We had previously designed a home for these clients, a professional couple and their family, in the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. This house, in its rural setting, was to be their weekend retreat. Together with the owners we made numerous visits to the site, pondering the house’s location and the question of how to achieve a design that accessed the views but wouldn’t scar the pristine land. The twenty-acre site overlooks the famous Napa Valley, the historic home of America’s wine-making industry. The rolling terrain is planted with grapes at the valley floor and studded with oak trees and rocky outcroppings at the ridges. The building site was almost solid rock.
The geometry of the site plan was rigorously centered between three large existing oak trees. From this center the plan winds along a rocky ledge, requiring almost no excavation or scarring of the land. Our design concept was to create ten distinct volumes, each with a different roofline and exterior skin. Originally the house was to be a rammed earth structure with a sod roof. That plan gave way to a more pragmatic wood-frame building, but the original forms remained. The process of moving through the house is not unlike hopping boulders as you traverse a talus; each space of the home, a distinct boulder, has its own geometry and specific orientation.
The house’s individual volumes are treated as simple, tight-skinned elements, each clad with cement plaster in a hue that matches the spring foliage or rock ledges, or metal siding that recalls the vernacular agrarian buildings on the valley floor. Interior detailing focuses on the articulation of the individual volumes. Mitered 90° glass windows are angled to catch the spectacular views of the valley below and San Francisco Bay on the horizon. The inglenook element serves as the main conversational area and is clad inside and out in Core-ten steel siding, with its natural rusted patina. To combat the bright glare and heat of the Napa summer, the inglenook has minimal fenestration. It is intended to promote intimate conversation, in the spirit of a gathering before the hearth of a country home.