On a knoll tucked into the bucolic east Ashland hills, the Alexander House bears little resemblance to its neighbors. Surrounded by typical ranch and farmhouses, there is really nothing to compare to the wood and glass edifice the Alexanders built with the help of Talent architect Carlos Delgado. And yet, it is a very homey, grounded structure.
Approaching the house, one sees a series of wood and glass boxes with differing heights and roof lines. The position of the house, which captures the views in every direction, required excavating and feathering the hill above, and creating a berm below.
1950 was the year A. Quincy Jones of Los Angeles won the “House of the Year” award from the magazineArchitectural Forum and Palo Alto developer Joseph Eichler won the magazine’s “Subdivision of the Year Award.” Eichler invited Jones to team up and the two men began a collaboration that lasted until Eichler died in 1974.
They had similar concepts of “modern architecture,” which included open plan houses that blurred the definition between inside and outside and used newer building technologies, including some that had previously been used only in commercial buildings. These included steel frames, plywood, exposed concrete block, plate glass walls and cast-in-place concrete. Jones was already concerned with the depletion of the forests and the use of alternative materials to reduce the impact. Eichler also pioneered the concept of greenbelts in subdivisions.
Together and separately they changed the concept of the tract house from simple stucco boxes to small examples of affordable good design integrated into the surrounding landscape and enabling a new indoor/outdoor lifestyle. More self-effacing than better known contemporaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, their emphasis was not on creating signature pieces, but houses that were comfortable and affordable for middle class clients.
Ruth and David Alexander presented Delgado with examples of work by builder Joseph Eichler and architect A. Quincy Jones, Californians who popularized the modern open plan houses of concrete and steel that revolutionized homebuilding in the 1940s and ’50s. They explained they wanted to simplify and downsize from their 6,000-square-foot Ashland house to only 2,600 square feet.
“These are the first clients I have had who truly did downsize,” says Delgado. “Many people come to me saying they want small houses, but then they keep adding on.”
“We both really loved the openness of the’60s houses, and my husband in particular loved the Eichler designs,” Ruth says. “And we really wanted a big room where we could cook and gather and talk and listen to music all at the same time.”
The tall windows and slate floors in the main great room are part of the passive solar design of the house. Radiant floors heat the home. Walls are flat white to better show off their art collection, while sofas and modern leather and wood furnishings carry out the neutral look. Pops of color are provided by the oriental rugs and artworks. Entering through a formal entry, one is immediately immersed in the other notable feature of the house, the Alexander’s art collection.
Having room to display their art collection by unschooled artists, sometimes called “found art,” was essential. The art includes a life-size carved wooden wolf with scenes from the battle of Kosovo cut into its flanks, a small seat made from a garbage can and a collection of objects from the trash. The natural building materials of the house make a great showcase for the startling pieces.
The kitchen in the great room has birch and alder cabinets, a bamboo floor and counters of large variegated brown porcelain tiles. Smaller matching tiles were used for the backsplash. A bold kilim rug sets off the wooden kitchen table in a bay window and a long counter divides the kitchen from the living and dining areas. Huge wooden beams soar 13 feet overhead and a wooden ceiling also adds Northwest touches. The variations in height and texture and the use of various types of natural wood furnishings add to the feeling of warmth and spaciousness.