Raising the Roof

By reworking the original structure rather than demoing, local architect William Growdon brought new life and a modern look to a mid-century house in the hills of Ventura.

By Maxine Hurt — Photos by Gaszton Gal

A bridge made from recycled plastic bags leads to the main living space.


ome houses are a curbside advertisement; you can’t help but notice them as you drive by. Others are subtler, conserving their allure for the lucky few who get inside. The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, 2,918-square-foot house at 1940 Terrace Drive in Ventura fits squarely in the latter category. You may glimpse a monumental glass box or a curiously curved steel roof as you drive past, navigating the windy road, but you’ll likely miss the main act.

Ventura-based architect William Growdon is just fine with that. It wasn’t extraordinary curb appeal that inspired him to transform a dilapidated mid-century house into this work of modern art. “It’s not about what the house looks like from the street, or if the neighbors think it’s cool,” said Growdon, whose own angular features suggest an architectural origin. “What really inspires me is if I can improve my client’s life and not affect the earth as much as we tend to do.”

Light floods into the living room through efficient low emissivity windows.

The contemporary-styled house, which Growdon began redesigning in 2002, accomplishes both: it allows the owners to lounge indoors yet have the expansive view they wanted, and it incorporates sustainable building techniques that lessen its ecological footprint. The result is a living space with what Growdon refers to as “rhythm.”

At the core of this rhythm is the view, spreading out across Ventura to the Santa Monica Mountains, across the channel to Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. It’s the main attraction until you reach the front door. But once inside, the interior takes over. You walk into a large open space comprised of the living room, kitchen, and dining room. Minimalist in design, the room is ideal for entertaining and opens onto a deck that stretches across the back of the house. Light streams in through large windows and a sliding glass door. You can breathe easily here. Like many modern structures, the house is all about letting the outside in—allowing nature to affect the living space. As Growdon puts it, “If you are in this house and you don’t know what the weather is like outside, there is something wrong.”

In the kitchen, bamboo floors and sustainably made cabinets demonstrate how wood can be used more efficiently: a veneer of farm-grown white oak layers over the cabinets’ core of scraps and reused wood; unlike most hardwood trees, bamboo can be regrown in just a few years.

A cinematic, letterbox-shaped kitchen window frames the view as if it were art. It encourages you to stop, look, and see all of that lush beauty below. According to Growdon, that was part of the big picture. “They didn’t want to have a ton of art, so the idea for that window was to create a piece of art. It’s hard for paintings to beat it.”

Growdon not only optimized the view, he made efficient use of the original structure, and used sustainable building materials and techniques to lessen the ecological footprint. “One of the hardest things on the environment is upkeep,” he explained, “keeping the home warm, lit, cool… That’s a huge environmental impact.” So when his client approached him about transforming the sunless, oppressive house into an open, loft-style space, Growdon responded with sustainable solutions.

The original house was a compartmentalized concrete masonry unit (CMU) with low ceilings and a sagging floor. But instead of demolishing the place, Growdon reworked the original structure, knocking down walls, forging together old and new building materials, lowering the ground floors, and raising the roof. The result is the minimally expanded yet completely reconceived dwelling that stands today.

William Growdon raised the roof and lowered the floor, creating space and effectively bringing the outdoors in.

The windows that so effortlessly frame the view are low emissivity; they help control the climate within the home by managing the heat transfer through the windows via an ultra-thin metallic coating. Fixed windows are also used throughout the house, allowing Growdon’s eco-friendly climate strategy to function without human interference. “[Eco-friendly windows] are probably the single most sustainable thing we can do in buildings, because that’s where we have the most heat gain and heat loss,” said Growdon, who also designed a wide band of windows around the top of the walls on the upper floor to allow an influx of natural light. This feature decreases the need for artificial lighting and electricity usage during the day and gives the space an expansive feel. When light is needed, there is a low voltage lighting system that can be controlled from one source in the kitchen.

Growdon didn’t stop at using eco-friendly window and lighting solutions. He also used Trex, a floor material composed of recycled plastic bags, for the entry walkway and the deck. The cabinetry in most of the house utilizes a veneer of farm grown rift-cut white oak, with a fiber board core made from scraps and reused wood. The living room floor is bamboo, and beneath it is a layer of concrete that contains a cost-efficient, zone-controlled radiant heating system. The owners can set a timer to begin heating the ground floor, which in turn heats the upper floors, providing efficient, even heating throughout the day.

Some details in the home, although efficient, are more of a design wonder than anything else. Take the home’s ceiling and roof, a low-cost combination of Rolled Steel I-Beams, insulation, and an Arched Steel Pan. “It’s almost like we’ve put a hat on the existing building. Everywhere where there was a roof, I raised it to allow for glass,” said Growdon.

The top of the roof, he explained, is a material typically used in commercial buildings as flooring. As a design element, it communicates a modern aesthetic. Looking at the roof, you’d expect to hear a sharp patter when it rains, enough to disconcert the owners, but the opposite is true. “When it rains, it’s quiet,” said Growdon. “It’s actually not loud enough.”

Another element of cool is the towering 10-by-10 translucent glass box added to the back of the house. The structure, composed purely of glass and metal forming a geometrical pattern, is utilitarian as well as imaginative; it serves as a massive natural light source, efficiently dispersing the gloom that once prevailed.

While exploring a house where darkness has been usurped by light and space, I got the sense that I could be airborne—that at any moment the arched roof would slide open and the outdoors would sweep in, lifting me right into that big beautiful view.

“It kind of has that soaring feeling,” said Growdon, who planned things that way. And that’s what sometimes happens in a well designed home with a view—you soar.


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