Set in the Mayacamas Mountains between Sonoma and Napa, the site for this five-bedroom, five-bathroom weekend home is just 10 minutes from the heart of the Napa Valley, but it feels much further removed. The owners envisioned a retreat where they could build lasting memories with their children, entertain friends and enjoy the wine country’s slower pace. The intent for the project was to capitalize upon the unique nature of the site and views, while respecting the character of the land. Within this sensitive terrain, sustainability and fire resistance were key drivers for the design.
Though the parcel of land is much larger, the building site was constrained by a pre-existing building envelope, stands of manzanitas and dense woodlands. Comprising two small knolls with a gentle swale in between, the building site backs up to the woodlands, with a creek running below and sweeping views in multiple directions. In one direction lay views down the valley, in the other lay views of Pepperwood Preserve, a 3,000-acre nature preserve.
In order to build sustainably, the team designed the home using a combination of prefabricated modular units and custom construction. The result is a design that pushes the envelope of what can be expected from prefabricated design and construction. The ratio is roughly 80% prefab to 20% site-built construction – six prefabricated modules downstairs and five above. Given the remote and delicate nature of the site, the delivery and placement of prefab modules was carefully orchestrated. After delivery, the modules were stitched together, and the custom elements and parapet roof were constructed onsite. Conditioned, ventless attic space, highly fire-resistant materials and an emphasis on minimizing fuel near the home mitigate wildfire risk.
Placing the home between the two knolls allowed the team to create an indoor/outdoor environment that communed with the site rather than dominating it. The central entry, directly aligned with the views of the preserve, opens to a custom-built living area, while private living areas enjoy up-valley views.
The theme of horizontality, and the simplicity of working with just three exterior materials, remained consistent throughout the design process. The palette of materials is purposefully restrained, primarily comprising concrete, glass and wood. The strong sense of horizontality and a palette of wood-on-wood, punctuated with metal, relate to the wooded hillside behind the house. The exterior materials (shou sugi ban and clear cedar), mat black aluminum perimeter boxed frames, and the use of steel beams to span the large openings all helped to form a holistic composition and disguise the typically recognizable prefabricated modular units. On the front facade the ground floor is all black, with cedar only appearing on the upper floor; on the rear the order is reversed, with mat black aluminum banding providing continuity and a framework for the transition. The charred wood finishes extend inward into the dining area to create a strong connection between the exterior and interior. A carport replaces the traditional garage, to keep the visual impression of the house as open and transparent as possible.