Flex House

Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Owner: Erica Bergsma

Location: Sacramento

Category: One- and Two-Family Custom Residences

Project site:  Brownfield

Building program type: Residential - multi-family, 2 to 4 units

Flex House

Flex House is a vital three-story infill project that mends a decades-old gap in the fabric of Sacramento’s Boulevard Park neighborhood, an important district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The home, designed for a young family of four, was envisioned as a building that can adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of life and familial composition while also generating income and accommodating future growth.

The home pairs the family’s primary dwelling on the upper two floors with a separate but programmatically reciprocal unit on the ground floor that can be adapted for residential or commercial use. The fully accessible unit served as the client’s corporate home office during the COVID-19 pandemic but has since become a rental apartment. In the coming years, the owner plans to convert the space to accommodate her aging mother.

Flex House’s program is expressed through two interlocking forms. An L-shaped plinth clad in steel houses the ground-floor unit as well as a tandem garage, and it rises as a service spline against the two-story box that contains the family residence. A continuous C-shaped channel shapes a deep horizontal reveal that separates the steel and wood volumes before it transforms into louvered apertures that enhance the vertical separation between the two.

From the street, slender columns and beams extend from the horizontal facade to create a trellised portico. From there, visitors can enter the main vestibule, where stairs lead to the upper floors, or step through a perforated metal gate that opens onto a separate entry for the ground-floor unit. Inside, the team upended convention for the main dwelling’s program, placing the living hall and kitchen on the top floor and the home’s three bedrooms beneath. The living hall, which serves as the center of family life, boasts broad views of city, and a terrace that runs parallel provides a shaded outdoor extension.

“The expression of this home in both plan and form is unique and expresses an innovative solution within a tight urban context.” - Jury comment

The building sits on a former brownfield that was used as a surface parking lot and was covered with impervious asphalt. The new, muscular building repairs the street edge but only occupies 42% of the property. The remainder was xeriscaped with gravel, drought-tolerant native grasses, permeable pavers, and a bioswale.

Flex House addresses just one a number of vacant lots that dot the neighborhood and have sat idle for decades. This project offers a contemporary and engaging and addition to Boulevard Park.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 3850 sq. ft.

Project Team

Engineer - Structural: Core 4 Engineering, Inc.

Life Safety: Ultimate Fire Systems, Inc.

General Contractor: Indie Capital

Project attributes: 2,811 SF


Catherine Baker, FAIA, Chair, Nowhere Collaborative, Chicago

John DeForest, AIA, DeForest Architects, Seattle

Brian Lane, FAIA, Koning Eizenberg, Santa Monica, Calif.

Amit Price Patel, AIA, DIALOG, Vancouver, British Columbia

Michael D. Robinson, AIA, Robi4 Architecture & Planning, San Diego

Image credits


Justin Lopez


Justin Lopez


Justin Lopez


Justin Lopez


Justin Lopez