Text description provided by the architects. Located in Sonoma County, California, the Triple Barn house was designed by Mork-Ulnes Architects as a residential retreat for a chef and her husband. Encircled by nature, but conveniently located near town, the house is both a relaxation getaway for the couple and a cooking laboratory. A place designed for gatherings that would create a new relationship with the surrounding environment. Taking cues from the chef’s philosophy and inspired by the rural building typology typical of the area, the architects used metal cladding reminiscent of the iron-red rusty soil indigenous to the site and relied on local suppliers, builders, and cabinet makers.
The objective was to create a place to entertain family and friends but also a place to re-energize and find peace and tranquility away from busy lives of Hollie’s work in the schools and Jim’s frequent business trips around the world. After living for more than a decade in cities such as New York and San Francisco, the couple asked for a residence that would allow them to connect with nature in a new way. Their dreams were met thanks to the secluded location and the creation of a large vegetable garden. Among the amenities, the couple wanted a large professional styled kitchen, private master suite, two guest rooms, and a separate office, so that when the couple engaged in cooking or entertaining, they could turn off their work and be present in their home together.
The 1750 square foot (160 square meter) home sits on a steep hillside in Sonoma overlooking panoramic views from the Sonoma Valley to Marin County. Approaching the house from a steep driveway, the visitor sees a triple roofed rusted steel form peeking out over natural grasses and iron-red soil. Arriving at the house, the guests are guided to the front door through the large concrete void. From the lower entry, a dynamic winding stair brings you up through a concrete volume into the main residence where you are greeted with a stunning view of the valley from a large picture window. The stair lands in the middle of the public space of the house, with the kitchen and dining room on the north end and a long living room heading towards the private guest rooms and master suite.
The kitchen is expanded outdoors under a large cantilevered eave which creates a shaded respite from the hot Sonoma sun. The overhang creates a continuation space for the kitchen, as the kitchen counter extends into the landscape with an outdoor bar and grilling area and outdoor living room. The glass façade in the living room opens to Sonoma Valley, presenting the owners with sunsets: a perfect landscape for a dinner with friends or to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a long day of work. The outdoor space is a middle zone between the edible garden, and the fire pit under a large Oak tree on the hill above. Built with an open floor plan, the house and its furnishings were cleverly designed to provide the family with many small private nooks. The orange chairs in front of the big picture window, the seating area in the kitchen, the deck off the kitchen, the chairs by the garden, and the fire pit, all offer serene spaces to retreat to. Vintage light fixtures and industrial furnishings were strategically placed in the home to root it to its agricultural heritage.
The interior furnishings of the house were selected with a dusty sunbleached palette to allow the brightness of the house to reign and suggest that the furnishings had been in the space for a long time. Since the house can read as one room, the palette of each room needed to be complementary to the next. The wooden patio and indoor living space merge thanks to the clever design of the patio doors, thus doubling the space for hosting dinner parties (up to one hundred guests) or one of Hollie’s informative cooking classes.
The kitchen thus becomes the heart of the house: “This was the first time we had the opportunity to design a kitchen,” says Hollie.“A few elements were important to us: space to prep food together and have space to move freely but smartly - everything within easy reach, which by definition doesn’t require great space, just well thought-out design”. One of key features of this custom made kitchen is the hidden pantry that stores dry goods, appliances, and the many pottery dishes, platters, and glassware the couple have collected over the years. The open-faced drawers are easily accessible for cooking equipment and daily use, keeping the kitchen space clean and spacious. A handmade walnut farm table was designed for the couple and their friends to dine together. The most dominant and bold materials of the house are on the exterior, where corten steel reminds us of the building’s rural location and roots the building in the iron-red rock landscape, while rough concrete at the base accentuates the agricultural nature of the setting. “We chose corten steel as the cladding material for its natural resistance to fire as well as its resonance to agricultural buildings of the Sonoma Valley. The natural soil of the Sonoma hillside is very iron rich which gives it a rusted color making the house tie back to earth,” says Casper Mork-Ulnes
In contrast, the interior was meant to have simple and bright materials to give the house a casual atmosphere. All walls were kept white to keep the space bright and allow for the large windows to captivate with their views. To add warmth and tactility to the project, Douglas Fir treated with lye and white oil was used on the floors and some cabinetry. The bathrooms were clad in natural stone for a touch of subtle luxury giving the owners a feeling of retreat while enjoying daily life in the countryside. The plan of the upper floor responds to the triple roof form of the house: one roof houses the public area of the kitchen and dining area as well as the outdoor kitchen and lounge, one roof contains the more private zone of the guest rooms and living room, and the third roof houses the private zone of the master suite. The lower concrete level contains the entry room and stair, laundry and storage room, carport / fire truck turnaround, and triangular office.