Calistoga Estate

A retired couple found 12 secluded acres on which to build a new home and cultivate a vineyard. The site came with added value: outbuildings and site features worth retaining. These elements served as the starting point of a design with a clear objective, to seamlessly mesh the new home and sport courts with the existing ring road, meandering stone site-walls, pool, patios, outdoor kitchen, and visually commanding outdoor fireplace.

A request from the owners in the conceptual phase added complexity: The new house should evoke the idea of having been “constructed over time”, as commonly occurs on rural properties.

The solution was found via an ensemble of vernacular forms of varying heights and materials. Existing stone site walls inspired the choice of Napa Syar stone to clad the fireplace and three pavilions – entry, kitchen, and master suite. Cedar in a board and batten pattern was assigned to the connecting volumes between or adjacent to the anchoring pavilions. Exterior materials and patterns are expressed inside to delineate each piece and to blur the lines between indoor and out.

The layout of the home along a north/south primary circulation axis parallels the existing pool. With practical relationships in mind, the kitchen was first situated close to the garage and outdoor kitchen. In turn, “public” and “private” quadrants of the home fell into place. A new walkway from new guest parking, defined low stone walls, entices guests up to entry pavilion while offering views over the vineyard to Mt. St. Helena beyond.

From the entry pavilion, a secondary view axis crosses the great room extending through 14 feet of pocketing doors, across the new terrace and old, terminating with the stately outdoor fireplace. The stone pavilions, expressed within the great room, imply the dominant volume had been added connecting the otherwise solitary stone forms.

Drawing upon the existing line between a semi-circular wall and opposing curved steps to the pool, a third axis, was established as a visual and literal passage.  It sets off the stone clad master pavilion on one side form the cedar clad wall on the other, suggesting this form too is now enjoined with the larger ensemble.

The separate volumes find unity echoing the existing site-walls with a meandering eave line. Starting as a gable at the west, the line joins the kitchen gable, breaks pitch, pulls back at the terrace and projects out again to become a protective southern facing porch. Turning the corner once more the eave joins with the cedar form that provides contrast, scale, and a final embrace.

Design Challenge

As I write, the air is still smoky from another year of devastating fires.  The Owner’s desire for a self-sustaining home was borne less of interest in metrics for energy efficiency or use of current technology, than the ability to live though fire events and rolling blackouts.  With intent and purpose more than challenge, the focus of the Calistoga Estate is one of resilience (including a rain catchment fed organic garden with pollinators and chicken coop) as well as an integrated response to a range of opportunities and constraints. The Owners expected an efficient envelope that meets or exceeds energy standards while the motivator to install solar panels (after completion of T24)  was to feed storage batteries and in turn generators to keep the house running during the unknowns of fire season. The Owners wanted upgrades to be at their discretion based upon their determination of ROI.  Indeed, permit documented R-values were upgraded at the time of installation. An as-built report was not done although the expected kBTU/year for the solar array reduces the permit noted KBTU/year by 46%.   With the property now sold, data documenting yearly actual k/BTU/year usage was not retained and unfortunately not available to share.  To note, Items 2-5 of the 2030 challenge were met.
  • Apply low/no cost passive design strategies to achieve maximum energy efficiency.
  • Integrate energy efficient technology and systems.
  • Incorporate on-site and/or off-site renewable energy to meet the remaining energy demands.
  • Engage in iterative energy modeling throughout the entire design process to understand the interactive effects of various design decisions and to assess
The design of the Calistoga Estate included married design goals to the requirements of the “Wildland Urban Interface Zone” (WUI).  First and foremost, materials were chosen for their inherent architectural beauty. Nonetheless, the stone and cedar wall assembly were also chosen to meet all the requirements of the WUI zone.   The material choices were also chosen to tell a story requested by the Owners “we want to evoke the idea of a home constructed over time and to fit with existing outbuildings and site features.  Telling such a story allowed resource preservation and with it, financial and green benefits were realized. Choices for fire resiliency included: providing defensible space, exterior and interior fire suppression systems,  elimination of attic venting, eave detailing with an added fire resistive sheathing, mechanical ventilation for the crawl spaces to minimize penetrations, exceeding the typical gauge for the seam metal roof and perhaps most important designing (locally resourced) stone patios (versus wood decks). The choices proved valuable even before construction was complete. The completed shell survived the Tubbs wildfire of 2017, which incinerated all the surrounding homes – that outcome, certainly sets this project apart.  Images post fire are included on the Design Board.  

Physical Context

The 12-acre property on Mountain Home Ranch Road straddles a southeast-northwest trending ridge of the Mayacamas mountains, surrounded by chaparral and mixed woodlands. Primary views orient toward the northeast.  It was essential that the placement of the new home and sport courts would seamlessly mesh with several existing outbuildings and site features including a ring road, meandering terrace walls, swimming pool, patios, outdoor kitchen, and visually prominent outdoor fireplace. To fit the new home into existing site conditions, the layout assumed a southeast-northwest primary circulation axis, parallel with the pool and ridge contour.  An extended entry walkway provides an immediate connection to the vineyard, with the backdrop of Mt. St Helena view.  Defined by new site walls the color of native stone, visitors are engaged with the natural topography upon arrival.  Next, a semi -circular site wall serves as the transition from parking to path and turns guests to parallel the home (an echo of the circulation axis at the interior).  Along the way a single landing is set at the glass filled visual and literal passage between stone and cedar forms offering another view that engages the property – a sneak peek through the house to the pool beyond. Bluestone paving carries into the the glass-surrounded front door of the stone entry pavilion blurring the line between inside and out.  From the pavilion, a secondary view axis crosses the great room, extending through the 14-foot-wide fully retractable pocketing doors. The view continues across the new terrace, which extends the indoor-outdoor great room, and terminates at the stately outdoor fireplace. Glazing is strategically introduced along key sightlines to the surrounding mountains, woods, and gardens. Views from the great room conversation area are expansive, extending for miles, while those from the kitchen and dining room are more intimate - filtered by trees. Mature plantings and heritage oaks anchor visual connections to the exterior garden. The built forms take inspiration from the materials found on site - stone and cedar.   The materials are also employed to the tell a story of building over time, common on rural properties. A continuous eave line echoes the visual motion found in the meandering site walls as it captures the ensemble of vernacular forms that define the new house.  All is capped by a metal standing seam roof, reminiscent of the agricultural buildings common to the area.