A retreat on the bluffs near Mendocino on the Northern California Coast.
2,600 sf, 2 Bedroom, 2.5 Bath
Clients Elisabeth and Bob dreamed of an adventurous tranquil life amidst the dense forests and tidepools of California’s north coast. They envisioned a home that would kindle their sense of natural wonder and feel like a retreat for themselves and their friends.
When they found a vacant bluff-top property in a subdivision near Mendocino, California, they called designer Genevieve Marsh to assess its creative potential. “One of the first things I noticed about the property was it’s four ecosystems- the dense, dark bishop pines, the floral blufftop meadow, the cliff-face, and a dynamic ocean edge- all packed into a little more than half an acre,” Genevieve recounts. “I saw the possibility of a house that wove the ecosystems together in an experiential way, highlighting the atmosphere of each.” This concept is integrated throughout the building’s form: the zig-zag plan of the house hugging a grove of bishop pines and then reversing to embrace the ocean view. The roofline mirrors the topography and the faceted form clad in stone and fiber cement gives the building a contemporary geologic feel.
Up and down the coast forrest streams have carved deep into the bluffs and formed protected bays. Genevieve utilized the same relationship to link the two sides of the house. “I separated the master suite from the main living area with a canyon-like cut, spanned by a glass walkway.” In this ‘canyon’, ferns and natural rocks take cues from seasonal forest streams as they lead to the hot tub. This makes the walk to master suite playful and retreat-like while connecting two ecosystems- the forest, and the hot tub blending into the ocean view.
Genevive strove to give the house a simple feel with a personality of actively listening to its surroundings. To achieve this, she closely analyzed the climate factors on site and measured view sheds at eye height for the first and second floors as well as walking around the garden. The results of this site analysis informed the location and orientation of each room, door and window. For example, upon opening the front door, one looks down the foyer and the floor falls away to the ocean. “It’s hard to resist a view like that. It draws you towards it, and the house opens up around you until you’re standing on the deck immersed in the beauty of that moment, in that place,” Genevieve explains.
In a location where the weather outside can be daunting for months of the year, the house still manages to create a near-constant feeling of the fluidity of indoors to outdoors while maintaining a coziness. She continues, “Sitting in the open plan living room, dining room, and kitchen, I can look one way and feel as if I’m sitting amidst the trees, and look the other way and see the Mendocino headlands five miles away. If I feel drawn to one or the other, I can walk directly outside and scamper from one door to the other along the garden paths or across the stepping rocks. If it’s too rainy, I can start the fireplace in the kitchen and cook something delicious, while watching the grey horizon and feeling the radiant heat underfoot.” Through further conversation, it becomes clear that the house is full of these invitations for exploring nature with more than just one’s eyes. Materials and light fixtures have been chosen to unfold these storylines with pleasant feelings of warmth and texture.
In speaking of the process of working with a client on such a personal project as a home, Genevieve says, “Designing a home feels like a deep conversation between the clients, the land and myself. Unfolding over several months, it is at the same time poetic and analytical. We discuss their aspirations and passions and how they imagine living in their house, and I analyze what the parcel has to offer and stitch the two together. I present all sorts of drawings, images, artifacts and virtual models that build upon our conversation and facilitate all of us mentally inhabiting the building and testing it out. My goal is to work the design until each of us falls in love with it. Then I know it’s the right thing for the owners and the place as well as excellent design.”