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Coffee Talk with Bay Area Builder Michael McDonald

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You might not know Michael McDonald, but you certainly know his projects. The project that put him on the map was his award-winning Margarido House (which is currently on the market) in Upper Rockridge in Oakland, which is the first home in Northern California to receive a LEED-H Platinum rating and GreenPoint Rated certification.

McDonald and the Margarido Group have since gone on to "produce" many award winning, highly design, sustainable custom showcase homes in Northern California, including the Hillside House. His crew has also been pegged as key figures in California Home+Design's Bay Area Bauhaus ... a new design movement article.

You're the guy behind the Margarido House, which is the first LEED-H Platinum home in Northern California. How was the idea conceived and what was the building experience like?

We had been doing some cool sustainable rehabs all over the East Bay for clients and for ourselves: buying, fixing, selling, or holding on to them, etc. We had actually began to specialized in "lifting" houses and creating new space under and on top. We started getting itchy to build from the ground up, and In 2006, we stumbled across this awesome view lot in the Oakland Hills, just a few blocks up from bustling College Avenue in Rockridge, and literally within weeks, the plans for what became the Margarido House were born. We approached the design and build of the Margarido House in a similar fashion to how we had been approaching our rehabs: gather an awesome team of designers, craftspersons, builders and vendors, and stir it up: collaborate and create. My role became more like the "producer" finding the talent, the money, working with amazing vendors, and pushing everyone to got beyond their comfort zones.

Some could argue that a sustainable home shouldn't be 4,000+ square feet, which is sometimes the size of the sustainable homes you build. What's your take on that?

I agree, smaller is more sustainable, as a matter of fact, adaptive re-use and remodeling can be the most sustainable. However people are gonna want to build and live in big new houses, so why not make them as sustainable as possible. Our Hillside House project in Mill Valley was just awarded LEED-H Platinum and its amazing and under 2,500 square feet of conditioned space. Under construction and scheduled for completion in September, The Tiburon Bay House is just over 3,000 square feet and its scheduled for LEED-H Platinum. One of the coolest, greenest and most challenging projects we've ever worked on, The Sausalito PurHaus, scheduled for completion in September, is a major remodel, just under 2,700 square feet.

You've been building homes in the Bay Area for quite some time. Give us the dirt. What are the constant joys and the constant setbacks you experience while working on a project?

The joys of building in the Bay Area has got to be in the plethora of talented artisans and designers along with an amazing appetite for modern, sustainable architecture. The big challenge of building in the Bay Area is how expensive its gotten. From costs of materials, permits, special inspections, seismic concerns, the cost of living that drives up labor, etc. My brother's are building amazing attached super sustainable housing back in Philadelphia for under $200 a square foot. We are lucky to break $500 a square foot for our high end custom projects in the Bay Area.

What's next for Margarido Group?

With the addition of Architect Joseph Remick to the Margarido Group, we can now offer clients full service architectural and design/build services, which we are beginning to do more and more, as well as focus on fun speculative projects. Joe was the VP of Design and an investor/partner in Michelle Kaufman Design, and has an amazing background in prefabricated architecture, building and project management. We hope to expanding beyond amazing super green custom homes (though we love that space) and into multi family and mixed use projects and apply our collaborative design/build approach to moderate and lower income housing projects as well.

· Margarido House [MH]
· The Hillside House [THH]
· 'Bay Area Bauhaus': A Thing Now? [Curbed SF]
· Tiburon Bay House [TBH]
· McDonald Construction & Development, Inc [M-C-D]