Going “Green” Beautifully: Wurster House Restoration
Brookstone Builders     

An extraordinary collaboration between Brookstone Builders and the home owner with superb design sense, has turned a 6,000 square foot structure designed by renowned architect William Wurster, into a green home that retains all the charm of the original.

“This project is truly not a renovation, but a restoration,” notes Tony Curci of Brookstone Builders. Although some attic space was ‘stolen’ along the way to create more closet space for the homeowners, “we mostly just added some things to make the house work better.”

The Woodside home started life in the early 1930’s, clad entirely in brick veneer. “It was an incredibly well-built structure,” says Tony. “We removed all the brick, removed the substructure, filled the void where the brick used to be, retrofitted rigid wall insulation, and then built out again where necessary.” The original siding was retained over about 80% of the house; where it needed to be replaced, Brookstone Builders had boards custom-milled to match.

The house was already sited to take full advantage of morning and afternoon sun, and the homeowners loved the old double-hung windows, so all old window locations were retained. The new windows were painstakingly integrated amongst the old; only the trained eye of a craftsman would notice. Some of the original double-hung windows were refurbished with laminated glass for safety (the original glass was neither tempered nor laminated).

Other than the brick veneer, the only aspect of the home that was changed radically were the 1980’s style ceiling fixtures left by the previous owners. Cabinet knobs and hardware were retained and refurbished wherever possible, or replaced with artful modern duplicates. Bathroom fixtures were also retained and in some cases refurbished and replated. The majority of the the original millwork was preserved, refurbished and reinstalled and/or duplicated, giving the house a sense of timelessness and grace.

The devil of this green restoration is in its details.

• The house is entirely self-sufficient for electricity. Electricity is generated during the day by a 9.3 Kw photovoltaic system where the excess power is sold back to PG&E. During utility outages a backup propane generator is utilized to keep the systems of the home up and running without interruption. The system was designed and installed by Occidental Power Solar & Cogeneration, which assisted to obtain for the homeowner a refund from PGE, reimbursing them for 22% of the total cost of the photovoltaic system.

• Exterior insulation was of high-performance polyisocyanurate foam core bonded between two layers of 7/16 OSB (oriented stran board) with an R-value of 15.9. Interior insulation was fiberglass batt with an R value of 13. Thus, the house was insulated 122% over Title 24 requirements. All insulation was environmentally manufactured with hydrocarbon-blowing agents that have no ozone-depleting potential.

• Windows were refurbished with high-performance glass, fabricated with in-kind wood materials to preserve the architectural signature in form and elevation. Included in the retrofit was the fabrication and installation of window-closing mechanisms that would accommodate the added weight of the high-performance glass.

• Added sunscreens and automatic awnings deflect 90% of the heat; making air conditioning demands in the summertime unnecessary under most circumstances.

• Draperies in the living room are made from ultraviolet-reflective, semi-sheer fabric that repels damaging radiation without destroying the view from the outside in, or the inside out

• The house is protected by “eco-friendly” exterior paint

• All bulbs are fluorescent

• All appliances are modern, water-saving, and energy-efficient

In addition to its seamless integration of old and new, the restored home is attentive to the needs of its owners: a family with two young sons. For example, the original built in full-length bookcases at the living room were replicated and fit with cabinet doors on the bottom levels, perfect for hiding toys and electronics.

The restoration project was also sensitive to the needs of existing mature plants. As the brick façade was removed from the house, and the house re-painted, plantings quite close to the house were completely preserved. An espaliered pear tree thrives inches from the newly-painted exterior; a trellis that bears a 70-year-old Wisteria was reinforced with sensitivity.

Arguably the most amazing element of the collaboration between the client and Brookstone Builders is that the renovation of the house was completed in just nine months.

Thus Brookstone Builders completed another project on time and on budget, with the craftsmanship and integrity that marks all Brookstone Builders projects.

William Wurster
William Wilson Wurster (1895 – 1973) is known for designs that employed simple, unadorned materials, flexible floor plans, and a sharp attention to site. Greatly influenced by the social and economic conditions of the 1930’s, Wurster set out to design small houses that offered the same livability as those of greater scale. An example of one such Wurster home is Hollins House, now a restaurant at Pasatiempo Golf Course, Santa Cruz.

In the post-World War II years, Wurster became involved in creating innovative and affordable mass-produced dwellings. (An early design of Wurster’s clearly informed the work of Joseph Eichler.)

For an extensive look at Wurster’s work and a discussion of his influence on modern architecture, see “An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster” by Marc Trieb, University of California Press, 1999.