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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Little house full of big ideas on design and decor

By Holly Hayes
Knight Ridder News Service

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On most construction jobs, Clarum Homes project manager Sean Misskelley is sweating the details as new houses come together.

With the Sunset Celebration Idea House, Misskelley is also thinking about how to deconstruct the 2,400-square-foot contemporary that has gone up this spring on a steel-pier foundation in a parking lot at Sunset magazine's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

Sometime this summer, the house will be taken apart and moved in two huge chunks to its permanent address a couple of miles away. It will be reassembled atop a new foundation and 2,000-square-foot basement.

But while Misskelley ponders the various perils of that aspect of the project, he and the rest of the team have had their hands full putting the finishing touches on one of the most innovative Idea Houses to date.

The innovation starts with a lot of stuff visitors won't immediately be aware of. All of the outside walls and the two sloping roofs have been built with structural insulated panels, pre-cut units that were assembled on site. The panels speed up construction and create a space that is especially energy-efficient and more resistant to earthquake, fire and insect damage. A house like the Idea House would cost about $225 a square foot to build.

Step inside and the house hugs you with warm light, welcoming the outside in at every turn.

Architect Henry Siegel used his own award-winning Sonoma County, Calif., weekend retreat as the inspiration for the Idea House. Its centerpiece literally is a pass-through covered breezeway that at the same time separates and unifies the house's two living areas.

On one side of the breezeway also called the "dog trot" are the living room, dining area, kitchen, half bath and a clever reading nook. On the other side are the guest room/office, a kids' bedroom and the master suite, each with its own bathroom and access to private courtyard space.

Interior designer Chad De Witt has infused the home with textures and colors that are stylish while maintaining their green credentials.

De Witt, a sixth-generation Californian who studied architecture and design at California College of the Arts, likes to mix vintage pieces with contemporary. In the living/dining room, a Scandinavian teak sideboard from the '50s looks right at home next to the hip, accordionlike X-Pand Table in white oak. The sleek gray-green crushed-quartz kitchen countertops are accented with a backsplash of Heath Ceramics sculptural tiles whose design dates back to Edith Heath in the 1950s.

"There are no new ideas. Just old ideas refreshed," says De Witt, who collects old Sunset decorating books. "You flip through the pages of these books and you see timeless design. A lot of the feel of what you see in the Idea House is classic California vernacular design."

Today's designers, of course, have a vastly expanded palette of materials from which to choose. In the kids' bath, bright blue rubber floor tiles are used as a backsplash that's as fun as it is easy to wipe clean. Bathroom countertops and shower surrounds are clad in a new material made of 60 percent scrap aluminum set in resin. Shower panels and cabinet insets are made of a translucent resin that is lighter in weight and safer than glass. Some versions have pieces of textile embedded in the resin.

One of the most distinctive finishes in the Idea House is on the fireplace, where the warm, honey-colored concrete has been mixed with rice hulls. Designers used the imprint of eucalyptus leaves to add visual interest.

De Witt and the design team have mixed their materials with abandon, and yet it all seems to work together harmoniously.

The hearth and reading nook areas are framed in white oak, a startling contrast to the wide-plank hickory flooring dressed up with a dark stain. The kitchen cabinets are smooth maple with metal "fabric" inserts.

In the guest room/office, ultra-contemporary aluminum and white-oak modular cabinets march up the walls, while a platform bed and side table made of bamboo anchor the center.

In the master bath, reclaimed teak counters look rich and earthy. And the enormous barn doors that slide on a metal track to close off the bedroom wing are made of reclaimed Douglas fir.

Fade-resistant fabrics that usually see duty outdoors have been brought inside to be hung by clips on simple stainless-steel rods. The fabrics also have been stitched into covers for large cushions in the reading nook.

The master bedroom walls are covered in a grass cloth that has been hand-blocked with images of a ginkgo leaf, a nod to the arts and crafts designers of the early part of the last century. The motif is repeated in the drapery panels on the french doors.

Outside, most of what looks like wood isn't. The nearly 2,000 square feet of decking and the railings, and the post-toppers are a composite material with a made-you-look-twice wood grain.

On a raised garden bed, Sunset senior home writer Peter O. Whiteley has used precast concrete to create a stacked-wall look.

The "wrought iron" fencing is made of a polymer material.

And even the grass isn't grass.

"The synthetic lawn grows perfectly on asphalt," says Whiteley of the parking-lot installation.

And it will be easy to roll up once the public has trooped through and the Idea House is loaded in pieces to be trucked to its permanent home.