True to Form
A Lafayette architect goes from mountain to modern, applying his own set of rules.
Vance Fox Photography
When Greg Faulkner talks about architecture, a 25-year passion for the field emerges. Words pour out to describe the principles that guide his work: Additive. Rocks in the sand. Continuity. Site-driven forms. Dimensional stability.
These terms begin to make sense when you see the homes he has built. Faulkner, who moved to Lafayette in 2005 and started a Berkeley office in 2007, opened his original architectural company in Truckee, after finishing graduate school at MIT. He began designing houses and commercial buildings around Tahoe, and found that his residential clients often asked for the massive, rustic sort of houses that were built along the lake in the 1920s. The challenge for Faulkner was to satisfy his clients’ nostalgia for the old Arts and Crafts homes—gables, multiple peaked rooflines, open interiors with heavy beams and square timbers—while giving the houses a cleaner, more modern feeling.
The result is structures that follow the contours of the terrain (site-driven) and seem to have grown over time. Think of farmhouses in Provence, where the buildings are the result of additions—another bedroom, a space for making goat cheese—that may curl gracefully down a hillside from the main structure. This is what Faulkner means by additive. He reinforces the concept with materials found at the site. When he builds a rock chimney, the stone he uses comes from the property. This is the opposite design strategy from “the house as object,” plunked down onto a cleared and flattened site in the middle of the landscape. As Faulkner explains, “I’m not just building a box and punching holes in it.”
Faulkner and his partner, Darrell Linscott, have designed 25 to 30 houses in the Truckee area, most of them in the golf- and ski-centered developments of Lahontan and Martis Camp. The earliest homes adhere more closely to the Tahoe style, but the nooks and crannies reveal Faulkner’s aesthetic. Some rooms feel private and protected (the architect’s “rocks…”) while others are open to the light and the outside (“…in the sand”). Rooms are defined but seem to flow into each other with Faulkner’s signature continuity. Nothing is symmetrical—and that’s another key principle.
“Symmetry is bad except in public spaces like churches and opera houses, where it’s necessary,” he says. “Symmetry shouldn’t be a crutch. You think of Fascist architecture as fierce and symmetrical.”
The most ambitious example of his design ideals is a large home he recently built for a finance industry executive in the Lahontan development. The many-roomed, two-story house seems to flow through the landscape, curving around towering trees, avoiding huge rock clusters.
“We poured the house into the site,” says builder Dan Anderson. The informal shape of the house offers an example of a site-driven form, with many of the design decisions made on location during the building process, rather than on paper.
Faulkner also believes that architecture should reflect people’s needs and relationships, as well as people’s relationship to the building. As large as the aforementioned house is, the rooms are fairly modest in size, with no one room dominating the design. Spaces are comfortable rather than intimidating, such as a two-level secret room for children accessible through a panel that swings open at the touch of a button hidden in a knothole, and complete with a rope for quick descents.
A smaller house in the same development illustrates Faulkner’s evolution as an architect, from Arts and Crafts to a more modern approach. The client, wary of building a new home in the prevailing economic environment, decided to create an addition to her current house, which Faulkner had designed 10 years earlier.
The original house has a peaked roof and gables. The addition, which steps down a gentle incline, has a sloping flat roof that shelters an outdoor terrace. The new rooms are cut into the hillside, with views of the surrounding forest. The styles differ, but the expanded house feels perfectly coherent.
“This was a transition for me,” Faulkner says. Since moving to Lafayette, he’s developed a more urban and modern style. His own house has none of the nooks and crannies and coziness of many of his Tahoe designs, but interestingly textured materials and subtle natural colors give it warmth. Features making the home a welcoming place include concrete shaped in wooden molds to have the texture of a rough board, Cor-Ten steel that changes color as it ages, glass shards used as mulch, and bright red Adirondack chairs made of recycled milk jugs.
Also in Lafayette, Faulkner recently designed a 3,000-square-foot one-level house in collaboration with Gwen and John Lennox. With this project and others, he says he enjoys the challenge of applying his principles to smaller houses.
Gwen Lennox is an engineer who used to work in energy conservation, and her husband is a doctor who started out in architecture. They were deeply involved in the design, and the result, says Faulkner, “[is] the greenest and smartest house I’ve ever designed.” In addition to hosting solar panels, the roofs are precisely calibrated so that the slope and size allow the sun to provide warmth and light in the fall and winter, but block the heat and glare of summer days. Inside, a solar convection chimney acts as a natural exhaust fan. As always, the materials and structure of the building are exposed, from iron beams to the unfinished edges of the high-quality plywood used for the kitchen drawers.
From large to small, mountain retreat to suburban practicality, Faulkner’s projects span a wide range of styles. Yet, throughout their spectrum of variation, the principles remain the same.