Roger Lee Classic Reappears

Master architect's 'modest modern' gem in country club setting back on Orinda market
Fridays on the Homefront
Perhaps the most celebrated of the 100 homes designed by underrated Bay Area mid-century modern architect Roger Lee is now on the market, in Orinda. Back in the day it was photographed by Ernie Braun, featured in Sunset magazine, and deemed the 'Best Small House of 1955' by the American Institute of Architects. Photography courtesy Thomas Westfall

Homes designed by underrated master architect Roger Lee number nearly 100 and are occasional eye candy on the mid-century modern home market in the Bay Area.

Owners generally seem to love them, though, so it's pretty unusual that one in Orinda is poised to be available for the second time ever and second in just six years.

"He wasn't an architect that tried to make these fancy designs," Lynn Gobble said of Lee in 2016, just before she and her brother sold their childhood home at 440 Camino Sobrante to the current owners, adding, "His legacy was simplicity."

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Realtor Thomas Westfall of Compass agrees that simplicity is the greatest design strength of this well-preserved 1955 house, which he posted as 'coming soon' in late April on the Multiple Listing Service and is listing officially this week for $1.2 million.

"He was very conscious of the topography—the house had to fit the landscape," Westfall said of Lee. In fact, the architect was friends with Gobble's father and camped with him on the site overnight to gauge the morning light before designing this two-bed, one-bath adjacent to Orinda Country Club golf course.

In a career stretching from 1949 to '68, Lee designed the occasional church or commercial building, but the majority of the Berkeley graduate's work was residential homes in the East Bay. Several are in the area of Contra Costa County known colloquially as Lamorinda, but most are somewhat bigger than this house's 1,100 square feet.

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"He did it custom for them at what they could afford," said Gobble, an artist living in Portland who spoke of her parents' relationship with the architect. With grounds originally designed by landscape architect Robert Cornwell, Gobble observed of Lee, "He was very knowledgeable about how to place his design."

"As a child growing up there, what I loved was [that] the light from the outside was what was [we saw] in the inside. I was always very aware of being part of the landscape and nature," she said. "It's just really, really well designed."