Red Hill Studio

MAD architecture
145 Keller Street
Petaluma, California 94952
(707) 765-9222
Mary Dooley
Business Phone: (707) 765-9222

Project Location: Petaluma, CA
Completion Date: 02/14/2017
Owner: David Hale and Penny Bayless

Architects Involved:
Chris Heath, Associate Architect

Additional Team:
Steven J. Lafranchi and Associates, Civil Engineers
Kevin Zucco, ZFA Structural Engineers
Russ Morita, Morita Construction, General Contractor

Project Description

By turning a quiet face to the busy road, finding shelter from the coastal wind and establishing a level to access natural grade, the architecture looks through farmer’s eyes for materials and assembly.


A couple of retired graphic artists left their life suburbs of Palo Alto to live and learn about seasonal shifts and natural processes on their new property by planting an orchard, running sheep and building a one room house that that flexes with the needs of the day.


The program was a 760 square foot house that someday may become a second unit if a main house was built. The studio houses a two person office, a living room seating 6, an 8 person dinner party and  converts into a bedroom with a murphy bed for 2 each night. Downstairs is a garage, laundry and storage.


Solution: The simple form and material palette has the effect that the structure has always been there.

With tight details and clad in corrugated metal, metal windows and a board formed concrete garage below, Red Hill Studio is formed into the hillside and nestled between oak trees. The siting allows the owners to walk level out the door to the patio and onto the grasslands.


The sensitivity to the site is the most compelling aspect of the design. No trees were lost and and the building seems to be resting on the hillside. The curved patio softens the connection to the uphill grasslands. Deserving of regard, an oak grove and a moss-covered chicken coop informed the window placement.


Design Challenge

There were many environmental influences that shaped this design and simplicity was always on the minds of the design team. The roof design became the opportunity for a little shift.   At the focal point of the house, the roof extends like the brim of a cap to protect the entry sequence from the concrete stair to the front door. The cedar structure and the underside of metal roofing material is exposed. The gutter runs past the edge of the roofing for another 4 feet creating drama that can be watched from inside during a rain storm.

Physical Context

On the site of a demolished farm-worker house, Red Hill Studio was carefully positioned within the disturbed area of the former house rather than expanding into undeveloped terrain. The assets of the landscape are the mature oaks, the rolling hills covered with native grasses, the change of sunlight and fog patterns throughout the week and the remnant water tank and chicken coop from earlier times.   The studio’s orientation was driven by five factors – tree protection, solar access, noise, wind and privacy. All factors were accommodated within the bounds of the previous homesite with fine tuning throughout design and construction.   The importance of where to best hunker down was born during the first client meeting that was blasted by this coastal wind from the Petaluma Gap.  The Petaluma Gap is a low point from the coast to east of Highway 101 that is essentially a coastal wind tunnel that cools the low lands and blows in the coastal fog from the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay.   If the house could be a wind break, it could also be a noise barrier and a visual screen from road activities. There could be a private world from the house and patio looking southeast to southwest and all country – no cars, no pavement. A quiet face to the road included a board formed concrete garage and entry with minimal punctuation for access and passive cooling – enough to provide a sense of life at the studio at night.