People Saving Places Through Preservation
2020 Award of Merit Recipient
The Telesis House award was presented by NCL Board Director, Dan Cutright. His remarks, “Merriam Webster defines “Telesis” as “Progress that is intelligently planned and directed – the attainment of desired ends by the application of intelligent human effort to the means”.
Napa County Landmarks has given its annual Award of Merit to Metropolitan Architecture Practice (MAP), Katherine Lambert and Christiane Robbins, owners. The award is for Category 1, Restoration and Preservation of an existing historic building at least 50 years old.
This house is aptly named. The original owner/builder was Milton Munger, a nuclear submarine engineer at Mare Island Naval Shipyard and a founding member of the Sierra Club. His wife, Winifred, was the Napa County librarian in 1950 when construction of the house began. Notable Bay Area architect Jack Hilmer was commissioned to design the home. Hilmer was a visionary and himself part of the association of intellectual peers, mostly architects calling themselves “ Telesis’.
The group was rooted in the idea of “collectivism” which had at its core “searching for a better life for us all”. This house was born of that philosophy, a groundbreaking effort at energy efficiency and early ‘green’ building.
Hilmer’s philosophy and Munger’s sensibilities resulted in a collaborative design of a house far ahead of its time. It is stunning in appearance and incredibly innovative in its incorporation early sustainable building and systems methods. It sits on a beautiful one-acre site in southwest Napa featuring finished landscaping, a pool and privacy screening provided by an architecturally designed perimeter fence and heritage oak trees.
There is a long list of notable innovative features including a first generation ‘warm floor-radiant heating system’ where heated water is pumped through a system of copper pipes embedded beneath the custom baselite tile floor. The original system, save the boiler, is intact and in use today. The Munger’s, who literally built the house themselves, sometimes with the help of neighbors, even cast the floor tiles onsite themselves, from molds still in possession of the current owners. The Mungers, tolling over 10 years from the start of construction in 1950, never really completed the house entirely. The restoration, which restored the house to nearly 100% original, also resulted in the house’s final completion by Katherine & Chris. There are only minor changes, including the re-purposing of a large display case built of old growth redwood (no longer available as building material today) and a simple change in the ‘flow’ of the access to the wing where the bedrooms and bathrooms are located. The old growth redwood was 100% repurposed in the house and used for the repair in other areas where needed. All of it survived.
The notable design of the home’s sloping roof lines and its orientation to the south and east, takes maximum advantage of the movement of the sun throughout the year to maximize the ‘passive’ solar benefits of its cool shading in summer and warmth in winter. Munger, an engineer, performed painstaking calculations (many years before computers and CAD programs) as well as months of personal observation of the sun’s movement throughout the year to accomplish this.
Four materials compose the house, old growth redwood, custom cast baselite for floors and wall layering (between layers of old growth redwood), glass and steel. The layout begins at the kitchen, the house’s core and unwinds from there as an unfurling ribbon, when viewed from a bird’s eye. There are no 90-degree angles in the house, rather a series of 120-degree angles as it unfurls. It is thought that Joseph Eichler, of Eichler Homes fame, was a guest here and took inspiration from its for his distinct subdivisions.
You can view pictures and obtain more information about the house by visiting telesishouse.net.”