Marketing materials for the three-bed, two-and-a-half bath Napa house on a hillside at 1515 Maxwell Avenue compare it to a sundial, and even dub it the Sundial House.
While the resemblance to an ancient timepiece, or perhaps the chambered curves of certain seashells, becomes evident from above, from a more human elevation it better resembles a carousel, albeit an immovable one frozen at a moment in time—presumably 1996, when it was built.
According to the 1998 book Living Homes, original owner Phyllis Hunt wanted a design that was “nest-like and nurturing” and tapped Berkeley architect Craig Henritzy. Henritzy seems to be preoccupied with circular homes and professes a fascination with the buildings of indigenous American tribes, although none are part of his family history.
The architect modeled the spiral shape of the house’s frame and floor plan on a deer path that he and Hunt discovered on the then-vacant land. Some mild allusions to Frank Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Light, as it were) became inevitable once they added that swirl into the design.
The home has four separate levels to conform as closely as possible to the shape of the hillside, with most of the bedrooms tucked further inside and nestled with the hill.
Between all of the curves, the use of underground spaces, and the tendency toward earth tones, 1515 Maxwell looks a bit like a designer Hobbit hole.
Also of note is the somewhat eccentric building material. In addition to timber, most of the listing says the house consists of “a recycled polystyrene and cement block called Rastra Block.”
According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Rastra is a bit like “Lincoln Logs made of spongy, lightweight concrete.” Eighty-five percent of the weight of a Rastra block is supposed to be polystyrene, which serves as an insulator.
Cement and rebar beefs up the structural integrity, and the result is an environmentally friendly building block that’s allegedly “earthquake-resistant, fire-resistant, and [as] sound-deadening as a bank vault.” (Who knew?)
1515 Maxwell has never before been sold and listed this week for $1.85 million. A rounder number like $2 million would have been a bit more thematically pleasing, but there are still plenty of zeroes in the price as it is.