Julia Morgan is given the AIA 2014 Gold Medal

When I was first approached about remodeling a house designed by Julia Morgan, my first thoughts were:

  • Dare I?
  • Did this house have historic value?
  • What would Julia Morgan think?

Julia Morgan was recently given the American Institute of Architects 2014 Gold Medal, the highest honor an architect can win. Hearing this news, I've thought back on our project on Kingsley in Palo Alto and the decisions my clients and I made at the beginning of the project about how much to change of the house. 

On the outside, only part of the existing Julia Morgan cottage remained in any significant way, the front porch. During the 1980's, a not very sensitive second story addition was put on but this was an area we were not touching. The front porch needed complete rebuilding and, with the work we were doing internally, we decided to expand the porch, very much keeping the original style. 

The existing interior detailing of house still had much of the original trim work, although the details were relatively simple and typical for the era of the original cottage. We were completely redoing the interior finishes, so we decided to simplify the detailing a bit in a traditional style and stay consistent with doors and hardware. The one major interior element that we did save was the wood fireplace mantel. The new fireplace was a custom gas unit that was sized to match the original firebox, so that the old original mantel could be re-installed and refinished.

So what would have Julia Morgan thought of our work on this old house? Most people know of her work on major projects and for famous clients. But in my research for our project, I discovered that she had a certain joy working on smaller projects for more everyday clients. Then, as now, the projects were about the clients and their goals. There are many ways to define success in the Architectural world and she has achieved the highest honors. I hope we've respectfully maintained her expectations for this house.