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A Santa Rosa rebuild reclaims land for extended family

The White House Rebuild Team

Architecture: Lorin Hill and Armando Quiroz of Lorin Hill Architects of Oakland. hillarch.com

Interior design: Lizzy Luskey, founder of LL Decor & Design. lldecordesign.com

Contractor: Parsons Construction, with General Contractor Tom Parsons and Construction Foreman Justin Nash

Cabinetry and custom dining tables: Juan Lopez of Lake County Woodcrafters, Lakeport

Landscape designer: Mark Bowers of Resource Design. resource-design.com

When Karen White met up with her three adult children and their spouses for the first time after the Tubbs fire destroyed their beloved family home, they had one message for her: “Please rebuild.”

They knew that to sell the property and move would probably be less expensive and certainly easier. But their memories were deeply rooted in the land nestled in the foothills of northeast Santa Rosa. In fact, daughter Lizzy Luskey wasted no time calling contractor Tom Parsons the day after the fire to get “in the queue” for a rebuild, just in case. Mom Karen was out of the country when the wind-driven wildfire swept through northern Santa Rosa, leveling some 3,000 homes.

“When my mom and I drove up together to see the property for the first time and turned down the driveway, we were nervous,” said Luskey, who has three kids ages 6 to 10. “We didn’t know how we would feel. But we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my god. It’s still so beautiful.’ And here is this pile of ashes. But we’re out in the country, and it’s gorgeous out here.”

As that first post-fire winter turned to spring, the land began to regenerate, with grass sprouting and some oaks pushing out new leaves. Sonoma County’s Sanborn Tree Service cut off dead limbs, offered tips on watering and predicted a treasured old oak, which two generations of kids liked to swing from, would survive.

That gave them hope and the will to take the risk of staying in a wildfire-prone area. Four years later, the extended clan has a new home, a modern ranch house and accessory dwelling unit built with new energy efficiencies and materials better able to withstand fire, like stucco and Hardieboard fiber cement siding and a metal roof. The naturalistic landscaping by Santa Rosa’s Mark Bowers is more drought- and fire-resistant and includes a 4-foot wide gravel buffer around the perimeter.

Oakland architects Lorin Hill and Armando Quiroz designed a house in the same spirit as the home that was lost, with a separate wing for multiple families to enjoy privacy in their own suites. (John Bedell Photo)
Oakland architects Lorin Hill and Armando Quiroz designed a house in the same spirit as the home that was lost, with a separate wing for multiple families to enjoy privacy in their own suites. (John Bedell Photo)

Luskey and her brothers, John and Rafe Hanahan, and their families still spend a lot of time at the 5-acre family home they affectionately called “the Ranch,” purchased in 1986 and expanded and remodeled with growing kids in mind.

So many memories are embedded in the land, where the kids swam in two lakes, played in the woods, gathered wild blackberries and enjoyed old-fashioned thrills in a wooden swing suspended from the branches of that cherished oak. They want their own kids to have that experience.

A team effort

Knowing that rebuilding after a major wildfire would be a major undertaking, the three siblings and their spouses all agreed to pitch in with the multitude of tasks entailed, including the inevitable insurance issues.

Luskey, an interior designer who lives in Orinda with her husband Randy and three kids, agreed to oversee the project. Randy Luskey, an attorney, helped negotiate the insurance recovery. Oldest brother John Hanahan, who is a project manager for a Silicon Valley high-tech company and lives in Saratoga, helped manage finances and inventory losses for the insurance company and oversaw all the technology incorporated into the new house.

Brother Rafe Hanahan, a chief strategy officer for a network of digital dental laboratories who also lives in Orinda, spearheaded the budget and a solar-energy project for the house. Daughters-in-law Molly and Robin Hanahan helped source rentals for White — seven in all — during the two years it took to build a small second home on the property where she could settle until the main house was completed.

“We always celebrated life here,” Lizzy Luskey said at the home on a bright, crisp December morning, with light streaming in through the many windows. “Beyond holiday gatherings, we had a wedding here for Mom’s best friend’s son, and baby showers and wedding showers. My kids had their naming ceremonies here.”

The original Hanahan family home was enlarged and remodeled in 1986. It was destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire. (Lizzy Luskey)
The original Hanahan family home was enlarged and remodeled in 1986. It was destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire. (Lizzy Luskey)

Working with architects Lorin Hill and Armando Quiroz of Lorin Hill Architects of Oakland, Luskey proposed a north-facing wall of windows for the new kitchen. This is where, in the old house, a beautiful floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookshelf stood. Now above the sink and energy-saving induction stove are windows galore. The fire cleared a forest of pine and Douglas fir, creating long views up to the ridge that include the pond and lake, visited regularly by two great white herons.

The White House Rebuild Team

Architecture: Lorin Hill and Armando Quiroz of Lorin Hill Architects of Oakland. hillarch.com

Interior design: Lizzy Luskey, founder of LL Decor & Design. lldecordesign.com

Contractor: Parsons Construction, with General Contractor Tom Parsons and Construction Foreman Justin Nash

Cabinetry and custom dining tables: Juan Lopez of Lake County Woodcrafters, Lakeport

Landscape designer: Mark Bowers of Resource Design. resource-design.com

“It has become the crown jewel of the house for us,” Luskey said. “We wake up and come down the hallway and get our coffee, and my mom does the same. The views from these windows are spectacular.”

