Small House in Olive Grove / Wendy Evans Joseph Architecture

© Elliot Kaufman Photography

Architects: Wendy Evans Joseph Architecture 
Location: Geyserville, California, 
Project Team: Wendy Evans Joseph, Chris Cooper, Chris Good, Michael Walch, Reed Langworthy, Farzana Gandhi
Architect of Record: Richardson Architects
Civil Engineer: CSW / Struber-Stroeh Engineering Group, Inc.
Structural Engineer: Tysinger & Associates Structural Engineers
Project Year: 2010
Project Area: 850 sqf
Photographs: Elliot Kaufman Photography


Design process: Background and Project Description

This agricultural property in Sonoma is owned by two scientists. The husband often works inside, but also prefers alternative work locations where for his laptop computer. The wife is involved with a number of agricultural projects, keeping olive orchards, harvesting olives and making olive oil; bee keeping; extensive gardening and various other endeavors that take advantage of Sonoma’s beautiful climate, soils and siting. Embracing the “locavore” movement, the wife brings her olives and honey to local markets and restaurants.

The 25-acre site of the original house had no real infrastructure and met none of the new code requirements for water conservation and fire safety, and did not provide adequate power for farm use. The client requested a new structure that would take advantage of the site’s hillside views, while reflecting their modest lifestyle so deeply engaged with outdoor life. They also requested that the new structure be “off the grid”, with all utilities buried, and that site improvements be implemented to avoid erosion.

Program and Spatial Development

The house, only 850 sqf, is situated towards the top of an olive orchard. The siting takes advantage of the prevailing breezes and shade, while utilizing an existing open area so that no trees were removed. The goal was to create an energy efficient, compact dwelling where the clients could sit in shady areas, entertain, and enjoy views across the local agricultural lands.

Layout and materials

The house is organized on three levels that descend with the hillside. The entry level contains a full hallway bath as well as a bedroom with a bathroom and balcony. The mezzanine contains the kitchen and an eating counter, with a direct connection to a dining deck at the same level. On the lower level is the living room at grade with an adjacent deck. Floors, steps, and wall tile are a soft grey limestone. The woodwork is oak, stained grey with inserts of clear acrylic resin. The resin catches sunlight as it moves across the cabinetry face. The metal is painted steel and the countertops a grey eco-composite.

The exterior is predominantly light-grey zinc expressed in horizontal panels with 3/8” joints running horizontally and overlapping joints in the vertical direction. There are some minimal areas of redwood, stained grey as a detail on the south and east facades. The window system is custom, with steel mullions painted grey to match the zinc. Slatted, redwood sunscreens for the bedroom and entry deck provide texture, privacy, and shading. Horizontal skylights over the stair bring daylight to the interior while mitigating heat gain with a ceramic frit.

Furnishings are mostly custom built-in pieces as the room dimensions are small, and space must be used in a highly efficient manner. A more luxurious, large shower with 10-foot high glass overlooking the hillside, celebrates the view, and brings the outside indoors as a part of the residents’ functional lives.

The house is at once grand and intimate. We concentrated the limited square footage in a few select areas so that each actually seems quite generous. There are openings between levels so that one is able to converse easily and experience the view from a series of places within the house, from a secret window seat with a sliver window to the north to the large expansive view from the living room. Details like hidden closets and storage recesses are meant to delight the user with the confluence of efficiency and aesthetics.


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