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House Talk

No. 16 - January, 2004

"Living in a William Wurster Home"
A talk with Chandra Easton

In the summer and fall of 2003, Glass-Sabine worked diligently with the young Easton-Blossom family - Chandra Easton, Scott Blossom and three-year-old Tara - as they made the decision to move to the Bay Area, and painstakingly pulled up roots in Santa Barbara. Their real estate requirements were specific and straightforward: they wanted a home in the Berkeley Hills, and they wanted a place that touched their hearts. After months of searching, they found their dream - a home on Spruce Street designed in the 1930's by California architect, William Wurster. Oddly enough, Chandra's father had studied architecture at U.C. Berkeley in the 1960's, and had attended several of William Wurster's seminars, so the connection was already in place.

A few months after the family had settled into the house, Glass-Sabine paid them a visit to get their impressions of life in a William Wurster house. Scott remembered that when he read one of the reports on the house before making the purchase, an inspector had used the word "exquisite" to describe the foundation. Indeed, for a house that is almost sixty years old and built on a slope, the floors seem positively youthful, with no settlement at all. The other initial impression that Scott had about the house was that from the outside, it appeared understated and unassuming. However, he found the interiors to be elegant - the feeling achieved by use of high ceilings, French doors, wide hallways and lots of big windows. The contrast of the modest exterior and the elegant interior is a feature found in many Wurster-designed homes. His architecture is planned to fit the specific site of each of his homes, usually with an openness and an indoor-outdoor flow that takes advantage of the natural beauty of the Bay Area's landscapes.

The house on Spruce Street definitely has that flow - there is an energetic and artistic feel to the house that is hard to describe. As Chandra says, the breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay almost become part of the design of the house. The colors of the sky and the water are constantly changing; the cloud formations and reflections from the bay are a joy of everyday life for her. Although the house sits on a relatively narrow lot, Wurster cleverly designed the placement of the rooms and the location of the windows in those rooms so that many of them are exposed to the smashing bay views.

The bedrooms are situated away from the public rooms so that the master suite actually feels like a private retreat. In the front of the house, there is a magical interior courtyard that can be accessed from many of the main floor rooms - the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, and one of the bedrooms. It is a central focal point of the home with complete privacy and soft landscaping. In this type of setting - where a view of the bay is unavailable - Wurster is renowned for directing one's attention to a garden or a patio.

To learn more about William Wurster, there are some excellent articles found online. In his 1996 article Blueprint for Obscurity, Gordon Young includes a quote from Wurster in 1956 when he wrote, "Architecture is not a goal. Architecture is for life and pleasure and work and for people. The picture frame, not the picture." And the Easton-Blossom family is providing a happy picture for their Wurster picture frame on Spruce Street in the Berkeley hills.

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