Written on November 27, 2019
Tucked in an older neighborhood off of the Napa River, hiding behind a nondescript fence, is Gordon’s most recent contribution to the arts, and to his family.
“For more than 30 years I’ve dreamed of designing and building a house,” stated Gordon. “Nearly 20 years ago I started searching for a property that I could eventually build a house on. I had specific parameters from the start. I wanted a property with two houses on it, on the Napa River, and in the greater downtown area. I eventually found that property that met all my criteria.”
Gordon bought the property from a family that had lived there for more than 50 years. The family built their first house in the 1940s, eventually building a larger home next door in the 1970s. Gordon lived in the 1970s home for the past 20 years, thinking, planning, plotting, dreaming about the house that he and his wife, Darcy, recently built and live in now.
Over the years, Gordon spent endless hours observing the existing trees on the property, the movements of the sun, view corridors, set backs, heights, etc. He wanted to establish a relationship with the site so that he could design a home that would fit within it rather than on top of it.
“I was very mindful about blurring the lines between art, architecture, and nature. Every turn of my head needs to see beauty, inspiration and visual drama,” said Gordon.
Gordon drew inspiration for his home from the Case Study Houses that were built from 1945 to 1966. “The philosophy behind those houses has always inspired me,” he said. “In particular I was inspired by Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 built in 1966. I wanted to draw from the modern, transparent, cantilevered roofs and elevated construction of this architectural masterpiece.”
Gordon was also very interested in the idea of prefab, in the idea of the working of a modular system. He researched many different options including repurposed shipping containers and companies that specialized in prefabricated homes. Due to the severe slope of the building site it was difficult for Gordon to find a system that would give his home the “light touch” to the ground that he was looking for.
He eventually found a company, IT House, which offers a customizable, precision building system tailored to each client and site. The end result is a high quality home made of sustainable materials manufactured with precision off-site and assembled on site, a kit of parts made mostly of steel, aluminum and glass.
Once Gordon knew the system he was working with, he made a simple foam core model, the same way he does when working with large-scale sculpture projects. However, since he is not an architect, builder, nor engineer, he assembled a collaborative team to make it happen. Gordon worked with several architects, Linda Talman with IT House out of Los Angeles, and Daniel Piechota and Aaron Levine of Piechota Architecture in San Francisco. He hired CR Buildworks out of Napa as his builder, and ZFA Engineers.
The house, which Gordon refers to as “The River House” due to its location on the Napa River, is 3,000 square feet and organized into two wings that form a “T” shape. Running on a north-south axis is the private wing with master suite, guest room and office space; on the east-west axis is the public wing that includes the kitchen, cocktail bar, dining area, living area, and a “river view” area.
“80% of the skin of our house is glass and is designed to maximize natural light and views of the trees and the river,” states Gordon.
Gordon’s wife, Darcy, took the lead in choosing furniture, finishes and curating the home’s collection of art. Most of the art in the house is taken from Gordon’s past body of work and was carefully selected based on theme, material, and size.
Gordon and Darcy’s “River House” exemplifies Gordon’s approach to art in architecture. His careful consideration of the artwork or installation in context to the space and its users has been his trademark and has led to many major public art awards around the globe. This time his approach is personal. “River House” communicates Gordon’s style and exploration of the ways to express the beauty he sees. Using the seductive properties of richly saturated color, natural light, diverse textures, found materials, and quirky, sometimes unsettling imagery, “River House” offers visitors a unique experience.
“Living in the house is everything I had hoped for and much more,” Gordon states. “Originally we had referred to the house as the River House and now living in the space it really is a tree house, we are literally 20 feet up in the air and surrounded by trees, surrounded by nature. The positive impact on our quality of life is absolutely amazing.”
Photography: Misha Bruk Photography | 2019