A Tribute to David Coddaire

From Adversary to Mentor to Friend

During my nine years on the Tamalpais Design Review Board, I met numerous local small builders. At one meeting, a builder named David Coddaire appeared before the board with a house he was proposing to build on Alturas Way in Tam Valley. The board made recommendations and I suggested that the proposed house was designed backwards on the lot and that a mirror-image version would be better. David stood up, grabbed his plans, gave me an angry look, and left without saying a word.

At the next meeting, David returned with revisions to his house. To my surprise, he had reversed the house like I had suggested. Apparently, he considered my idea and realized that it made the best use of the building site.

A few weeks later, David showed up unannounced at my office in Sausalito. I had no idea what to expect. He then asked me to design two houses for him farther down on Alturas Way. He already had approval for these two houses, but he wanted to discard the approved plans and start over by having me redesign the houses. I found out later that he had visited an “open house” of a house I had designed and inquired from the realtor who the designer was. So, on some level, my reputation had preceded me.

After that, he asked me to design a house for himself and his family in Nicasio on Laurel Canyon road on some acreage he owned above the Nicasio Dam. After he had moved into his new home, he had me design a spec house a few parcels away. (pictured)

Spec house, Laurel Canyon Road, Nicasio, Lone Tree Residential Design
Spec house, Laurel Canyon Road, Nicasio

A year or so later, David told me he was planning on buying the former Maiden Lane Dog Kennel property, a ten-acre parcel in Fairfax with an investor. The idea was to subdivide the property into ten lots and for me to design ten new Craftsman houses. Part of my job was to determine where the lot lines and streets should go, while preserving a swath of land along the creek as open space. He christened the subdivision “Shadow Creek” and asked me to choose names for the streets. The original farmhouse was beyond repair, so David asked me to replicate it to preserve the character of the original farmhouse and to set the tone for the rest of the homes.

Nouveau Farmhouse Shadow CreekLone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M Richards
Nouveau farmhouse replica, Shadow Creek

Shortly thereafter, David drove up to Petaluma with me to study old homes in and around the historic “D” Street neighborhood. We took photos of some of the best examples and he instructed me to use those as a design template to incorporate into the new homes for Shadow Creek.

Up until then, I had not considered integrating traditional Craftsman bungalow elements into home design, but it soon became my signature style.

The Shadow Creek project was a success and so he and his partners acquired another ten-lot subdivision in Tennessee Valley. Again, he put me to work designing ten Craftsman houses in what is now known as Tennessee Glen.

Tennessee Glen-Lone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M Richards
Front entrance of a Tennessee Glen home

Unfortunately, while supervising on the Fairfax project, David suffered a mild stroke. After the Tennessee Valley project was underway, the investor used the stroke as an excuse to marginalize David’s involvement in the project. He never received his portion of the profits and went away disillusioned with the whole affair.

David moved to a big industrial space in Oakland and resumed his career as an artist and sculptor, quitting the building business once and for all. We stayed in touch over the years, as we had become friends. For a time, David rented a house from me in Vallejo. In true David fashion, one day he moved without giving me any notice.

D. Coddaire sculptor-Lone Tree Residential Design
[Credit: D. Coddaire]

David traveled around the country in his van to art shows displaying sculptures and paintings he had created. David had had early design training both in the US and Italy, and was already well-known in the art world.

Within a few years of returning to his work as an artist, David contracted meningitis, languishing in the hospital for a year and a half before he passed away in 2012. I still think of him often, and miss his gruff demeanor and his friendship.

I have always credited David Coddaire with inspiring me to branch out into a new direction, one that has become my signature style: traditional Craftsman home design.

David Coddaire and me with one of his paintings that I purchased from his art show

 

The Kott Houses of Marin

kott house lone tree residential design

Photo of a Kott house courtesy LivinginMarin.com

Based in Mill Valley, California, Gerald C. Kott was a builder of about 500 homes in Southern Marin County, mostly in Mill Valley but as far north as Novato, beginning in the late 1940’s.

The homes  that Kott built have a distinctive style and are still widely known. His homes are easily identified as “Kott Houses.”  Pictured here is a typical Kott house, popular in the late ’50’s to the mid-’60’s.

Kott Houses of Marin, Lone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M. Richards

A Kott style shingled garage

These homes fit in perfectly with Old Marin, and with their knotty pine interiors and rustic resort feel, Kott homes wouldn’t be out of place in Tahoe or an Alpine setting.

However, with their scalloped roof edges and whimsical details on a basic structure, Kott houses are not everyone’s favorite style and in fact look a bit dated to the modern eye.

 

Kott Houses of Marin, Lone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M. Richards

A Tudor-style Kott house

To working class families getting their start in Marin during the post-war years, the low price tag and basic style were enticing. Mr. Kott designed his homes to be affordable yet easy to enlarge and update for a growing family.  Kott house remodels and updates can be found all over Marin County.

Along with the proliferation of the houses that bear his name, Gerry Kott became known as a colorful character. He abhorred authority and challenged it whenever he could. There are many local legends about him. I have heard some of these stories myself, many that are part of public record. One was how Kott sneaked into the old County offices at night to alter documents; another story was how Kott “borrowed” a bulldozer without permission. He had other scrapes with the law as well.

Kott Houses of Marin, Lone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M. Richards

A Kott house among the redwoods

I actually met Gerry Kott sometime around 1989. He was a diminutive man about 5’6″ who had a long grey beard. He reminded me of Rip Van Winkle. At that time he lived off Panoramic Highway and drove an old beat up Mercury station wagon with fake wood on the sides.

For some people, he was a local Robin Hood, a colorful character, and everyone who knew him or knew much about him had a definite opinion about his exploits.

Whatever the controversy surrounding Mr. Kott’s life, his houses have made an indelible impression on the landscape of Marin architecture from the post-war years until the present. He represented a working class that has mostly disappeared from a community that grew explosively as a result of the post war economic boom, but his houses continue to present an affordable option for young families who want to live in Marin County.

Kott Houses of Marin, Lone Tree Residential Design, Anthony M. Richards

Example of a high-end Kott house