Designed by Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, the House for Two Artists replaces a dilapidated shack that was on their secluded property. The clients, a composer and a photographer, desired a home that could be a refuge drawing from and connected to the land. Their view of their role as custodians of this beautiful site bolstered their motivation to design and build as sustainability as possible – an objective shared by the architects as well. The surrounding vistas consist of rolling hills with dense covers of various species of native California trees. This context in concert with the owners’ and designers’ principles of environmental stewardship, were the guiding inspirations for the placement, form, and materials of the house.
Architects: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects
Location: Sonoma County, California, USA
General Contractor: Sawyer Construction
Structural: Greg P. Luth & Associates, Inc.
Project Area: 1,660 sqf
Project Year: 2004-2007
Photographs: Mark Citret Photography
Much of the old shack was carefully de-constructed to allow salvaging of the wood, some of which were substantial redwood members. Even more significantly, wood was harvested from the 40-acre property with the intention of providing for much of the Douglas Fir structure, framing, Redwood board + batten siding and ceilings, Oak flooring, and Chinquapin millwork. This use of trees from the land went beyond the romantic notion of living off the land; it underscored the house’s aesthetic character and achieved numerous positive environmental objectives. The owner’s careful selection of trees to be harvested left the most handsome trees intact, enhanced the beauty and health of the woods, thinning the forest enough to mitigate fire hazard – a severe concern in the region. The net result of the carbon laden wood being stored in the fire-sprinklered house reduced the odds of fires that beyond their overall destruction, would add to air pollution.
The result is a 1,660 square foot, wood, glass and galvanized aluminum barnlike loft of elongated (18′ x 72′) proportions, located for optimal solar orientation and to maximize the amenities of the site. Fortuitously, the long north side of the building has minimal windows both for providing privacy from the driveway approach to the house and enhancing the building envelope energy efficiency. This allowed an architectural composition on the north elevation, highlighting the interior stair whose cantilevered mass contrasts with the wood siding like a silvery corrugated saddlebag.
The south side, blessed with a spectacular view and southern sun, is bordered by a continuous arcade that shades the expansive view window walls in the summer but allows wintertime warmth and light to flood the interior. The main level consists of the living, dining, kitchen and study areas, plus a guest suite. The only upstairs room is the master bedroom which overlooks the tall (21′ peak) living space and adjoins a sleeping porch. Accentuating the extended geometry of the house is a long shallow storage element with blind wood doors which together with the main house flanks the entry gate. Happily, the result reconciles the clients’ desire for a tranquil retreat with the designer’s quest for innovative and forward-looking architectural expression.