Project Description

We were asked to renovate a house overlooking an expansive valley. The existing house was too massive in relation to the hillside it occupied. We were tasked with framing the view in a meaningful way at the interior and to recompose the exterior to reduce the heavy massing.

To minimize the massiveness, we eliminated the pitched roof, eliminated the tall bay window at the front elevation, and created a darker garage level to allow the upper two habitable levels to float above. The result was a more horizontal articulation of the building that was better suited to the hillside.

At the interior we considered every room’s relationship to the view to dictate the size and shape of each window. An expansive horizontal window frames the view from bed, while a tall double-height window at the living room brings consistent daylight from the northeast deep into the home. We incorporated a lap pool and view deck directly adjacent to the living/kitchen space as a means to connect the interior directly to the land.

The exterior elevations are composed with a combination of cement board panels, cement plaster, and high performance aluminum windows. The entry stair is reconfigured to wrap around an existing Japanese Maple tree, leading to the front door and pool area. The home now has a more direct relationship to surrounding landscape, while creating dramatic views of the valley below.

Design Challenge

The primary design challenge for this project was modifying the overall building massing without significant revisions to the overall structure or foundations. We took more of a subtractive approach with the existing building massing rather than adding elements. The client was seeking a solution to reconfiguring the existing house that would be relatively cost-effective. Therefore, we had to be purposeful with each framing modification that we proposed. Reducing items such as the pitched roof and front bay window required some re-framing, but these were relatively straight-forward ways to create a significant improvement to the design without throwing money at the problem. Internal room reconfigurations were carefully reviewed with the Structural Engineer to maintain as much of the existing framing as possible.

Physical Context

The existing building completely ignored the existing rural, hillside context. The existing house could have very easily been designed for a flat suburban lot. That made our job a challenge, but we worked to not only revise the massing to better suit the hillside condition, but to also find a way to make more meaningful connections to the landscape. Creating exterior patios and decks was critical to encourage a more direct indoor/outdoor connection with several of the spaces. Sliding open glass panels to access a dining terrace immediately expands the dining area of the house. Placing a lap pool adjacent to the kitchen space encourages one to walk out to the pool area and sun deck on a daily basis. The sun deck is perched above the landscape, allowing for an unobstructed view of the distant valley below.