Everyone wins when locally harmonious building materials dovetail with the demands of a modest budget. Napa is largely rural, after all, which suggests a history of humble buildings that provide shelter in the most practical way. The area’s older agricultural buildings had uniform shapes that were economical to build and were made of off-the-shelf materials such as wood and metal. When new houses are constructed, these precedents provide grist for the design mill. Yet while all good architecture elevates the ordinary, it takes a skilled guide to bind the basics into something entirely beyond. These clients turned to Nick Noyes, FAIA, whose San Francisco firm is known for environmentally sensitive designs that work wonders with tight budgets.
You could call the Vineyard Road Residence a starter house, at least in the architectural realm. The young couple had owned the land for years and were living in a small apartment in Sausalito. When they were ready to start a family, they decided to build on this 3-acre property that adjoins a small family vineyard on the west and a larger vineyard on the north. “They wanted something straightforward and simple but with a charm befitting the Napa Valley—something modernized and customized for them,” Nick says. It almost goes without saying that the must-haves focused on fire resistance and environmental and maintenance ease.
One approach to a low-cost floor plan is to create an open main living area with cellular bedrooms around it. Nick drew that concept as linear living and sleeping wings that bend where they connect, following the parallelogram property lines. This canted footprint enabled a central garden courtyard that guides visitors to the front door— they enter between the bedroom wing and a detached garage and guest house for family who visit from Europe. The arrangement creates a village feel that establishes a sense of place on the relatively featureless lot. It also addresses the lot’s unique location, at the cusp of the rural and suburban. Turning its back on a housing development that lies roughly east across the street, the house has a direct relationship to vineyards on the north and west, and to a tree-lined creek that crosses the property on the north side.
Inside and out, the materials balance a minimally rendered design with more animated moves. The driveway passes between two tall cedar fences (a nod to the property’s redwoods and oaks), where the bedroom wing and the garage/guest house partially screen the living wing from the road. Clad in lapped white fiber-cement siding and corrugated galvalume roofs, the volumes are reduced to simple gabled forms befitting the agrarian surroundings.
Only the entry façade is wrapped in dark-stained redwood. “The east side of the main house is a saddlebag zone that on the outside is clad in beautiful redwood that we stained,” Nick says. “As you approach the house, at the entry you’re given a richer material experience.” Inside, this zone is wrapped in a wall of alder wood casework that contains the living spaces’ programmatic functions: a pantry, display shelving, cabinetry that hides a TV, and a board-formed-concrete fireplace. “Essentially, that zone gives you the opportunity to have an area of detail and craft,” Nick says. Alder panels also wrap the sides of the kitchen island, topped with engineered quartz, while standard-issue subway backsplash tiles and flush-panel painted white cabinetry fit out the cooking space.
Other surfaces in the living area were tagged for special treatment, too. “In simple buildings we like to expose the ceiling structure, because you have to pay for it anyway,” Nick says. “We do these beautiful steel tie rods for a sense of detail and scale in the ceiling, and painted wood above that. If you can expose and detail structure in an interesting way, you will get some bang for your buck.”
“We’re always trying to figure out how we can reduce costs in one area and spend some extra money in another,” Nick adds. Another calculated splurge was the steel-and-glass curtain wall on the living room’s gabled north elevation. “It’s a window system from England, which was less expensive than having it made here because they’ve been making steel windows for 400 years,” Nick says. Attached to the outside are steel fins, painted red, that act as vertical sunshades while supplying a dramatic flourish both inside and out.
Passive solar strategies were even more important on the long western elevation—the result of positioning the house for views and complying with the watershed setback. To mitigate the harsh late-afternoon sun, the design team attached a steel-and-wood trellis along the length of the house outside the living areas and primary bedroom. It is elegantly, yet thriftily, fitted with a white curtain that can be drawn across to reduce the sun’s glare and keep the house from heating up in the summer. In winter, the lower winter sun warms the interior.
In the primary bedroom, a built-in, leather-covered bench offers a polished place to retreat and look out on the vineyard. This room and its en-suite bath form the knuckle where the main living wing bends toward the bedrooms. “Something had to live in the turn,” Nick says. “It’s the primary bathroom shower and closet that navigate the change in direction there.” They are hidden behind a paneled wall opposite two sinks and a vanity area. The rest of the bath is finished simply with readily available penny and subway tiles. A powder room near the entry contains an off-the-shelf round mirror and is covered in floral wallpaper—“a fun way of really elevating a room like that without spending a ton of money,” Nick says. Throughout, engineered oak floors tie the rooms together.
Moving out past the curtained trellis, a low, board-formed concrete wall defines a gravel courtyard that runs along the house. A counterpart to the indoor dining area, a freestanding wood-and-steel trellis shelters an outdoor table. It looks directly into a gentle slope planted with native cactus, and the family vineyard beyond.
Designed with a close reading of budget, land, and climate, the house is a happy fusion of the standard and distinctive. As such, it succeeds in delivering magic within its means.
Vineyard Road Residence
Architect: Nick Noyes, FAIA, principal in charge; Michael Perkins, project architect, Nick Noyes Architecture, San Francisco
Builder: Tim Agapoff Construction, Calistoga, California
Structural engineer: Duncan Engineering, Mendocino, California
Project size: 3,400 square feet
Site size: 2.9 acres
Photography: Cesar Rubio Photography
Bath tiles: American Traditions
Cabinetry: Gary’s Cabinets & Doors
Cladding: James Hardie, stained clear cedar
Cooking vent hood: Modern-Aire Ventilating
Entry doors and hardware: Kolbe, Omnia Hardware
Faucets: Brizo, Hansgrohe
Kitchen tile: Fireclay Tile
Lighting: Barn Light Electric, Hunza, Halo, Tech Lighting, Kaufman, Reed
Lighting control systems: Lutron
Paints, stains: Benjamin Moore
Passage doors: TruStile Doors
Roofing: Metal Sales
Sinks: Shaws Classic Apron, Kohler
Tubs: Hydro Systems Lacey
Vanities: Gary’s Cabinets & Doors
Water heater: Bradford White, A.O. Smith
Windows: Milgard, Kolbe, Crittal Steel Windows
Wine refrigerator: Thermador