"Over the past five years there has been a tremendous jump in wonderful remodels," Mark Klink says. "The neighborhood wasn't neglected when we bought our home, but some houses were in decline. Many people who buy now are interested in modern architecture." "People keep an eye on the neighborhood," Anne says. "They stop by and ask if any houses are coming onto the market."
Among the newcomers are Krista and Patrick Saumure, who moved into the neighborhood with their young son, Graham. They worked with Carmichael architect John Hansen to transform the interior of their Streng into something sleek and very 21st century, with polished, earth-toned granite floors. They expanded their open living area by removing walls and posts from what had been a bedroom, using new, composite beams to create 24-foot spans.
It took a year to redo the house, which involved stripping it to the studs. Neighbors worried. "Every person in the neighborhood has walked by and made comments," Krista says. "They asked what we planned to do. I told them we would retain the architectural integrity." From the outside, the house remains almost pure Streng. "I admire the simplicity of the Streng homes," says Patrick, who works in marketing for a large homebuilder.
The Klinks also did much work on their house. "I did a lot of physical labor on this house—a lot," Anne says. But the changes are subtle, and most noticeable in the upgraded kitchen. They retained most of Carter Sparks' trademark elements: the brick fireplace with a cantilevered ledge ideal for sitting; the translucent glass by the entry; the abstract pattern of windows that Anne calls "Mondrian-esque"; the oddly proportioned door-like window, that starts near the floor and rises to almost door height; and skylights in the kitchen, bath, and utility room. The Klinks added a few skylights of their own. Anne loves the home's deeply recessed, sheltered exterior entry, which the Klinks use like an outdoor room.
Homes include low-gabled and flat-roofed models. Many have the Streng atrium—a skylight-topped, interior courtyard that's floored with concrete aggregate and patches of earth that allow for an interior garden.
The Strengs were famous for customizing their plans to fit buyer preference. The Klink home has an entry floor of lime-green, floral-patterned tiles from Gladding Bean, a delightful custom touch. The Klink home also has a doublewide front door broad enough to drive a car through.
Along River Oak Way and Classic Place, five original buyers wanted to share a single pool, Jim Streng remembers. So the developer arrayed the homes around a common pool-sized lot.
The ultimate in customized homes, however, belong to Olin Gilbert, whose home has a standard enough front door—but if you walk passed it without looking, two steps later you'll be floating in his lap pool. The pool, which stretches from Gilbert's kitchen island to the home's bedrooms, was designed for his late wife Anne. "She said all she wanted was a small concrete pond with a few rooms around it, so I had Strengs' architect whip it up," Gilbert remembers. "If Anne wanted it, that's all that counted."
Gilbert's is the only Streng house that fronts directly on the river—and it is not, strictly speaking, part of the 67-home subdivision. Gilbert bought the lot on his own and asked the Strengs to provide him with a house. Although the Strengs originally owned riverfront property, they had sold it off, Jim says. The firm was never in the business of building high-end view homes.
Unlike many neighborhoods of modern homes, few newcomers to Shelfield Oaks are ripping away bad alterations—because very few homes have been badly altered. Most homes retain their original look, says Garrett Corrigan, who bought a home in 1967. "People who buy here," his wife Gail says, "are the kind of people who like this kind of architecture." There have been a couple of second-story additions, however.
Among the neighborhood's most original houses is Jeanette Richardson's. Her deeply pitched roof and warm, roughly sawn redwood siding gives the home a rustic, cabin feeling—as does the ancient valley oak that shades its entry. Inside, the living area is peaked and open-beamed, per the Richardsons' request. "He was so nice to work with," Jeanette says of Jim Streng.
Over the years Shelfield Oaks has faced it share of problems—mostly associated with the river. The river rose precipitously in 1984, but never topped the natural rise that protects the lowlands from the river. Flooding could still be a problem one day, though flood insurance is generally not required for homebuyers.