Light on the Land

With its humble footprint and restrained use of local materials, this 1,400-square-foot house in Northern California makes a dramatic impression

Scenic Escape

Dominique Vorillon

Scenic Escape

Sally Benson and Terry Surles fell in love with Mendocino’s rugged landscape and ocean views, Sally says, but “we had no idea how difficult it would be to build here.” Architects Mary Griffin and Eric Haesloop, of San Francisco firm Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects (TGH), encouraged the couple to embrace the challenges. The resulting retreat makes the most of its dramatic site.

Inspirational Location

Dominique Vorillon

Inspirational Location

This lot has a panorama of unspoiled Pacific coastline but also direct views of houses down the hill and vulnerability to intense sunlight and wind. And the site is visible from the Pacific Coast Highway, increasing the California Coastal Commission’s scrutiny over the design process

“We took one of architecture’s most basic forms―the shed―and reinterpreted it to mimic the topography of the hill,” says Eric. The designers also turned to their archives at TGH. The firm’s founder, William Turnbull Jr., was one of the original architects at The Sea Ranch, a nearby community developed in the 1960s that defined the area’s modern yet rustic home styles.

Open Architecture

Dominique Vorillon

Open Architecture

In an effort not to give away the entire view at once, Eric and Mary designed the 1,445-square-foot house to unfold down the hillside. “You enter at the top, reserved for the two bedrooms and baths,” Eric says. “As you step down to the living areas, the view opens up and down the coast.”

/Coastal Cues

Dominique Vorillon

/Coastal Cues

What you see: vertical-grain fir on the walls and ceiling and umber-stained concrete flooring that warm up the house’s spare interior, as well as built-in storage and seating that “make the experience like living in a boat,” says Mary.

What you don’t see: the radiant heat system underneath the concrete tiles, which significantly reduces the couple’s reliance on their traditional heat system during the winter

Space Saver

Dominique Vorillon

Space Saver

What you see: economic use of space―Mary and Eric carved the kitchen area out of one side of the entry hall.

What you don’t see: a whole lot of clutter, thanks to the expansive bank of veneered fir cabinetry that keeps the clean and simple space from feeling austere

Passive Aggressive

Dominique Vorillon

Passive Aggressive

What you see: seemingly infinite coastline, framed by sea-blue window sashes

What you don’t see: the warming effects of passive solar heating from all of the windows along the house’s west side

View Point

Dominique Vorillon

View Point

What you see: a partial wall that serves as the headboard for Sally and Terry’s built-in bed

What you don’t see: the master bath, cleverly concealed behind the partial wall turned headboard

Sky Light

Dominique Vorillon

Sky Light

What you see: an extra-deep recessed tub surrounded by crisp white tile and warm natural-timber beams overhead

What you don’t see: a shower curtain, which is missing for a reason. “This bath is so peaceful that it feels like a spa, so we really only use it for relaxing soaks,” says Sally.

Ray Ban

Dominique Vorillon

Ray Ban

What you see: a wall of cabinetry along the west side of the room that blocks the glare of the afternoon sun. Sliding panels hide the TV when it’s not in use.

What you don’t see: neighboring houses in front of and down the hill from Sally and Terry, because the architects reserved the windows for the house’s corners

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