One man's dream house that he set out to build in the early 1970s and never completed before his death last year has hit the market for the first time, and it's a very unique Berkeley hills property to say the least.
"Iconic Architecture!" boasts the sales copy for 1112 and 1110 Sterling Avenue in Berkeley. "This unique building concept by an owner-artist / musician / composer – but alas, never fully realized – soars in the Berkeley Hills. The owner described it as 'a nest cupped aloft to the open air and light protected by perfect geometry.'"
It was the abandoned life's work of Charles MacDermed, a composer and musician who first and foremost wanted a music studio on the top level of this very 70s design, a tetrahedron — a triangular pyramid — where the center would be the most ideal space for hearing music.
As he says in the video below, shot as a means to document his vision for the house before his death in 2022 at age 85, MacDermed says, "This house is designed to fit my conception of what a house can be — and needs to be — for creative artists such as myself."
"Structurally the house is very safely, and way over-designed for strength and stability, particularly in light of a very strong seismic shake of the house — which has happened since the house was put together," MacDermed says.
He says the house was particularly satisfying to him because it's a departure from the typical, rectilinear architecture that most people resort to.
And that top level has some incredible views of the Bay, the Golden Gate, and San Francisco — the sides were meant to be fully glassed in, and there is even a four-riser step down to what he called the "sitting well" for taking in the view.
But, alas, he never got to live in it, and it was a dream deferred. As his widow, Varya Simpson, tells the Chronicle, "Charles [had] a very fine sense of aesthetics. His whole life was art and creativity and design." And he was an uncompromising perfectionist, which led to him insisting on doing much of the construction work himself — a project that would last from 1974 when the couple bough the property and an adjacent parcel next to it, until 1991. That was when the City of Berkeley revoked construction permits which it said were long expired anyway — this came after years of neighbor complaints about the unending construction.
No real work has been done on the house in the 32 years since, though because of its steel framing it appears to have weathered the time without any windows fairly well — though the realtor is offering no open houses or site visits, and buyers will have to take it as-is.
Still, Simpson tells the paper that the hope is someone will come along who appreciates the vision and the design and will complete MacDermed's project — a simpler house could be built on the next-door property in the meantime, she and the realtor suggest.
"It's just one of those sad stories," Simpson says of the unfinished project. But, she says, her husband had plenty of other projects to fulfill him in his 85 years, and the couple raised their two children elsewhere in Berkeley.
See the full listing here. They are accepting offers on August 23.