For years the unwillingness of the production housing industry to consider Modern design has irked Rodney Friedman, FAIA. He founded his San Francisco Bay area firm, Fisher Friedman Associates, in the 1960s, the heyday of popular Modernism. But since then, Bauhaus-influenced design has been reserved mostly for public buildings and custom homes, while spec homes have veered in a decidedly traditional direction. After many fruitless attempts to convince developers to think Modern, Friedman finally sunk a hole in one—on the golf course, of all places. “My golf pro, Al Hand, had a couple of lots he wanted to develop,” says Friedman. “I convinced him there was a market for Modern housing.”
Friedman agreed to help design two spec houses for the Sonoma, Calif., lots, working as a freelance consultant to save Hand from paying the firm's higher fees. The endeavor became a family affair when Alison Steppan, Friedman's daughter, and her husband, Mark Steppan, AIA, executive vice president of Fisher Friedman, signed on as project designers. The trio came up with a pair of distinctly different, very high-end houses—one white-plaster-clad and inspired by the International Style, and the other a shingled, vaulted-roof affair with a glass-and-plaster link connecting its two wings. “They give people an opportunity to get something they can't get with other production housing,” says Mark Steppan. The 2,700-square-foot homes are currently under construction, and Hand plans to market them for $1.4 million to $1.6 million apiece. Now that he's gotten this project going, Friedman hopes it's just the beginning of a new wave of Modern spec houses. “I keep thinking there's an unserved market out there for all these young people who buy furniture at Ikea,” he says. “Lofts and condos are contemporary, but not single-family houses. If this can be established as a successful way to build, it's a win-win deal.” He benefits in the short-term, too. In return for his services, he's received an unlimited supply of free golf lessons.