Design features reflect how three generations use the space now. A glassy alcove extends from the great room. In keeping with their project commitment to use as many local contractors and artisans as possible, White and Luskey drove to Lakeport to meet Juan Lopez of Lake County Woodcrafters. Working from Luskey’s design, he created a custom family table of white oak with enough room for eight. He also crafted a long table with a light Caesarstone quartz top that extends like a peninsula from the island in the kitchen. This is a comfortable spot for the grandkids to dine nearby.

A wall of windows in the kitchen frames stunning views of the ridge that was hidden by trees before the Tubbs fire struck. A long table with a quartz surface by cabinetmaker Juan Lopez is a place for the young kids to eat. (John Bedell Photo)
A wall of windows in the kitchen frames stunning views of the ridge that was hidden by trees before the Tubbs fire struck. A long table with a quartz surface by cabinetmaker Juan Lopez is a place for the young kids to eat. (John Bedell Photo)

Meaningful design elements

The house is centered around a living area with two wings of bedroom suites. In the old home, White’s west-facing bedroom often got hot in the afternoons. She now has her own wing, but facing north, so it’s cooler. A soft monochromatic color palette of cream white, flax and gray also brings down the visual temperature. To add a pop of interest, Luskey convinced her mom to include a two-tier plaster white lotus chandelier by Julie Neill.

Like most of those whose homes went up in flames that night in 2017, the White-Hanahan-Luskey family lost everything, from photos to family heirlooms and keepsakes. The new house incorporates references to lost treasures through art and design without recreating them.

The hallway in White’s wing was designed as a gallery to showcase a series of black-and-white drawings of the Stanford campus — White’s alma mater — by Sonoma County artist Louisa Fraser. Custom frames match the petite flush-mount ceiling sconces forged in aged iron by designer Kelley Wearsteler.

White’s late parents collected keepsakes from their many trips through Asia, and all were lost in the Tubbs fire. White’s mother especially appreciated cane and bamboo. Luskey found subtle ways to incorporate reminders, such as a set of birdcage-shaped porcelain lamp bases with a bamboo design, reminiscent of a pair of lamps gifted to White from her mother and lost to the flames.

“We wanted to bring her and my grandfather into the space. They had passed away and we didn’t have their things. With the furnishings and artwork, we wanted them to be meaningful. We didn’t want to fill the space with stuff. We really looked for things that felt sentimental to us.”

One of their new treasures is an oversize 4-by-6-foot oil painting above the mantle in the great room of a Sonoma County landscape by A3L3XZAND3R, (formerly known as Alex Harris) of the Harris Gallery of Healdsburg. The artist worked little “Easter egg” surprises into the landscape, hidden initials referencing various members of the family.

A commissioned painting of Sonoma County’s golden hills by Healdsburg artist A3L3XZAND3R is a focal point in the great room. (John Bedell Photo)
A commissioned painting of Sonoma County’s golden hills by Healdsburg artist A3L3XZAND3R is a focal point in the great room. (John Bedell Photo)

A home for multiple generations

Luskey, her two brothers and their families frequently visit what she now calls “Ranch 2.0.” The new house includes an entire wing for two of the couples and a bunk room for the kids. The area can be closed off to reduce power costs when it’s not in use. John Hanahan, his wife Robin and their two teenage daughters stay in the accessory home a short hop away.

An awkwardly situated family pool, all that was left after the fire, was filled in and a new one with clean modern lines was built in the space between the main house and the small accessory home.

“Moving the pool knitted the two structures together and gave them an outdoor space they could both access conveniently,” architect Lorin Hill said.

Luskey designed each family’s space to reflect their own taste with colors, textures and accessories. A favorite spot however, is the bunk room, a playful space with a snug sailor-style bunk for each grandchild.

The bunk room offers a bed with reading light and monogrammed pillow for each child. The washable-surface steamer trunk (Selamat Designs, Sen Francisco) with wood and brass accents stores toys. (John Bedell Photo)
The bunk room offers a bed with reading light and monogrammed pillow for each child. The washable-surface steamer trunk (Selamat Designs, Sen Francisco) with wood and brass accents stores toys. (John Bedell Photo)

“I used hot pink, orange, navy blue, sky blue, camel brown and white,” she said of the room, a decided contrast to the more neutral tones favored by White through the rest of the house.

The kids can sink into a custom-made couch of camel brown leather and navy blue felt from Umphred Furniture in Berkeley. For fun, Luskey added a steamer-style trunk in vinyl by Selamat Designers that features ornate details to spark imagination while also providing storage for toys and beloved books.

The house is more energy-efficient and fire-resistant, with high-efficiency heating and cooling and reflecting new building codes. A solar-electric system is under development. Heat-sensor vents under the eaves and siding flashing will prevent embers from getting inside if there is another wildfire. More than 100 dead trees were cleared from the property to reduce the fuel load.

Landscape architect Bowers installed a hybrid drip irrigation system; emitters to everything but the trees can be turned off in extreme drought. The system, he said, includes large-impact sprinkler heads situated around the site that can be opened for a big blast to wet the grounds in the event of a fire. There is also a 10,000-gallon water storage tank.

No landscaping or building materials can totally protect against fire. But the White-Hanahan-Luskey clan incorporated anything they could to give the new house the best chance of surviving future wildfires.

“It’s such a special spot to go for all of us,” Luseky said. “And even though it’s different, it holds the same spot in our hearts that it always has. We’re really lucky to have it.”

Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.

 

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