If you're driving down Healdsburg's Center Street in search of the Cohen residence, you're apt to drive right past it.
If you're driving down Center street in search of Alan Cohen's architectural offices, you're also bound to zip right by.
And yet Cohen inhabits one of the more distinctive structures in town — three singular structures of different heights, materials and colors, each with a different designated purpose, but all connected by doors, stairs and even an enclosed catwalk.
It's a striking three-level urban home, a two-story professional office and an artist's studio above a garage and workshop, enclosing a secret courtyard patio. It's both ultra contemporary and old school, an eco-friendly and solar-powered collection of connected structures packing multiple uses into 4,000 square feet. It's all efficiently arranged vertically onto a slim, 3,750 square foot lot, one of the smaller sites in downtown Healdsburg.
Cohen and his wife Manok Cohen, an artist, comfortably live and work here in this home and office that really looks like neither. It's a dual-use design he came up with three years ago to satisfy his yen to consume less energy while enjoying the perks of living in the heart of downtown.
"People are a little confused," he allows. But that is not without intent. "There's always headprint and handprints on the glass in the front door."
Cohen was living on a large parcel he had purchased and subdivided on Fitch Mountain when the inspiration hit him. A proponent of sustainable design ever since he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, he decided to finally take his green ethos to the next level. That meant not only creating a dwelling that was efficient in both energy use and use of space, but that would allow him to work at home and get off the highway after commuting to Santa Rosa for years.
"Boy, what a great move," he declares, easing back in his great room with a cup of verbena tea steeped from leaves Manok minutes earlier clipped from the courtyard garden just beyond a set of clear patio doors.
"Both of us love living here. The reason are obvious. We can walk to Barndiva (a popular restaurant and lounge a few doors down) and, more importantly, walk home," he grins. "We walk to the movies all the time. We walk everywhere in town. It's so nice to not have to use your car and not to have to wait in traffic."
When he needs to photocopy his blueprints he simply hops on his bicycle and pedals a few blocks just beyond the plaza. A recently retired member of the planning commission, he routinely cycled to City Hall. He says his combined energy consumption from home and office — including gas — has plunged to just 17 percent of what he was paying before while living on the mountain east of town and commuting to Santa Rosa.
But perhaps the greater and less easily quantified gift is the gift of time. While some might hesitate at the thought of living so close to the office, however convenient, Cohen says work doesn't encroach on his down time. Cutting out the highway 101 drive two times a day has given him more hours to work and relax.
"Here's the commute," he laughs and, opening a door, steps from his third-floor bedroom. On the other side is a radically different space — an urban architectural office on two floors with plate-glass doors opening out to the street. From either space, you'd never imagine the completely different world that lies just beyond the door.