Designed for art collectors who split their time between Los Angeles and Napa, this project presented a puzzle familiar to many architects: how to incorporate formal art spaces into a house that welcomes guests and grandkids. And although Napa is a well-known vacation destination synonymous with sprawling vineyards, their building lot lacked a strong sense of place, says Nick Noyes, FAIA. “The biggest challenge was to create that,” he says. “What do you do to bring the site alive?”
As with all their projects, the architects presented the clients with about eight different design schemes and three strategies for how the house might sit on the land. The one that rose to the top consisted of simple gable forms that acknowledge the rural archetype. “The clients came to us having seen another project we did that was based on white gabled buildings in the landscape,” Nick says. “They felt that kind of abstract simplicity would be a very nice foil for their lifestyle and the art in the house.”
While there were not many trees on the nearly flat lot, a few heritage oaks dotted a dry creek bed to the south, and that topographical feature became the focus for the house. The long structure faces due south, creating opportunities for passive heating and cooling, and lines up with the geometry of a vineyard to the east.
Nick’s sketch was fleshed out as two gabled living spaces with a glass connector, and a detached art barn. From the gravel parking court, you enter the house through a flat-roofed, glazed section with a metal ceiling and steel windows and doors. On the left is the two-story garage, with stairs leading to an airy, bookshelf-lined hall, two guest rooms, and a gym/bunk room. To the right of the entry, a bar-shaped volume with exposed rafters and steel tie rods contains the art gallery, which also serves as the formal living and dining room. “The entry connector was a simple way to knit two gables together, and it’s pretty elegant to have this slice through the house where you get to see the landscape beyond,” Nick says.
To keep the long gallery space separate from the rest of the house, two central partitions divide the gallery’s living and dining areas, creating a cross-axial pass-through from the entry hall to the more domestic side of the house. “They didn’t want the visiting kids and grandkids getting too muddled up in the art,” Nick says. “The ceiling goes all the way through the dining room, central space, and living room, so you get a sense you’re in a big gallery-like volume, but you can pass through quickly.”
Once you do, a relaxed vibe reasserts itself. This long, perpendicular gabled volume contains the kitchen, study, and main bedroom suite, with a shed-roofed family room and loggia leaning against it. “The kitchen looks into the family room, which is a shed leaning against a gabled building,” Nick says, “a simple vernacular form.” The glassy family room opens to the loggia—a columned porch with an outdoor kitchen, fireplace, and dining area facing the pool. Across the pool is the art barn, which holds an office and an exhibition space. Its 11-foot-high plate and 17-foot ridgeline accommodate large-scale pieces of art.
A Collection of Details
These basic forms, in service to the art, inspire not a nostalgia for farm buildings but an appreciation of how they touch each together and are rendered in a modern way. “The builder, Tim Agapoff, is a phenomenal craftsman,” Nick says. “The quality we get from him is just staggering.” Cladding on the main house is fiber-cement lap siding with a 4-inch exposure, which reinforces the crispness of the white buildings and references New England, where the client is from. Most important for a vacation house in this wildfire-prone region, the siding and light gray corrugated metal roof resist fire and don’t require much upkeep. The art barn, wrapped in redwood, has the same roof pitch as the house.
Both of the gallery spaces—formal living and dining volume and art barn—have concrete floors, gypsum board walls, and an exposed ceiling structure with white-painted steel tie rods. “To make the vaulted ceiling work, you are reverse-building everything compared to standard construction,” says Tim Agapoff. “You have to build one roof system, then all the subs are on the roof adding electrical.” The large, steel-framed windows in the entry hall and art barn were another exacting construction challenge that required “putting the frames together and glazing them in place after the install,” Tim says. Adjacent to the entryway, the steel staircase railing leading to the guest quarters echoes this material.
Once you move into the everyday sides of the house, its plain white exterior belies the richness inside. Here the material palette has a more sumptuous quality with white oak floors, built-in furniture and bookcases, and painted wood windows and ceilings. Kitchen cabinetry is painted the same color as the ceilings and walls, so it becomes part of the trim. In the main bath, the veined marble countertop and tub surround add a luxurious touch. “When the forms are this simple, it really comes down to the details,” Nick says. “We think of it as a collection of details that, in the end, we’re happy they’re in each other’s company.”
As an extension of the house, the landscape received the same detailed attention. Vertical steel bars set in concrete, a riff on traditional wood fencing, mark the entrance and partially screen the parking court. “The client had seen something like it in London,” Nick says. “As you walk around it, you get a different sense of layering and being able to see through it at an angle. It was a fun detail that got rolled into the project.”
The firm also designed the outdoor hardscape, including low, board-formed concrete walls at the pool, while the landscape architecture firm Roche + Roche supplied the meadow-like plantings that wave in the wind—a natural foil for the taut architecture. They also brought in large oaks and olive trees, which form a double row at the front of the property.
Balancing the need for displaying a large art collection and spaces that bring the family together, the design reflects the clients’ vision for combining a serious interest with a relaxed home life. “Formal spatial and material richness—that’s really what we were thinking about,” Nick says. “The design is based on a formal idea about the plan and courtyard, something holding it all together.”
Plans and Drawings
Architect: Nick Noyes, FAIA, principal in charge; Michael Perkins, senior associate, Nick Noyes Architecture, San Francisco
Builder: Tim Agapoff Construction, Calistoga, California
Interior Designer: ABD Studio, San Francisco
Landscape Architect: Roche + Roche, Sonoma, California
Structural Engineer: Duncan Engineering, Mendocino, California
Project size: 6,100 square feet
Site size: 5 acres
Construction Cost: Withheld
Photography: Matthew Millman Photography
Cladding: James Hardie
Cooking Ventilation: Modern-Aire
Entry Doors: Crittall
Faucets: Rohl, Franke, PHYLRICH
Lighting: WAC, Halo, Lutron
Outdoor Grill: Wolf
Paints/Stains: Benjamin Moore
Roofing: Metal Sales Corrugated Roofing
Sinks: O’Brien Sinks
Tub: Hydro Systems
Windows: Marvin, Crittall