It’s one of the most iconic pieces of domestic architecture in the Bay Area — the Flintstone House! You may have noticed the bright orange and purple structure while driving northbound on 280 in Hillsborough.
I first visited this place a few years ago for a Bay Curious podcast episode that remains one of their most-popular episodes of all time. But back then, the architect wasn't available. So when the chance came to tour the house with its architect, I pounced.
Here's some of our conversation, edited for coherency and aesthetic enjoyment.
NN: My name's William Nicholson, but people call me Nick.
RM: Which do you prefer?
NN: Nick. Probably.
RM: How do you feel about your creation?
NN: This was a big failure. You know, I was going to revolutionize architecture when I got out of school and I didn't. People like the places, especially once they get inside. But nobody bought them. So I felt like such a failure. But I've talked to so many people driving along (280, and they say the sight of the Flintstone House) brings a smile to your face. Now, why shouldn't a house be fun? I mean, that's fantastic. So many people drive by and at least subconsciously realize that, 'Hey, there's something other than a box!'
RM: Take us back to the very first conversation you had with the original owners. What was the culture like then?
NN: They were into computer programming. I'd built the first house out in Apple Valley, Calif., and they came and went through that house. That was an era that was a little hippie. You know? Everyone was looking at accepting something new.
RM: When you said you really wanted to revolutionize architecture, what was it you had in mind?
NN: Well, I had this idea of blowing up balloons. I developed a material that was plaster with fiberglass in it. There was this machine that you could spray that on and it would hydrate at the nozzle. So you sprayed (the plaster/fiberglass mix) on these balloons and then let the air out, and you'd have this dome structure. Then I would put the electrical elements, spray it with foam and then put wire and and steel on and then gunite it, like a swimming pool.