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Beautiful on the Inside

The contemporary Quonset hut of Ojai architect Darwin McCredie

By Allison Costa

Darwin McCredie’s Quonset hut home/office pushes sustainable building beyond the use of pre-existing materials. The next level: revitalizing entire structures. Photo Courtesy of Mango Seven.

 

ven Darwin McCredie’s earliest memories revolve around architecture. He remembers, at a very young age, sneaking across the street to explore a house under construction. He laughs about going over to friends’ houses and hurrying home to sketch the floor plans from memory. By age 10, he says, “I knew what architects were, and I knew what I was going to do.”

Fast forward to March of 2008, when McCredie—now with decades of experience as a professional architect—went to see a dilapidated old Quonset hut in Ojai. Built with plywood walls and spread with old carpeting, he says bluntly, “It was a real mess.” Yet, instead of obstacles, Darwin saw potential.

The Quonset hut’s rustic exterior belies interior style embellishments like French revival chairs (garage sale finds) covered in Henry Calvin Linen striped fabric and an old French farm table, which McCredie deliberately left just as he found it. Photo by Erin Ellwood.

He saw a beautiful yard packed with fruit trees and a large outdoor space for entertaining. He saw walks to the market and bike rides on the Ojai Trail. He saw in this battered building something that no one else could see: opportunity. And so he bought the Quonset hut, remodeled every inch, and transformed it into a work of art.

Quonset huts can be traced back to World War II, when the U.S. Navy needed lightweight buildings that could be shipped anywhere and easily assembled. Made of corrugated steel in four-foot sections, the Quonset hut is the original pre-fabricated building. During the war, they were used as barracks, offices, hospitals, and kitchens; and after the war, the surplus huts were sold to private citizens.

The all-white scheme creates the appearance of space in relatively tight quarters. Photo by Erin Ellwood.

So, how did this architect—whose resume includes 28 years split between two large architecture firms in San Francisco, a wealth of experience in hotel and restaurant design, and countless residential projects ranging from modern to traditional in Sonoma County and the Ojai area—approach designing such a tiny space?

Darwin says that to him, the Quonset hut represented “an opportunity to use this space as a lab for things I would never do for a client.” He opted for stark white porcelain tile floors, garden variety butcher block countertops, sliding barn doors made with flooring from the original house, and an open floor plan that he says may not work for a lot of people.

As a result of his years in hotel design, and all the time spent working with interior designers, Darwin has a keen eye for interior design. And in this 1,250-square-foot space, his talent is obvious. He likes mixing old with new, and points out something he calls “the trick”: taking a pair of chairs he got for $50 at a garage sale and covering them with Henry Calvin linen that runs $150 per yard. “You get the look, but it’s a trick,” he laughs. He talks often about keeping the design appropriate, remarking, “I don’t want things to look like they were built yesterday if it’s an older home.” From the gray and white interior to some of the more industrial elements, his design hints at the military beginnings of the building.

Darwin also chose an all white interior to expand the space visually. As he works with clients, he explains, it’s all about their preferences, which often include a lot of color, pattern, and texture. “So when I come home,” Darwin says, “I need a neutral, clear, and open space.” Yet behind all of the white lingers a sense of practicality. The white armchairs wear slipcovers that are easily laundered after a dinner party or a playful visit from his nieces. Though the area rug in the living room is white with tan stripes, not very practical, he admits, he has two of them. When one is ready to be cleaned, out rolls the other one to take its place.

The bedroom can be sealed off with barn doors. “Clients feel like they are coming to my office, not my home,” says McCredie. Photo by Erin Ellwood.

Speaking about kitchen design, he is quick to say, “I think the era of the mega-kitchen is over.” So guests will find his to be both intimate and inviting. With a nod to the past, he chose to place his kitchen table in the middle of the room, to “give people a place to plop down and be with you while you’re cooking.” He also opted for an under-counter refrigerator and freezer, saying, “I didn’t want anything high, because I wanted the shape of the Quonset hut to read.”

When Darwin works with clients, he likes to help them develop the story of their space. Speaking about his bathroom, he remarks, “Maybe this was an officer’s Quonset hut, with a cute bathroom and a fancy sink.” Suddenly the choice to add the military gray barn doors and the modest striped tiles in the shower starts to take on new meaning.

In addition to being a place to hang his hat, his house also offers a great place for client meetings. When he closes the barn doors to separate the kitchen from the bedroom, he says, “Clients feel like they are coming to my office, not my home.” As they pore over plans at his weathered kitchen table, wander through his space, and hear its story of opportunity and transformation, he likes to think that it just might, “free them up to look at things differently.”­­

12-01-2010

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