Lessons from Living in a House Designed by William Wurster
Another aspect of reinforcing the indoor/outdoor connection is how Wurster designed the home so that most of the doorways to the outside have minimal threshold heights. Stepping out to the garden from one of the ground floor rooms is almost seamless. The foundation on the east side of the house is set deep enough into the ground plane that the exterior patio is almost at the same level as the interior rooms. This small detail is another lesson in how Wurster designed his houses to integrate indoor and outdoor living and how aware he was of architecture and landscape in his designs.
Each of the doors on the east or garden side of the house, as shown in these photos, is approximately four feet wide. The upper portion of each door has a fixed, single pane glass panel. The three doors on the ground floor living space open directly to the garden. They connect the living room, dining room and kitchen to an outdoor patio that is surrounded by lawn and other plantings. The three doors on the second floor open the bedrooms to balconies and allow access a simple outdoor space that overlooks the garden and that is exposed to morning light. The balcony outside two of these doors also creates an outdoor connection between two of the bedrooms. The extra width of the doors is such a simple concept, but it has a transformative effect on each room. Exceeding standard dimensions even slightly, whether it be a wider hallway, a higher ceiling or, in this case, a wider doorway can provide real spatial benefits.
I was told by the original owners, who commissioned Wurster to be their architect, that they first met him at a party in Berkeley hosted by the Gregory family and attended by many fellow UC faculty members. It was the late 1930s and they were new to the faculty having moved from the east coast. Impressed by the simple, elegance of the Wurster designed houses that they had seen, they asked him if he ever did work for “poor academics.”