Sonoma Retreat

This 2 acre lot just minutes from downtown Hearldsburg inspired our clients looking for their home away from home. Located on a grassy, oak tree shaded hillside with a creek traveling through the southeastern portion of the lot, the site is emblematic of the Northern California landscape. A portion of the site is protected for a stream that carries the run-off of much of the neighboring properties and fluctuates dramatically throughout the year. The house is situated near the top of the gently sloped lot with its back to their west neighbors. The design takes advantage of the views towards the existing oak trees and is perched above the potential flood plain of the creek. The driveway, an arc creating the procession from city grid to country retreat, takes one over a culvert through the trees to arrive at the retreat.

The project includes the design of two structures: a garage/office structure and a main house. Together the usable space is a modest 2,340 sq.ft.. An ideal size for this couple to work remotely with a convertible office for family and guests to visit. The clients requested a minimalist retreat from the hubbub of San Francisco where they could escape and enjoy their privacy secluded in the landscape.

The natural landscape gives way to a plateau of decomposed granite and low retaining walls nestling the buildings into the earth. The two buildings bend with the contours creating a courtyard that opens to a fruit orchard. Oversized windows frame views of the oak trees while the south deck extends under the oaks for summer shading. The office, part of the first building, can be easily converted into a guest space with a Murphy bed that is part of a thickened cabinetry wall. The main house is a simple bar structure that opens toward the views on the south and east. The secondary spaces line the length of the building along the hillside blocking west light and creating privacy from the neighbors. The living area, dining area, kitchen and small office are all open to each other. Built-in shelving allow the owners to display a curated collection of pottery from frequent trips to Asia.

All cabinetry and built-ins are by Henry Built, a cabinet shop based in Seattle with a high standard for craft and detail. The architects teamed with Henry Built to achieve the simple and minimalist aesthetic goals of the client.

Exterior materials include gray corrugated metal siding, smooth cream stucco wrapping the inverted surfaces along the facade, and birch veneer at doors and lining the ceiling at the entry that slides from exterior to interior.

Design Challenge

For this project, the most significant Design Challenge was the Physical Context. When our clients bought this property, it had been on the market for a long time because the development of the property had obstacles and limitations. The site’s footprint is an irregular shape with a seasonal creek that floods in the spring and a large portion of the land designated a protected riparian zone. Additionally, the neighbors to the west and north had limited landscape screening and would require creative screening for privacy. But the landscape of the site was beautiful with California Oaks shading the site and an over-all sense of being in the country even though the lot was in a residential development. A creative solution was needed to celebrate the beauty of the site while solving the practical issues of flooding, riparian protection and repair and creating privacy. After a number of massing studies the solution evolved to create two linear “bar” buildings that bent with the path of the creek and was located on an earthen platform above the flood zone. The linear nature of the home allowed all the major rooms to enjoy views of the natural landscape and the riparian zone. The back side of the site (west and north) were gently terraced to catch the run-off of the neighbor’s hillside and collect the water before reaching the building’s foundation. The walls facing these neighbors had minimal windows creating the needed privacy. The creek was no longer an obstacle but a moment to celebrate and with a driveway arcing over the creek and culvert celebrating arrival in the country. The house in the end honored its physical context and what felt like obstacles at the beginning of the design process were woven into the form and experience of the home connecting it indelibly to the natural environment

Physical Context

Please See Design Challenge