The impetus for the project was an embrace of California’s ecosystem – one that includes destructive fires, sweeping winds, and renewing rainfall. This drive was coupled with the owners’ desire to extend the rich history of this particular parcel, one of the oldest cultivated Zinfandel vineyards on the valley floor. The core of the design program wove around the need to accommodate both intimate and large gatherings, infused with a playful balance of connection and of privacy.
Rather than build a fortress against the elements, we designed Zinfandel with an ethos of opening up to the environment, and participating in a deep and respectful dialogue with the land. The residence stretches out through three wings, its arms echoing those of a stand of three hundred-year-old oak trees that form a windbreak for the twenty-acre site. We organized the compound to produce a wind-sheltered courtyard within the larger embrace of the stand of oaks: a layer of building within a layer of landscape.
We drew reference from the organizational rhythm of an agrarian compound, which develops orthogonally over time. We created an organizational axis in the negative, stretching between a majestic valley oak and the Sugar Loaf mountains, a line of architecture off which the forms of the new farmhouse can slip and slide. The gathering spaces are centrally located, facing in, with the private spaces pulled out to the periphery, facing out into the long shelter of the valley. An old barn on the property, which was repurposed into a social room and destination, forms the anchor for the compound against the backdrop of the mountains to the west.
By honoring each separate piece of the home, every view was carefully designed around the experience of reaching above the shelter of vines, beyond the ancient trees, to capture the expansive valley and see them working together to create a symbiotic whole.
Design ChallengeCentral to the project was the challenge of creating a contemporary expression of an age-old typology, while pushing the envelope of contemporary construction. Rather than copying or mirroring the local vernacular, we split it off into its particulates: reclaimed wood; a prominent front porch; a sense of refuge; and a feeling of being threaded into the land. These themes were then expressed in new ways, lending themselves to a unique architectural identity.
A clear material expression was enabled by offsite CNC fabrication of major building components. Rich wood punctuates a sleek, airy, modern interior, the deep contrast offering both textural structure and visual rhythm. The dynamism of the gabled roof, complete with gutters detailed so that they appear almost invisible, persists through the interior, even as the material palette oscillates between the modern (plaster hallways bordered by steel and glass window walls) and the rustic (wood paneling, updated with a tight grain and seamless construction, encases the entirety of some rooms). The precision afforded by a dedicated fabrication model allowed these juxtapositions to become effortless, highlighting their effectiveness, and finding a new expression of craft.
What came through so strongly for us was that the moments of discontinuity – the places where the gable forms are cut and stop – is where nature spills in, where the vineyard is exposed. We articulated this concept through every detail of the project, seeking to consistently elevate the discontinuities – the changes in angle of the roof, the junctures, the gaps, the space where things come together.
Physical ContextZinfandel sits on the floor of the Napa Valley, with views of the gentle ridges of the Mayacamas range in the distance. The site inhabits the vast tapestry of vineyards that cover the valley floor, yet it is less than 1000 feet from the wild expanse of the Mayacamas range.
We distilled the essence of the area – complete with vineyards, ancient trees, longstanding houses, and cycles of wildfire– into a series of forms that adjust and respond to the conditions of site and program. The siting of the structures elevates every remnant of the native landscape – the mountains to the West and the ancient valley Oak to the East. The identity of the gabled structures continues the farmhouse history of the plot and extend the agrarian character of the Valley. Conceptualizing the vineyard as ground, and the mountains and tree as figure, they become anchors for the main axis of the project, that each element slips in and out of in an effort to knit itself to the land.
We found that the ideas that give the architecture its identity came less from how we shaped each element of the house, but rather from how we shaped the spaces between them.