ISSUE 87  |  Wild at Heart

Roof Garden: Cottages in the Mill Valley Forest

August 30, 2013 3:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

On a steep, wooded lot in Mill Valley, California, the challenge was to add two studio spaces–one for an artist, one for yoga–without disturbing the soaring redwood trees surrounding an existing main house.

“We definitely wanted to make this project as ‘green’ as possible, and to have it be visually integrated into the land,” said architect Jonathan Feldman. The solution was two separate buildings, nestled on flat sites against the hillside. The lower studio, visible from the windows above, got live plants on the roof, mimicking a common style in environmentally conscious European cities. (In Stuttgart, for example, green roofs cover 25 percent of the real estate, the result of public policy originating with Europe’s “green party” movements in the 1970s.) Here’s how Europe’s modern vernacular translates to Northern California:

Photography by Joe Fletcher.

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Above: “The view from the upper house looks down on the other studio, and we didn’t want the client to be looking out at a metal roof,” Feldman said.

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Above: The cedar-sided studios have a pre-weathered stain, to give them a patina that requires no further maintenance.

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Above: Landscape architect Jori Hook and the client, an avid gardener, worked together to choose plants for the roof. “The property is landscaped in a very natural and sensitive way, with native plants,” said Feldman.

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Above: “We thought it would be very fun for the client to have a roof garden to take care of,” Feldman said. “You don’t need a ladder or special rock climbing skills. You just have to hop on.”

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Above: “Green roofs are heavier than normal roofs, so you have to build a structure more stoutly,” Feldman said. “We don’t take our green roofs lightly in earthquake country.”

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Above: The view from the Lower Studio, used for yoga.

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Above: “We had hundreds of trees that we were dealing with, and protecting them was a challenge,” Feldman said. “The only two we took out were unhealthy trees that were ready to go anyway.”

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Above: In the Upper Studio. “The lot is in a forest, so it’s not super sunny, but it faces east and does get good morning light,” said Feldman.

For another of our favorite forest gardens, see The Ultimate Creekside Cabin.