Located on a hilly windswept site in Marin County this project, on an 843 acre site, is the home of a working sheep ranch and cheese making dairy. By the time we met the owners they had spent a great deal of time preparing the site for ranching and presented a very clear picture of the challenges we faced: strong winds blowing down Tomales Bay from the northwest, fierce wind driven rain from the south, foggy summers. Despite the weather challenges the land is beautiful, and creating sheltered spaces that encourage outdoor use year round was a high priority. Fog hangs over the area much of the summer, but when it clears the views are breathtaking, looking from the selected site across the bay to the ocean in one direction and up a scenic agricultural valley in another. Both the interior rooms and outdoor spaces were envisioned to capitalize on these views. The house was sited in a coastal view corridor and was required to be very low profile in form and use natural materials that blended into the site. Ranching would take precedence, and the house must both offer an overlook across the fields to observe the animals and create garden space protected from the grazing of deer and sheep. Finally the house must be as green and locally sourced as possible: using solar energy, water from the site, maximizing the insulation value of the envelope and minimizing the use of resource depleting materials were all important. Both owners work at home and in this remote location wanted a house that offered variety, privacy and space for entertaining; it was important to maximize every inch of space – no rooms too large, no leftover corners, no uninhabited spaces .
The result is a house that is hunkered down to meet building envelope limitations and deflect the winds. Stepping down the slope the rooms shape a south facing court, the center of the house. The hill to the south blocks the winds and screens the agricultural buildings, and the suns’ warmth supports a fenced garden of herbs and grasses. At the north of the court an outdoor living room under a glass roof is heated by a large fireplace; this area, combined with the outdoor kitchen just off the breakfast room, creates space for daily living and for larger events. The room layout is designed to step down with the site and to follow the sun – the master bedroom and bath, yoga room , kitchen and breakfast room all receive morning light and each has an adjacent outdoor space to allow activities to move outdoors.
Two major construction challenges faced Axel Nelson : working with salvaged wood required careful selection and curing of pieces far ahead of its use. The chance to select particular timbers for specific locations meant that we could control the appearance, but also meant that we then had to work with the eccentricities of each piece after curing. A very project specific challenge was the need to avoid any toxic materials or runoff that might affect the sheep – in this case handling the runoff from the copper roof was particularly critical, requiring special drainage structures.
The south facing courtyard creates a protected landscaped area in contrast to the surrounding pastures.
The entry gate -large slabs of redwood burl supported between board-formed concrete planters – introduces the natural materials palette.
Under a glass roof with a large fireplace, the outdoor living room is comfortable even on cool days or evenings.
In the living room built-in benches conceal a pop-up TV living room and storage for blankets and games.
Elevated above the living room, the kitchen acts as a command center all directions.