Home & Garden

Davis couple's home designed for entertaining, collections

David and Lea Rosenberg's collection-filled home in Davis features a wall of African masks collected by Lea's father.
David and Lea Rosenberg's collection-filled home in Davis features a wall of African masks collected by Lea's father. lsterling@sacbee.com

David and Lea Rosenberg embrace openness, even if it has occasionally led to unexpected guests at their breakfast table.

Their home in north Davis was designed with wide-open spaces suitable for entertaining. It has literally hundreds of windows providing a clear view from the front door to an inner courtyard, and it faces a park within its small subdivision of custom homes. It also was the first house built in the neighborhood.

"For the first few years we were in here, people would just walk in off the street," said David Rosenberg, who served on the Davis City Council when the home was built and now is the presiding judge of the Yolo Superior Court. "They'd say 'Oh, we thought this was the community center' or 'We thought this was the school.' We'd be sitting at the table eating breakfast."

The surprise visitors, though, would get surprises of their own. Once past the awkwardness and the first impression of the 1,000- square-foot "great room," they were bound to notice the riot of color and form lining shelves and built-in display cases virtually anywhere the eye alights.

While David Rosenberg had the grand concept of the home as an emblem of his life in public service, the enthusiasms of Lea Rosenberg provide the fine details, whimsical crafts and collections built up over decades.

Metal lunchboxes and cereal boxes line shelves in a spacious kitchen built for hobnobbing at parties. A display case in the great room holds a shelf of chewing-gum packages. Another overflows with variations on the Band-Aid box.

Figurines of cartoon characters crowd next to an exhibition of miniature Batmobiles through the ages. Finely crafted dolls from around the world look across to face bobbleheads (including one of the judge himself), Kewpie dolls and elegant porcelain ladies awarded to top Avon cosmetics sales reps.

The hobby took root in high school, with Lea scouring Bay Area shops for $3 knickknacks.

"When my dad traveled abroad, he'd always bring back a doll in a box for me," she said.

Both the public and the personal were part of the design idea from the very beginning, said Mark Rutheiser, a Davis real estate developer who managed the Rosenberg home project "from when we made the proposal to when we handed them the keys" when he was with Pyramid Construction.

"Part of their program was to incorporate a lot of (Lea's) collections and her hobbies and to be able to display them," Rutheiser said. "The house really does reflect its owners."

The design, which incorporates elements of Mission and Santa Barbara architectural styles, evolved to include a second floor with bedrooms and a laundry room as well as offices for David and Lea and an entertainment room for watching movies.

"I started," the judge said, "from the proposition of a one-room house."

A spiral staircase winds from the master suite down to the judge's wood-paneled office. ("Every office needs an escape route," he joked.) The color schemes are rich and bold, from greens in the great room to deep reds and purples on the second floor.

Because of the size – 5,000 square feet in the main house alone and 25-foot ceilings in the atrium behind the front door – the designers included a dumbwaiter and a built-in intercom system.

But the core of the house remained the great room and a table so big it had to be moved inside in pieces and assembled in place.

Rosenberg has been less active in politics since he was appointed judge in 2003, but over the years that room and table have hosted city, county, state and congressional officials, community groups and charities.

The openness also forced trend-setting design choices.

"That was the first house I designed where we needed steel" in the framing because of the long structural spans and open plan, said J. Michael Braswell, a project architect with LPAS in Sacramento who was the in-house architect for Pyramid when the Rosenberg house was designed. "Now, it's not that unusual, but at the time it was."

A home that big needs lots of light, and gets it from huge expanses of glass, starting with a towering arched window surrounding the front door.

The Rosenbergs took the door's design from a bank door they spotted on a visit to Santa Barbara, and it incorporates double-paned glass for energy efficiency. While many modern windows use a single expanse of glass divided into panes by a mask, windows in the Rosenberg home comprise many individually framed panes.

The arched form is repeated in the north wall of the great room and in covered passageways along the front of the house that create shade. (They also provide space to stash jigsaw puzzles and games, which Lea – a tireless volunteer – lends to schools and youth organizations.)

The shaded exterior, along with thick walls for windows and insulation, reduce energy costs. "We rarely have to run the air conditioning," the judge said.

The Spanish styling carries beyond the 5,000- square-foot main house to a guest house of 800 square feet, a four-car garage and a back wall that combine to surround a swimming pool and create what the judge calls "a hacienda effect."

A patio provides other options for entertaining. One recent party used the outdoor wood-fired pizza oven imported from Tuscany. A fountain is guarded by a circle of small yellow sentries, Lea's collection of novelty rubber ducks.

The design influences aren't solely Spanish. David Rosenberg grew up in Munich, Germany, where church bells rang across the city. "I always thought that was a happy and comforting sound. I wanted my neighbors to enjoy it."

So the Rosenberg house has a bell tower, with a real bell that chimes the hour and half-hour through the day. It took some doing to track down a bell and control system in the 1990s, using word of mouth in those pre-Google days, but he eventually found a used bell in San Jose. Raising it up into the tower was another adventure.

Then came the discovery that the bell tower wasn't just a good place for a bell. The pigeons loved it, too.

Now wire screens keep the cooing birds out. Openness is one thing, but a bell tower full of pigeons is another.

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