Phoenix Home Rising

Streamline modern structure of steel helps family recover from loss in North Bay fires
Fridays on the Homefront
In the aftermath of the North Bay fires of 2017, this butterfly-roofed modern home is rising from the scorched earth, bolstered by an innovative, steel-framed design from BONE Structure that promises maximum energy efficiency. All photos: courtesy BONE Structure
Fridays on the Homefront
Flames edge closer, October 2017.
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Aftermath of the fire at the Booster residence.

A butterfly-roofed modern home is rising from the scorched earth of the North Bay fires, bolstered by an innovative, steel-framed design that promises maximum energy efficiency.

"There's so many people that look at this house and say, 'Man, that looks like it was by Eichler,'" admits architect Brendan Kelly of his design for the home being built just west of Santa Rosa. "I say, 'Man, Eichler wasn't an architect, that was Anshen and Allen!'"

Kelly's clients on the phoenix-like project are his cousin Merritt Booster and her husband Howard, the latter who recalls vividly those dreadful days of October 2017.

"I sent them away first, then I hung out for a couple more hours," he said of his wife and father-in-law, now 97, evacuating their home of 33 years just ahead of him the night of October 9. "By the time I walked [back] in at 2 p.m., it was gone."

Hiking past downed power lines into the 16-home Rolling Oaks subdivision—where their home was one of a dozen destroyed—was a surreal scene. Booster and one neighbor picked through their blackened lots in eerie silence, rudely punctuated by the occasional propane tank exploding in flames on other properties.

"I felt like I was on a movie set on a World War II film set in France," he recalls with a grim smile. Now, three decades after buying the property in 1984, after raising three daughters there, its time to start over.

"It was three generations on this eight-acre homestead. It was a big loss for everyone," says Kelly solemnly. The architect was himself embarking on a new start, having opened Kelly-Morgan Architects in Napa last February with wife Kerry Morgan.

"The North Bay fires came right as we came back," said the former St. Helena resident, who with Morgan is raising their four children in Napa after working as an executive in London and Rome. They too were evacuated in the fires, he said, adding, "I said, 'I think it's a sign. We should be architects again.'"

Still another precipitous event for this remarkable project came from a friend of Booster's telling him about an upcoming demonstration for steel-framed homes. Kelly attended the demonstration by BONE Structure, a Quebec-based design and construction firm that opened a San Francisco office in 2016.

"I guess he grilled them pretty hard," Booster chortled about Kelly, who already had a modern design that wouldn't work with BONE pre-cut plywood roofing and pre-cut polystyrene paneling, which is said to help achieve zero net energy (ZNE).