish to the cabinets.

The kitchen's metal cabinets, finished in a white sheen.
St. Charles metal cabinets were brought in during a 1970s kitchen renovation. the high-quality modular cabinets were refinished and rearranged in a new configuration.  Photography by Max Tortoriello.

When it came to arranging the kitchen, the modular design of the cabinets allowed Cord to assemble a layout that worked for everyday use. “First of all, we would like to make it functional. Then the second kind of guideline is really to preserve as much fabric, material as possible, so this is why we kept the metal cabinets,” explains Cord.

The kitchen's modular design in Case Study House #26, showcasing its tile floors and white cabinets.
Photography by Robert Jordan.

The new setup allowed the couple to customize the kitchen to their specific needs. “[Alfonso] is a good cook, so it was really important,” says Cord. The sleek upgrades—such as replacing plastic laminate with Silestone—demonstrate Cord’s third rule that any new additions should be modern and give a contemporary feel.

Efficient Updates

An original copper radiant heating system runs throughout the home, but the carpeting was decreasing its efficiency. Porcelain tile replaced carpeting in the living room and dining room and also sheet vinyl in the kitchen. “This helped a lot, getting the [hot] air out and not stopped by the carpeting,” states Cord. Original exposed concrete extending from the outside to the entryway supported the home’s indoor/outdoor connection and only needed a careful wash.

Overhead Additions

The unique design of the home includes a carport and loft area located above the living spaces. The flooring adjacent to the carport was originally gravel but had been removed by a previous owner. The remaining bare wood disrupted the continuous look of the loft and connected roof, so Cord restored the area with lava rock.

The lava rock floors of Case Study House #26 placed in the loft.
The living room, lava rocks were placed in the loft area, which is located next to the carport. Photography by Cord Struckmann. 

“When there was nothing there, you really felt there was something missing … and now you almost don’t notice it because it feels normal there,” he explains. While the many windows in the loft were providing plenty of sunshine, the original single panes weren’t efficient. To preserve the windows and their unique casings, Cord used inserts from Indow Window. Not only do they help with insulation, but also they can be removed in the future and didn’t alter the appearance. “You have to look carefully to see them, so we are very happy with them,” says Cord.

The windows of Case Study House #26 highlighting their unique casings.
Windows in the upper loft area were fitted with inserts, but all the remaining windows are original single panes, put into their unique casings when the home was built in 1963. Photography by Robert Jordan. 

 

Want to know how these homeowners revitalized Case Study House #26? Here is the inside scoop on how they stayed true to its MCM origins…on a budget!

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