Esherick's Cary House
by Marc Treib
The Cary House in Mill Valley, California (1961) was a pivotal project for Joseph Esherick, gathering in the experience and the formal explorations of the gable and chalet manners and looking forward to the single-slope roofs that became the icon of the Sea Ranch style.
In this sense, the Cary House was a progenitor of those semi-detached houses on the northern California coast, with their roof slopes carefully adjusted to the inclination of the hedgerows and the effects of the winds. And if the relation of building form to the slope was one interest, the play of light was another.
"It was clear Mrs. Cary didn't want a conventional house," Esherick recalled with obvious affection, "and she tended to describe what it was she needed in more poetic, or more painterly, terms. She didn't spout it out like a real estate classified ad, but interpreted what she felt was appropriate."
After several false starts with more irregular and angular schemes, Esherick determined that he was acting too literally in terms of program and site. The new direction may have been prompted by George Homsey's Rubin House, which Homsey was moonlighting on at the time. Influence is always difficult to establish, of course, but the resemblances do exist, not the least of which is in the compactness of the form and the materials.
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This article is excerpted from Appropriate: The Houses of Joseph Esherick by Marc Treib, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, William Stout Publishers.
Joseph Esherick designed the 1961 Cary House for a sloping site in Mill Valley, California.
Photo: Roy Flamm/ Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD)
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A double-height living room comprises half of the ground-floor area of the Cary House.
Photo: Roy Flamm/ EHDD
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