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Home Ecology

For Roxanne and Michael Klein, living well means living in balance with the earth. From the food they eat to the materials they used to construct their home, the Kleins have a lifestyle that reflects their philosophy of honoring nature.

By Bonnie Monte

Roxanne Klein's mouthwatering concoctions of coconut green curry soup, daikon radish ravioli, and mocha almond fudge ice cream have helped change the way people think about eating. Her raw foods restaurant, Roxanne's, located in Larkspur, California, and the cookbook she coauthored, Raw (Ten Speed, 2003), are proof that living foods and gourmet cuisine are not mutually exclusive.

Now Roxanne and her husband, Michael Klein, have pulled off a similarly eye-opening feat in the realm of homebuilding: They've constructed a house on a knoll overlooking the San Francisco Bay that artfully melds inspiring design with sustainable materials and energy-efficient technology. "We were committed to preserving the natural beauty of the site," Roxanne says. "We wanted the house to blend in with the surroundings."

The house is a wonder of curves and angles, with multiple wings emanating from the main building. Massive earthen columns, cast and dried over a period of months, rise like geological formations to form the backbone of the structure. Cascades of native plants flank the stairway leading to the house, giving way to a pair of fish ponds where the stairs meet the front entrance.

Inside, the space soars, with high ceilings, tall windows, majestic views, and light pouring in from above. The same striated earthen columns used outside reappear indoors, complemented by an organically shaped rammed-earth fireplace in the living room. The professionally equipped kitchen features a built-in waterfall, a nod to the feng shui principle of balancing the elements of fire and water. Other feng shui elements are incorporated throughout the design, such as generous openings into each room to promote energy flow. From walls to floors to furnishings, the color palette is derived from nature, enhancing the overall feeling of serenity.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Prior to the kleins' taking ownership, the 15-acre property belonged to late rock impresario Bill Graham, who had a modest two-bedroom house on the site. But with Roxanne and Michael each requiring an office, and with four children in their blended family, "the house clearly wasn't working," Roxanne says. To remedy that, they turned to the environmentally sensitive team of architect Sim Van der Ryn of Sausalito, California, who served as state architect during Jerry Brown's term as governor, and contractor David Warner, owner of Redhorse Constructors in San Rafael, California.

The original house was demolished to make way for a brand-new structure. Under the Kleins' direction, virtually all debris was salvaged. Doors, windows, and other fixtures that could be reused were donated to nonprofits. The kitchen cabinets went to the architect's new offices. Wood was reused as lumber whenever possible, and when that wasn't feasible, it was chipped to serve as mulch. Concrete was crushed and used as gravel backfill against retaining walls. Other debris was mixed with cement and sprayed into walls for insulation. And some prized artifacts from Bill Graham's occupancy were retained, such as his conversation-pit table, which resides in its original spot outdoors.

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