Meet Bill Streng - Page 2

Three decades one of his own best customers, Bill still lives 'Streng modern' with a passion

"If we ever leave this house," Karmen says, pauses, thinks about it, and goes on, "it's going to be very difficult to leave. This room is a very pleasant place to be." She looks into the backyard, mostly pool but with a bit of garden. "Here it is, an ugly, gray day, but the light is lovely. My pansies are blooming, and it doesn't look like an ugly day. It's a very beautiful day. I don't know how I'd live without it."

aggregate hallway

The Strengs raised two children in the home, boys who came with Karmen. Each had his own small bedroom, near a large rumpus room with a separate entry onto the carport that made it easy for friends to come and go. One change the Strengs made was to the plan—they used concrete aggregate for their interior walkways, all the way from the front door to the boys' rooms to the pool. The original plan called for aggregate only in the entry. No mess, no fuss. "I'm so grateful we have it," Karmen says, "even though it's uncomfortable on your bare feet."

The house does not have an atrium, that indoor garden area that helped define the Streng design. Instead, Bill says, "We wanted that big rumpus room." Overall, they're happy with the house. The boys' bedrooms could have been a bit bigger, the utility room a bit smaller. "If we could do it over," Karmen says, "we would have larger bathrooms." Bill and Karmen have remodeled virtually nothing. They changed the kitchen counters, but not the cabinets. "I can't stand that kind of uproar," Karmen says.

The neighborhood has changed more than the Strengs' house, but it has retained original character. None of that is due to Bill's vigilance, even though he makes up the entirety of the architectural committee. Neighbors are supposed to ask the 'committee' to approve remodels, but rarely do. Bill, who walks the neighborhood for exercise, says he rarely spots inappropriate remodeling. But he's no stickler for rules. "I'm a libertarian," he says. "I'm not in favor of forming committees to tell other people how to live. I don't feel confident telling my neighbors how to live." He does blanch, however, at ugly second-story additions, including a recent remodeling of a half-plex.

Bill's commitment to modernism and good design remains intact. Although Streng Bros. no longer builds homes, both brothers remain involved with homebuilding as partners in various subdivisions. Some of these have adopted the trendy 'neo-traditional' look, to Bill's dismay. "To be neo-traditional," he says, "you should have a style that looks like it came from the '30s or the '90s—the 1890s that is." "I argued with my partners to get them closer to what Carter would have done, with less than 100 percent success," he says of one development. "I told them, 'We can't require good taste, but we should not mandate bad taste.' "

outside view

Bill's role in the development process is far from passive. On a recent afternoon he was attending a meeting of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission to promote Covell Village, a 1,500-home proposal for 400 acres just north of his neighborhood that is the most controversial proposed development Davis has seen in years. "It will keep me busy to age 90," says Bill, who's 78.

Karmen, who spends her time quilting (the old rumpus room is now her studio) and attending concerts, knows Bill will never quit. "He wouldn't still be doing it if he didn't like to do it," she says, "because he doesn't have to."

This story was originally published in 2007. Bill Streng passed away in 2021.

All photos by David Toerge

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