by Lily Stoicheff on Aug 14, 2012
"There is innate beauty in things that are highly functional,” explains Bernie Tershy as he stands proudly and comfortably inside his award-winning home on Alta Avenue. Between 2008 and 2010, Tershy and his wife worked with Anni Tilt of Berkeley-based Arkin Tilt Architects and Santa Cruz builder Marc Susskind to design and construct a home that reflected their environmental sensibilities and active lifestyle. Their efforts did not go unnoticed—Fine Homebuilding Magazine deemed it the Best New Home this year.
It all started more than five years ago, when Tershy and his wife, Erika Zavaleta, were living in a different house on the Bethany Curve Greenbelt on the Westside. They knew they wanted to remodel their home, but they kept running into the same roadblock. “What we really wanted to do was turn our house, which was facing the street, around 180 degrees so it faced the park, but it seemed impossible,” explains Tershy. Luckily fate stepped in, and another lot on the park went up for sale. It was the opportunity to build the eco-friendly family home they’d always wanted, and they jumped on it.
Tershy and Zavaleta are both professors at UCSC: he of ecology and environmental biology, she of environmental studies. In 2008 they began consulting with Arkin Tilt Architects, a firm that specializes in energy- and resource-efficient design, about creating a low-energy family home oriented toward the park with a small footprint.
Now, on a summer afternoon four years later, Tershy is swinging along their 2-year-old daughter and stepping around toys and books. The house is open and airy yet designed to accommodate privacy. There are no walls separating the family room, dining area and kitchen. Upstairs, the sons’ bedrooms are separated by a sliding door that can be opened to create a large play space or closed for privacy. The natural light throughout the house is artfully circulated through the careful use of windows, angles and wall paint. Not wanting to fully cut off the upstairs from the downstairs, the team connected the master bedroom to the rest of the second floor by an indoor bridge.
Whimsical flourishes abound, from the madrone tree that fell on their friend’s property and now dominates the dining room, its branches reaching towards the high ceiling, to the collection of sea glass gathered by Tershy and his mother that now winds through the floor of the house.
It’s so interesting and beautiful that you almost forget the home’s environmental impact is almost zero. The house was constructed from salvaged, recycled and low-impact materials, including straw bale. Passive solar energy and hot water circulating beneath the floors warm the house.
Outside, an iron sulfate-stained concrete patio stretches towards a garden and a huge trampoline. The Tershy–Zavaleta family collected the driftwood for the fence that separates their property from the park from beaches north of Santa Cruz.
Although Tilt and Susskind admit that some parts of the house were challenging, the result is impressive yet unassuming, a piece of art you can make a mess in, and a home the Tershy–Zavaleta family can grow in.
The accolades from the home building community aren’t a bad perk, either.