Trained as an architect at the University of Southern California, Brian Almquist always wanted to design his own home, something he put off for a career as Ashland city administrator for almost four decades.
But now he's done it, realizing his vision of a stately Craftsman home that fits in nicely with the historic Wimer and Scenic Street area — known to historians as the Skidmore Academy District — where he and his wife Ruth Ann have spent most of their Ashland years.
With Joyce Ward as architect and Sean Downey as builder, the home, finished last fall, won the 2008 Distinguished Architectural Preservation Award from the city's Historic Commission, naming it the Most Historically Compatible New Residential Construction.
Draped in tones of sage and green, the substantial-looking home (only a stone's throw from their earlier house) features typical Craftsman beams, wrought-iron railings, gables, panels of shakes, natural wood garage doors and hefty stonework — and, perhaps regrettably, sits up the newly-created Susan Lane cul-de-sac above High Street, where few can admire it.
Inside, the 2,450-square-foot home whispers with elegant lines, including a slate fireplace, Italian tile kitchen floors (open plan with kitchen, dining room, living room and music alcove), black soapstone counters, maple cabinetry, oak floors and tony, eye-catching, hanging lights.
Using Sarah Susanka's "The Not So Big House" as a reference, the couple sketched out their longed-for dream house, giving themselves the master bedroom (with coffered ceiling) on the west side, with guest rooms and study on the opposite side of the house for their many visiting grandchildren (all three of their adult children still live in town).
As former boss of one of America's most energy-progressive towns, Almquist made sure the house met Earth Advantage standards — low-VOC carpeting, wood and paint, no formaldehyde in building components, water-flow restrictors, low-flow drip irrigation, super insulation, air exchanger (swaps out air three times a day), compact fluorescent lights and ductless heat pump.
Utility wires were buried on the entire street, so the front patio (which opens from the study) offers moving views of Grizzly Peak. The back patio, accented by the rockwork of Jesse Biesanz, is built into the hill slope and is the soul of cozy privacy.
Not only is the house a salute to Ashland's Craftsman-rich history, but, in retirement, represents a certain kind of freedom for its builder. His other house, built in 1886, demanded no small amount of upkeep, and the huge yard took an hour and a half of mowing, sighed Almquist.
"Now, everything works and there's no mowing. That's why we're here," he joked. "We wanted it historic. That was important to us, to continue the tradition, but being practical and not showy."
The Historic Commission award noted, "One cannot help but be impressed when viewing this new residence, by how attractive it is and how well it blends into this historic neighborhood."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.