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Contra Costa Times

Reprinted with permission from Contra Costa Times, Danville Livery and Mercantile Gazette (Vol. 12 No. 155) Jan 6, 2003


By Philippa Coelho Jacinto

January is like a fresh new page - an opportunity to work on new ideas and home-related projects for the coming year. After the hoopla of the holiday season, many families turn indoors and inwards, turning a more critical eye to their home surroundings.

They often are looking for ways to improve their lifestyle and raise their levels of comfort, according to a Danville architecture firm.

Many minor and major home remodel concepts first emerge at this time of the year. For some, it may be the ideal time to conceptualize their dream home, playing with various notions and ideas that are stepping stones to a more concrete reality. Then they turn to Gorny & Garcia Architects, LLP, who have helped numerous clients over the past few years.

Partners Joseph Gorny and Francis Garcia have been in business together in the Danville Livery and Mercantile for almost three years. Both bring to the partnership a wealth of experience and expertise working on projects nationwide. They share a professional camaraderie, laced with mutual respect and appreciation.

"We communicate pretty well," says Gorny. "Even before we worked together, we knew each other and would run our ideas by each other, just for feedback." This meeting of two minds works well from a client's point of view.

Both specialize in residential design. Gorny also has some commercial experience. Having worked on the East coast as well as in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Francisco, Gorny has a lot of regionalism in his work. Skills honed at art school.

Together they have undertaken a wide range of projects, from high-end, custom home designs to major remodels, golf course communities and a subdivision of single-family homes in San Leandro.

"Our experience with and understanding of high-end custom homes makes even the little houses work better," explains Gorny. "We can give people the sense of something special."

Something special is, in essence, what people are looking for with architectural ideas that fit their individual way of life enhancing it with style and comfort, according to the architects. Comfort, however, means many things to may people.

According to Garcia, an important aspect of comfort has to do with light. "Ultimately when they move in, it has to be a house that is bright," he hays. That means good solar orientation, and planning window placement so no part of the house is dark.

On another, more subconscious level, being comfortable in a home has a great deal to do with subliminal feelings, Garcia adds. People associate memories and emotions with buildings and architecture that they have either experienced in real life or seen in photographs or movies. Good architectural design is about recognizing these subconscious feelings, he points out.

"The really good house brings them in, playing these stories all along. Making different, interesting places to be in, everytime you turn, it's almost like playing a soundtrack in the back of their mind," says Garcia.

Mike Carvin of Alamo understands this concept. He has worked closely with Garcia over a period of time to design the home of his dreams. Carvin has long been enamoured with the Santa Barbara-style of architecture. He is very familiar with the area and the old-style haciendas with their Spanish detailing and materials.

"Frank (Francis Garcia) is an artist as well as a designer," says Carvin. "He has an understanding of the style and can portray it into a floor plan. His artistic ability can see the details and tie it all together. It allows him to conceptualize and visualize it all in 3-D."

Carvin finds the Santa Barbara environment and style of architecture very relaxing. The simple elegance of natural materials and handcraftsmanship is what appeals to his sense of comfort and style. They clay tile roof, copper gutters and hand-trowelled plaster finish on both interior and exterior give his new home in Alamo the signature Santa Barbara look.

In addition he has put in hand-chiseled Mexican stone fireplaces, dyed and stained, hand-distressed hickory-pecan floors, 18-inch thick walls with arched windows and tempered, exposed wood beams and corbels in the living areas.

Gorny and Garcia have also worked on several remodel projects and bring to the table a crucial understanding of the pros and cons of this aspect of architectural design. Client Mike Burton, a builder by profession, had seen great potential in a simple 1960's-'70s ranch house situated on a lot with promising views.

Gorny worked with Burton on the extensive remodel. According to Gorny, this project is a good example of how remodeled homes should fit into an existing neighborhood. With regards to the exterior, they just cleaned up the façade, put in a new roof and better siding, so it looked right a home alongside its neighbors.

The major part of the remodel took place within the home: addition of a larger master suite with access to the backyard and pool, two new bedrooms for the children with two bathrooms and a play area.

THIS WING OF A NEW HOME in Alamohouses the Master Suite and reflects Santa Barbara-style architecture. The home, designed by Gorny & Garcia Architects, is still under construction and is situated in a acre and has 4,600 square-feet.

Another bedroom became an office while another was remodeled as a guest bedroom, with a new bathroom.

This remodel illustrates Gorny's explanation of the hierarchy of spaces. From the very public places like the front yard, front door and entryway which is the home's connection to the street, one travels back to the library/den and bedroom areas that offer more and more privacy. It is good design that pull sit all into a cohesive whole.

Gorny points out that one of the challenges of a remodel is to ensure that the end result does not look like a remodel, but a complete project.

At the start of every remodeling project, both Gorny and Garcia will sit down with a client to review his/her "wish list." It's important to the two architects to know their clients' goals and what's truly important to them.

Stephanie and Scott Keipen of Danville are at the initial stage of putting together drawings and plans. Though their wish list was extensive, Gorny was able to give them ideas for various options.

Says Stephanie Kiepen, "Joseph has been very helpful in suggesting what would be affordable. We now realize we have to be realistic and may have to compromise on the wish list."

Gorny and Garcia also arranged a meeting between the Kiepens and another client who had just completed a remodel and gone through a similar experience. What followed has a frank discussion on expectations, costs and decisions made along the way. It was also a chance for the Kiepens to see a completed project.

The partners always caution clients to keep money aside for cosmetic interior décor after the remodel is done.

Gorny and Garcia recently reviewed some of the recent trends in the market.

  1. Replacing the more formal spaces of a living and dining room is the great room concept, a well-designed area where everything flows together and becomes the heart of the home.
    Families with younger children frequently add a smaller media room close by which can be closed off if the great room is used for entertaining.
  2. There's been a lot of attention lately to outdoor living spaces. People are adding barbecues, pizza ovens, pool houses, outdoor fireplaces and covered porches.
    As Gorny notes, "especially in our climate, it makes so much sense to entertain and enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes it's like having a vacation house on your property," he says, describing a recent backyard design which included a professional bocci ball court and a guest house with a kitchen that opened out onto the garden.
  3. Gorny & Garcia are including a mud room into many of the homes they design. This is a second entrance from the backyard or garage into a comfortable area where children and adults can take off their jackets and boots before entering the main home.
  4. Increasingly popular ideas are a pet room with very practical uses and an exercise room, often attached to a master suite but with a separate entrance so other family members can utilize it as well.

Whether it's designing a new home from scratch or working on a remodel, the two partners remind clients to ensure that the various elements of design come together to suit their family's individual lifestyle. But, they also want them to be very aware of the cost-effectiveness of the project right from the start.

Sometimes tearing down a home may work better than undertaking a major remodel, they point out, or attempting a remodel in stages may be a better way to go.

The two are always on the lookout for projects that have a sense of something really unique - from a high-end home in Atherton to a major remodel in Napa that reflects the true essence of wine country living.

Gorny & Garcia, Architects LLP, 925-743-0183.

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