This House Has Everything
Art, Comfort, and the Great Outdoors
The living room couch. For some people it’s a place to lounge while watching the big game or reading a book. But for Jerry Dommer, it’s an art lover’s perch. Surrounding his comfy sectional are crisp white walls dressed with eye-catching paintings and photographs; pottery and sculpture sit immaculately arranged on shelves under track lighting. It’s so well thought-out, you’re tempted to look around to see if he’s hired a security guard to complete the gallery feel.
But curator Dommer has always possessed an eye for aesthetics. By
day he designs luxury subdivisions, civic buildings, and office
high-rises for his San Francisco–based architectural firm, Dommer &
Byars. By night he tinkers with designs for his own home and his art
collection. “My whole world is visual,” he says. “I’m attracted to the
way things look and how they’re composed.”
It was the beauty of the Mount Diablo foothills that lured Jerry and
his wife, Jan Hopson, from Berkeley to this Alamo home in 2001. “We
wanted to get out to the edge of civilization,” says Dommer. Taking in
the view from the home’s expansive deck, they felt unfettered, a mood
that continues indoors courtesy of Kurt Lavenson, a fellow architect
and the house’s previous owner. Lavenson spent two years transforming a
typical mid-century rancher into a wide-open modern space with windows
big enough to bring in that great outdoors.
At first, Dommer and Hopson were happy with the house. They enjoyed
riding their two horses on adjacent open space and in Mount Diablo
State Park, or relaxing in the shade of a 400-year-old oak. But being
an architect, Dommer wanted to put his own stamp on the home. He
envisioned simplifying the spaces even more, freeing them up to be not
only functional, but also an appropriate setting to display the
couple’s growing art collection. While writer Hopson worked away in her
spacious study, Dommer expanded the kitchen, adding cabinets and
Finding the overall feel of the interior too “moody,” he covered the
1950s dark-wood tongue-and-groove ceiling with Sheetrock, popped in
several skylights, and covered everything but the floor in white paint.
The transformation was not subtle. “I’m basically a modernist,” says
Dommer. “You could display art in any type of room, but I always end up
with white walls and absolutely no curtains—never. I find clean, bright
“Visitors often comment, ‘Gee, your house is kind of like an art
gallery’ … but not as a compliment,” he says. “It’s too stark for some
people.” But for Dommer and Hopson, crisp and clean is home sweet home.
And when they pop a log into the fireplace Lavenson created from steel
construction beams, it’s not hard to feel comfortable.
On the walls hang photos by Chris Bratt (yes, he’s related to actor Benjamin), sculptures by Joe Slusky and Richard Bauer, and paintings by Dale Appleman and Maxim, plus some Picasso etchings and Richard Diebenkorn prints. Also in the mix are Dommer’s own creations, including pottery he fires in a kiln out back and 20-year-old paintings, one of which remains unfinished.
His Rauschenberg-esque collage and the clusters of earth-toned pots
are a far cry from Dommer’s first artistic efforts. At age five, he was
copying and painting Disney characters. Dommer continued drawing and
painting through high school, then his older brother Don’s architecture
homework caught his eye. “When I was in high school,” he says, “[Don
was building models for his college courses and doing fun-looking
Dommer studied architecture at the University of Minnesota, but kept
his hand in fine arts. He took enough ceramics classes to earn an
M.F.A., if he had made it official. But architecture won out in the
end—professionally at least. Dommer spent some time after college
working in Chicago and Vienna. Four years after graduating, he came to
San Francisco, and in 1975 he started his own firm. Dommer &
Byars’s designs run the gamut from educational and industrial to civic
and residential projects. Dommer drafted the winning design for the
Amsterdam City Hall, and he’s been an expert witness in construction
disputes for the last 15 years. He’s currently working on designs for a
new hospital and a resort/casino, as well as putting the finishing
touches on the Round Hill Country Club’s tennis clubhouse.
As for his own home, Dommer is still tinkering. He plans to build an extended entryway with walls of glass, a true foyer gallery. “Then I hope to quit,” he says. But who can believe him? Just like his unfinished painting, Dommer’s house will likely always remain a work in progress.