If you've ever driven northbound on Interstate 280 through Hillsborough, you've surely seen this house from the highway. There is nothing else like it in the neighborhood, which looks much like something out of "The Brady Bunch": that is to say, sedate, one-story ranch homes circa the 1960s.
Locals named this the Flintstone House because it looks like one of the domed houses you might see in the 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
I asked the listing agent for the house, Judy Meuschke, if this is the most eccentric house she’s ever been involved in listing — "Yes!"
Meuschke says many people are surprised when they walk inside this 2,700-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. They expect something cavelike: dark, musty, weird. Instead, the interior is bright and airy, a meditation in cream with orange accents.
"It’s cozy," Meuschke says. "It’s really livable. I love the house."
She is showing me around because the current owner has moved to a smaller place, not too far from here. The woman keeps a low profile and doesn’t want her name used for this story, but she has done a lot of work on the place over the more than two decades she lived here.
The orange-and-purple paint job on the house is relatively new, as are a number of structural renovations, including a waterproof membrane, and insulation that obviates the need for air conditioning in the warmer months.
The kitchen, remodeled in the 2000s, looks to me like a biotech lab designed by Gustav Klimt. It was designed and built by Emeryville architect Eugene Tssui. His marching orders?
"The owner lives a life of art. She loves to live in art. She said to me, 'I need a stove. I need a place for a fridge. But otherwise, anything goes,' ” Tssui says.
Everything is round in the house, creating a biomorphic quality to the place. Even the walls are curved. You don't hang a painting. You set it on the floor and lean it back. Or build an alcove to house it.
"Because it’s a circular plan, I felt like the vocabulary of the design needed to fit that, the grammar of the geometry," Tssui says. "Nothing like that had ever been done before. We had to experiment ahead of time and adapt it to that space: the way that space works, the way it accommodates movement."
Why the cables holding up the glass countertop? Earthquake safety. Tssui explains they "allow for flex, and they allow the glass countertop to float above the ground."
Looking back at the project after about a decade, Tssui says he's most happy about the quality of the light in the space, and its effect on the viewer: "a kind of a shimmering, soaring feeling."
Especially in the rooms that face 280 and Crystal Springs Reservoir, there is a lot of natural light, pouring in through amoeba-shaped windows like the one above.
So who would spend $3.2 million on a party pad like this? For a number of months, there was a fair bit of interest in renting it out for $700+ a night on Airbnb. But it's been a challenge to find the wealthy person with as big a sense of whimsy as the Flintstone House requires.
Over the years, assessor's records show, the house has sold five times. This time around, the Flintstone House went on the market for $4.2 million in September 2015, but there have been two price reductions since then.
Meuschke acknowledges the house is not conventional.
"I think the pool of buyers is much smaller," she says, adding she does not imagine anyone would spend this kind of money just to tear this house down.
A Spirit of Adventure in the 1970s
When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that other home owners in the San Francisco Bay Area haven’t built more outlandish experiments like the Flintstone House.
I did check with Hillsborough’s planning division, and there aren’t any rules against wacky, per se.
That said, the owner had plans to build a second house to rent out on the property, designed by Tssui. Officials denied her proposal.
The owner wasn't willing to fight, but Tssui still harbors misgivings.
“Planning departments promote conformity and a meek approach to design," Tssui says. "It’s an aggressive hindrance to the freedom of human thought and action, forcing citizens to conform to personal, subjective edicts, which should be fought.”
"You know, it’s an expression of its time," says Pierluigi Serraino, an architect in Alameda who also writes books about architectural history.
"I find it, in many respects, endearing," he says of the Flintstone House. "I’ve always seen it from the freeway and I always thought it was a classic period piece, a bit of a folly."
The original owners built this place in 1977. In the late 1970s, Serraino says, people were more comfortable letting their freak flag fly.
"There have always been certain strands in architecture that try to establish some relationship with the organic world," he says.
In some respects, the Flintstone House follows a long line of fanciful architecture, with prestigious forbears including the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.
Also, the development of “shotcrete” at the turn of the last century opened a lot of doors for architecture. It’s a process in which concrete is sprayed through a hose at high velocity onto a frame of, typically, steel rebar and mesh.
"Shotcrete is a way to essentially create a sculptural fantasy, that then you cover with this layer of fluid stone," says Serraino.
Think about that next time you're driving past.