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McDonell Residence

Architect / Firm: Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Awards:    Year:    Entry Categories:

Awards:    Year:    Entry Categories:

Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Contact Person


Architectural Firm


Fairweather + Associates
2800 Blucher Valley Road, Sebastopol CA 95472

Project Location: Sebatopol, California
Owner: Ron and Chelle McDonell
Completion Date: 05/13/2008

Hand built by the owners, this Sebastopol residence demonstrates that good design need not be limited by modest means.


The site was an uphill residential lot with a dilapidated cottage in an older neighborhood near downtown Sebastopol.


The owners are a couple with four children. They both were working for the Santa Rosa Fire Department.


The clients had a dream of building a new modern house. The task that they presented the architect was to design a unique loft-like custom residence for a family of six within 2,000 square feet and at half the cost of a typical custom home. While their $300,000 budget ($150 per square foot) was relatively modest, the vision and the challenge that it represented were inspiring.

Site Design

The entire site is organized as a series of stepped levels with architectural concrete retaining walls leading from the street below to a rear courtyard. The garage is at street level and recessed into the hill side. The next level is a vegetable garden which is a step below the main front yard so that it does not interfere with the views from the house. Along the south edge of the lot, an architectural concrete stair leads up the slope from the sidewalk to the main entrance tucked away at the side of the house. Located on the footprint of the disassembled cottage at the rear of the lot, the location of the new house offers shade, privacy and views.


Like the fire stations familiar to the owners, the house is an efficient design composed of sleeping rooms upstairs, service spaces (kitchen, bath, laundry) at the rear and a large open loft living space below. The simple two-story bar house across the rear of the lot created a shady rear patio and a sunny front yard which offered alternatives for outdoor living in the northern California climate. The living areas are enclosed by a ribbon of full height, high performance aluminum windows. The central stair wraps around a freestanding fireplace and occupies a two-story high volume at the rear of the house. Two levels of floor-to-ceiling windows behind the stair open the living spaces to the rear patio and provide a dramatic view of a mature Bay tree.


To help meet their budget (and partly because they love to build), the owners formed a unique relationship with a local contractor. The owners worked along side the contractor throughout the construction providing labor assistance and producing many of the finishes and furnishings themselves. Throughout the construction components of the house are revealed and celebrated: from the honed concrete floor, wood ceiling framing and exposed steel posts and beams on the interior to the corrugated metal siding, integral color smooth trowel plaster and natural wood slat siding on the exterior. The result is a finely crafted yet affordable modern custom home.


Sustainable features include careful siting, generous natural ventilation, radiant slab heating, high-efficiency dual space/water heating, high-performance glazing local and recycled building materials.



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