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For years, Annette Wiley had tolerated the quirks, pitfalls and flaws of a 1960s tract home that she bought in Irvine Terrace in Newport Beach. On December 24, 2006, Wiley realized she had had enough.
The house was having a serious midlife crisis.
“After about 40 years, most of the building systems and materials were beyond repair,” Wiley says. “And the final catalyst was an inside-the-wall electrical fire on Christmas Eve, which was, thankfully, extinguished by Newport Beach’s very capable and professional fire department.”
Two things were sure: Wiley did not want to leave the neighborhood. And the idea of a teardown, in this case, contradicted her green goals, even if it would have been a much easier way out. So renovation became “an opportunity to test many sustainable building ideas,” she says.
It certainly helped that Wiley is one of the founders of an award-winning architectural firm in Newport Beach, which counted the Quiksilver headquarters in Huntington Beach, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, The Camp in Costa Mesa, and the renovation of the Orange County Museum of Art among its many notable local projects. The firm also had completed buildings with sustainable design.
For her own home, the easy part was figuring out the aesthetics. Wiley wanted “classic modernist design using simple forms and timeless materials to create a warm and comfortable environment.” Her wish list also included interior elements appropriate for displaying contemporary art, and a strong connection to nature, with garden views from every window to outdoor rooms.
Her plan called for a flexible design so that rooms could be adapted easily for different functions, and larger open spaces to create a better environment for generational family living and entertaining, coupled with discrete zones for privacy. She also wanted a floor plan and building pad that were completely accessible, with no steps – which posed a challenge because “Irvine Terrace is really terraced – the lot slopes down from back to front almost four feet,” she says.
As architects who work with sustainable design know all too well, translating a residential vision that incorporates environmentally-conscious values creates additional layers of hurdles, which, in less capable hands, might not be skillfully handled.
Wiley began with the skeletal system of the house, which needed and therefore underwent some reconstructive surgery, much like a middle-aged human being whose joints, tendons and bones are repaired. “The structural columns, beams and foundation of the existing house did not seem to be fully connected or properly anchored, requiring extensive shoring and rework,” she says. The roofline, walls and foundation were maintained and improved to meet new building and safety codes.
“We salvaged, reused or recycled everything possible during deconstruction, including cabinets, countertops and concrete,” she says. “All the wood framing lumber was stored and cleaned up and used again in the new construction.”
Then Wiley set out to maximize what Mother Nature provided without charge. She worked with the existing structure but modified it enough to correct deficiencies such as lack of daylight and poor ventilation. She achieved a passive heating and cooling system by adding skylights, clerestory windows and strategically located windows to take advantage of ocean breezes. The result was a day-lit and naturally ventilated home that did not require air conditioning or electrical lighting during the day.
“This house is extremely energy efficient and can and will achieve the goal of becoming a net-zero energy building [one that generates as much energy as it uses] once the rooftop solar panels are installed and with help from the power company,” she says.
She chose many materials with eco-friendliness in mind. “Exterior wood is ipe (ironwood), a very durable species used primarily for decking and is termite resistant,” she says. “The cement board is made of recycled material and does not require any finishing.”
When the house was completed, Wiley accepted an invitation to show her home to the public at the Corona del Mar home tour in fall 2009. Visitors experienced a rare treat in Orange County: the opportunity to view a sleek, modernist home that exemplified the green philosophy. And for Wiley, it was an opportunity to visually share with others the belief that in a world where houses sometimes seem to be as disposable as a Styrofoam cup, to reuse and retrofit them, whenever possible, should always be the first option – never the last.