Great Callister House Awaits a True Fan

Living room
The architecture of Warren Callister suggests Arts & Crafts design, Japanese architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright, but in a way that is Callister's own. Photos by Dave Weinstein

There’s  something rough hewn, masculine, about a house by architect Warren Callister, and something delicate too. You can enjoy these qualities in a striking house just hitting the market in Sausalito.

The house at 250 Currey Lane, high in the hills with the kind of Bay views you’d imagine, makes it clear that Callister was one of the great Bay Area Tradition architects, with all the warmth of the greats Arts & Crafts era designers such as Maybeck and Morgan but with the mid-century modern attention to open plans and glass.

Callister (1917-2008), though, has never achieved the renown of many of his colleagues from the era. That’s why the many fans of his work, while they appreciate the chance to see his house when they come on the market, also shudder just a little wondering:

Who’s going to buy it and what are they going to do with it?

Cat House
The street approach reveals an angular composition, roofs, windows, decks, on a steep site.

This thought occurred to Beth Nelson, a printmaker, art designer, product developer and stylist, who staged the house in preparation for its sale, working for Victoria Hamilton-Rivers, interior design and staging.

“The moment I walked in the door I was in awe,” she says. “Shoji screen closets, incredible tongue-and-groove joinery and ingenuity, old growth redwood, miles of glass, and views beyond beautiful.”

“It is virtually untouched,” she says.

Some changes have been made, including turning a kitchen into a dining room (while preserving some of the kitchen cabinetry), adding a kitchen alongside; putting sheet rock atop the original concrete hearth and utility core, and adding marble to the hearth. It also looks like some of the interior woodwork has been lightened up.

The four bedroom, three-level-house shows off the ruggedness of its construction with naturally aging redwood boards and panels, big barn-like sliding doors, and exposed nail ends used functionally as well as decoratively in redwood siding.

Warren Callister visiting a house designed by his friend and former partner Jack Hillmer, 2006.

For delicacy enjoy glass-on-glass mitered corners near the entry, high clerestory windows, uplighting hidden within beams, and beautiful detailing throughout.

Callister, an impish, soft spoken man who studied architecture in Texas and began working in the Bay Area right after World War II, very consciously saw himself as a Bay Area architect, exulted in the use of warm redwood, and lots of it, and played up Asian architecture and philosophy in his work as well.

He was also a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright and this relatively early house in his career, from 1951, shows Wrightian influence in, among other things, the aggressive use of hexagons.

Rooms are hexagonal, shelves are hexagonal and half hexagonal, so are floor and bathroom tiles and the entire house is a composition of angles and angled views.

Strong pillars, soffit lighting, a wall of glass and built-in benches give Callister-style character to the living area.

Today, when many people think about mid-century modern architecture, they think about glass, openness, light – and white. Callister’s architecture was as open to the outdoors as the work of anyone. But, a bit like the Arts & Crafts designers Greene and Greene, he played up heavy wood structure, texture, and subtle color. He wasn’t all about white and bright.

Callister's better known projects include the Chuch of Christ Scientist from 1952 in Belvedere, the Mills College Chapel in Oakland, and the community of Bahia in Novato.

The realtor handling the house, Mark Rushford, said he hopes to find a buyer who will love and preserve it. The home has been and will be open several times, Sunday December 7 and 14, Wednesday December 10. Check the website for details and confirmation of dates.

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