Hilltop House

Project Narrative:

Site Program:
On this 19 acre parcel of steeply sloping terrain in the hills above Sonoma, the challenge was siting the home and accessory buildings to take full advantage of sweeping Southern facing views of existing vineyards, and San Pablo Bay and the San Francisco skyline in the distance, while observing the scenic resource requirements of screening the home from the road and from the valley floor below. The design solution responds to the existing site topography by organizing the program requirements into three buildings housing a main house at the top, car barn in the middle, and guest house with game room, below. Exterior space between the buildings is reshaped into terraces. At the top inside the view corridor, is the swimming pool and dining terrace, in the middle, an auto court served by a circular drive, and below a garden, each providing the bridge for elevation change across the building site. All three buildings were carefully sited in the landscape to maximize views and create exterior space usable throughout the year.

Building Program:
Included in the building program is a three bedroom main house, a separate three car garage, referred to as the “Car Barn,” with an exercise room and a stand-alone guest house, providing additional lodging for extended family and friends. In order to achieve the single level house the owners’ desired, an auto court occupies the “middle” terrace allowing parking in a separate barn building defining the opposite side of the terrace. The ground story walls of the house are clad in stone, anchoring the structure, providing a monumental backdrop for landscape and fountain elements incorporated into the auto court area.

Once inside the auto court, guests enter a two-story glass entry vestibule bringing them into the main level. A separate stair and elevator provide the owners direct access to the kitchen area from the garage. Throughout the house, large pocketed sliding doors allow an easy flow between inside and out and cross views of the surrounding hills. Located atop a knoll facing the view, and accessed by additional landscape steps are a bocce ball court, and fire-pit with panoramic views of the surroundings completing the outdoor experience.

The house’s three volumes organize entertaining + dining, a master bedroom suite and guest bedrooms plus work areas into separate wings allowing management of heating and cooling. All rooms of the house face the view and open onto a large landscaped patio with swimming pool, and space for outdoor dining. The main volumes of the house utilize single pitch roofs with generous overhangs and expansive glass openings with ample sun protection during the year. Connecting them to one another are secondary circulation spaces with lower flat roofs promoting a varying sense of scale and importance moving throughout the house. Exterior building materials including cedar siding, metal-clad windows, seamed metal roof and stone walls were selected for their modern simplicity and to anchor the house to its natural surroundings.

Design Challenge

Design Challenge: The clients' site and building program required locating a family compound in separate buildings located on a steeply sloping property within close proximity to each other, and with minimal change in floor elevations, along with the creation of multiple exterior patios and landscaped areas in between. The design solution responds to the existing site topography by organizing the program requirements into three buildings housing a main house at the top, car barn in the middle, and guest house with game room, below. Exterior space between the buildings is reshaped into usable terraces including swimming pool, an auto court and garden “bridging” the change in elevation across the property. Occupying center stage, is the single-level three bedroom main house located to take advantage of the predominant South facing views of rolling vineyards in the foreground and San Pablo Bay and the San Francisco skyline in the distance. This charge required the main house to be sited on the highest elevation of the site, with consideration of screening the house from the valley floor below. In order to achieve the single level house the owners' desired, an auto court occupies the “middle” terrace allowing parking in a separate barn building defining the opposite side of the auto court. The car barn is designed to function as an additional overflow entertainment room with large sliding glass barn doors on opposite walls to allow cross views of the property and surrounding hills. On the lower building site beyond the car barn, a series of landscaped steps lead to a separate third structure containing a guest house and game room separated by a covered breezeway opening views from inside the site. Careful attention was taken to limit disturbance to the sloping terrain, and native landscape of oaks and madrone trees surrounding the property.

Physical Context

Physical Context: The clients large and ambitious building program posed a challenge in how to accommodate the program requirements, maximize views and create level usable outdoor space with minimal interruption to natural setting protected inside a scenic resource area. Across the 19 acre site is a gradual change in elevation of close to 100 feet. Populating the property are hundreds of native oak and madrone trees providing natural screening from the public right of way and the protected view corridor below. The previous two-story single family home located on this view property afforded little to no advantages of the views or accessible land surrounding the structure. The new multi building design separates the functions of parking, and guest accommodations from the owners space and utilizes smaller single story buildings grouped in close proximity and accessible at grade, minimizing height and massing. Separating the single story buildings, exterior spaces are reclaimed, and reshaped into different terraces, high, middle and lower allowing the much of the natural landscape to exist in between. All three buildings were carefully sited in the landscape working with the natural contours of the site to maximize internal and external views of the property and create exterior space usable throughout the year. Connecting the buildings are a series of landscape paths and stone steps allowing specimen trees to interrupt the path where they occur. The landscape design is kept to a minimum, allowing the native ground covering species to prevail. The exterior building materials, textures and colors including cedar siding, seamed metal roof and native stone walls were selected both for their modern simplicity and to anchor the house to it’s natural surroundings.