When people talk about “challenging” residential building projects in Lafayette or Orinda, it’s often code for hillside properties. Real success with these projects is often hard fought and ultimately achieved when homeowners can live in a house and surrounding grounds that they love that maximizes views and other topographical assets in a way the reigning Design Review Board likes, too.
That’s a difficult balance East Bay Residential Home Designer Steven Kubitschek has successfully navigated for over a quarter of a century. It helps that he also sat on the task force when Orinda rewrote that city’s guidelines, and sets out to please both homeowners and the city from the start.
The key, he says, is to design a project in keeping with why you chose to live in our community in the first place. Too many people start by trying to build the house on the edge of the ridgeline.
“You have to look around the cities of Orinda and Lafayette and realize what we love about our community is the way it looks,” says Kubitschek. “One thing that is so appealing about it is that we don’t have a bunch of houses in our face. We don’t look like Southern California. We don’t even look like Oakland. You don’t achieve that by building a house out at the prow of the hill where everyone can see it.”
It’s better, he says, to plan to build the house away from the edge where you can still enjoy the views but also have prime yard space for outdoor living.
That’s the way he tackled the 237 Orchard Road design, a project that was approved the first evening it was presented to the Orinda Design Review Board nearly a decade ago, even before Orinda rewrote their code.
Buying Orinda CA Ridgeline Property
“When newer ridgeline properties become available, astute buyers realize that typically years of hard work went into making that view property a reality,” says Pacific Union International Realtor Dana Green, the listing agent for 237 Orchard Road. “It is not easy to accomplish what the original owners were able to do and many professionals, from design reviewers, structural engineers and even arborists, had to give it their stamp of approval along the way.”
Nestled in the Orinda Hills, today this Mediterranean-style estate boasts large light-filled living space and commanding views, but is barely visible to the rest of us.
“When you drive down Moraga Way today, you kind of catch glimpse of their house up there and it’s kind of cool,” says Kubitschek. “It’s not in your face, you just know something is up there that’s cool.”
And it is.
“Steve is known for being incredible with light and views, and placing rooms in the proper position for the light of the home,” says Green.
That end result often starts with Kubitschek walking the property with his clients, looking for favorite spots.
Kubitschek’s Design Process – First Room First
“Where do you want to put the recliner?” Kubitschek says he asks his clients. The is his way of helping them prioritize the location for the most important room in the house, the family’s “command post,” where they’ll likely spend the most time enjoying their home. For some, it’s the kitchen. More often, it’s the family room.
Walk through the front door of 237 Orchard Road and you’re immediately drawn towards the family room where the large bay of windows highlights more than 180 degrees of commanding views of the Orinda hills and sky. Closer to the ridgeline but within site from the family room, you will find the custom saltwater pool and grassy overlook that have already accommodated two family wedding receptions.
Once you’ve placed that all-important first room into the home design, Kubitschek says, it serves to anchor the project and you build out the rest of the design from it.
If you imagine that Kubitschek continues this design work back in his design studio hunched over a drafting table, you would be wrong.
“I am very unique in the way I design homes,” says Kubitschek. “I actually design the house with (the clients) sitting with me. I use a lot of tracing paper. I use a lot of pens. It becomes a very exciting process. When they start telling me what they want and I start looking at what the property is requiring of us, then the design juices start flowing and the client is actually watching the house appear before their very eyes with my pen and paper.”
The way the original property owner tells it, Kubitschek sat on the hood of his car the first time he visited the hilltop property at 237 Orchard Road in Orinda, and sketched in fifteen minutes the design that ultimately became this beautiful estate.
“I love hearing that story,” says Kubitschek, who agrees that some of the early decisions – where to put the house and where to place the family room – were easy to make. The full design, of course, took longer.
What’s more gratifying to Kubitschek is that the story proves that he achieved something he really values in client relationships – good memories.
Even when the design project is a challenging one.