Intentions: This 3 bedroom Cape Cod style house atop the Coastal Hills of California was a strange bird for the main facilities of a Buddhist Retreat center. It had been limping along for years while the community tried to decide what to do with it. With limited funds, difficult access to the property, and an area prone to wildfires, they elected to do what they could to make it more in alignment with their way of life. The wanted to repair dry rot under first floor caused by poorly placed back deck and uplift the aesthetics of both the interior and exterior. They also sought to make building more functional and energy efficient.
Functional Results: The community elected to avoid any costly structural repairs so we went ahead fixing and replacing all that we could within those limits. We removed all the cabinets from the kitchen and donated them to Habitat for Humanity, replaced the aluminum frame windows that had moisture trapped inside, and built new storage facilities in the garage. We put in new insulation (the number one thing you can do to improve efficiency for your money) and a more efficient heating and air conditioning unit, thus ridding the individual rooms of cumbersome and unsightly swamp coolers.
Aesthetic Results: Though the structural changes were minimal, the aesthetic impact was huge. The presiding teacher requested that the design have elements of spaciousness, precision, and elegance. He also did not want the home to be “overly domesticated”, stressing that during a retreat it was important that the participants not feel too comfortable, lest the slip back into self-defeating habits. With these ideas in mind, I replaced the carpet and linoleum floors with bamboo in the main public space, including the kitchen, which, next to the shrine room, is considered to be the second most important place on the property. To get rid of the domestic feel, I replace all the paneled doors, with doors that were completely flat, using brushed metal door knobs that reminiscent of industrial spaces. Clean, non-adorned cabinets replaced the old one, along with brushed metal appliance to tie it all together. I used the 4 of the 5 colors from the Tibetan Buddhist flags and their symbolic meanings to drive home the significance of each room. A sage green, the color of work and energy, was used in the kitchen and laundry facilities. Yellow, the color of abundance, was used with one light shade on three wall, and an accent wall on the side where the presiding teacher sat during meals. A deep red, the color of passion, was used in the three bathrooms. Finally white, the color of awakening, was used on all the ceilings, on the trim throughout, and on all the doors and wood window blinds, weaving the thread of awakening throughout the whole interior. Dramatic lighting was strategically placed to shine light on the many shrines and sacred art piece throughout the building. The result was truly remarkable, causing the members of the community to feel completely new about their old eyesore of a building.