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Landscape Architect Visit: The California Life, Outdoor Living Room Included

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Landscape Architect Visit: The California Life, Outdoor Living Room Included

February 7, 2020

When it came time to retire, Steven and Dee Dee Kim knew just what they wanted. They would leave their home in Tiburon, California near San Francisco, and build a traditional house with a swimming pool overlooking a golf course in the Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel Valley, California. They found a five-acre lot in a stand of old-growth oak trees and assembled their dream team—landscape architect Bernard Trainor, architects Sagan Piechota, and contractors Stocker Allaire—to make it happen.

What they got was something different but even more desirable: a 4,400-square-foot modern house with a guest studio, an outdoor living room, and a glass walkway through the trees—and no one is missing the swimming pool. Principal architect Daniel Piechota walked us through the details:

Photography by Joe Fletcher courtesy of Sagan Piechota Architecture.

An outdoor living room was one of the clients&#8\2\17; first requests; this one with plaster walls and a batu wood deck juts off the main, indoor living room. The daybed is from Danao Living.
Above: An outdoor living room was one of the clients’ first requests; this one with plaster walls and a batu wood deck juts off the main, indoor living room. The daybed is from Danao Living.
The Kims initially wanted the room screened to keep out bugs, but contractor David Stocker knew from experience that moving air does as good a job, so they installed a ceiling fan instead.
Above: The Kims initially wanted the room screened to keep out bugs, but contractor David Stocker knew from experience that moving air does as good a job, so they installed a ceiling fan instead.
Early on, the clients made clear that they liked houses with &#8\2\20;long views.&#8\2\2\1; When exploring the project site, Trainor and project architect Cameron Helland identified two main axes around which to arrange the house: the line running through the outdoor living room, shown here, and the axis marked by the entryway stair, shown below.
Above: Early on, the clients made clear that they liked houses with “long views.” When exploring the project site, Trainor and project architect Cameron Helland identified two main axes around which to arrange the house: the line running through the outdoor living room, shown here, and the axis marked by the entryway stair, shown below.
The view from the outdoor living room toward the golf course.
Above: The view from the outdoor living room toward the golf course.

The clients initially wanted a house in a traditional architectural style, but they also gave the architects clues about how they wanted to live—close to nature, chiefly. “That necessitated a certain amount of glass,” said Piechota, “and a modern style is a better fit for that.”

Trainor had three rows of drought-tolerant Cape rush (Chondropetalum) grass planted in the inner gravel courtyard behind the house.
Above: Trainor had three rows of drought-tolerant Cape rush (Chondropetalum) grass planted in the inner gravel courtyard behind the house.
A verdant meadow beneath the oaks was largely destroyed during construction, and Trainor restored it. &#8\2\20;It&#8\2\17;s not as simple as putting some seed down,&#8\2\2\1; said Piechota. &#8\2\20;He&#8\2\17;s a real master at bringing the landscape back to where it used to be.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: A verdant meadow beneath the oaks was largely destroyed during construction, and Trainor restored it. “It’s not as simple as putting some seed down,” said Piechota. “He’s a real master at bringing the landscape back to where it used to be.”
A patio with a fire pit overlooks the property. The homeowners first wanted a pool, but decided it would go unused. &#8\2\20;It was a really good decision,&#8\2\2\1; said Piechota. &#8\2\20;In its absence, Bernard did something that was equally interesting.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: A patio with a fire pit overlooks the property. The homeowners first wanted a pool, but decided it would go unused. “It was a really good decision,” said Piechota. “In its absence, Bernard did something that was equally interesting.”
The concrete and steel fire pit is Trainor&#8\2\17;s design, and the chairs flanking it are \1966 Lounge Chairs by Richard Schultz.
Above: The concrete and steel fire pit is Trainor’s design, and the chairs flanking it are 1966 Lounge Chairs by Richard Schultz.

Though the lot is on a slope, the architects “wrapped the house around the topography of the site instead of cutting into the hill.”

On the far side of the courtyard is a hot tub of Trainor&#8\2\17;s design, clad in batu wood. In this shaded spot, Trainor planted giant chain fern (Woodwardia). The door beyond opens into the guest house.
Above: On the far side of the courtyard is a hot tub of Trainor’s design, clad in batu wood. In this shaded spot, Trainor planted giant chain fern (Woodwardia). The door beyond opens into the guest house.
Trainor filled the courtyard with &#8\2\20;Sierra tan&#8\2\2\1; gravel, which has some brown tones but with an overall effect of gray. He chose it to temper the courtyard&#8\2\17;s bright daylight sun. Just beyond sits a water feature of Trainor&#8\2\17;s design, made of quartzite schist.
Above: Trainor filled the courtyard with “Sierra tan” gravel, which has some brown tones but with an overall effect of gray. He chose it to temper the courtyard’s bright daylight sun. Just beyond sits a water feature of Trainor’s design, made of quartzite schist.
The view from the house&#8\2\17;s &#8\2\20;front door,&#8\2\2\1; which borders the interior courtyard and disappears within a wall of glass.
Above: The view from the house’s “front door,” which borders the interior courtyard and disappears within a wall of glass.

Piechota and Trainor have worked together many times throughout the last decade and are highly collaborative. “Honestly, I don’t know how to design buildings that don’t relate to the landscape,” said Piechota. “And I appreciate working with someone who’s both in tune with the landscape and respectful of the architecture.”

The Carmel Valley house is a case in point: &#8\2\20;The roofs and walls interact in such a way that this house is really a framing device for the landscape,&#8\2\2\1; said Piechota.
Above: The Carmel Valley house is a case in point: “The roofs and walls interact in such a way that this house is really a framing device for the landscape,” said Piechota.
An enclosed walkway over the staircase links the master bedroom to the main living space. The interior floors are white oak.
Above: An enclosed walkway over the staircase links the master bedroom to the main living space. The interior floors are white oak.

“What this house does best is that it has the feeling of being up in the air—in the trees—and simultaneously grounded on the courtyard side.” Often, said Piechota, a house offers one or the other.

Piechota clad the house in heavily knotted Western red cedar, satisfying his clients&#8\2\17; request for exterior character. (Luckily, the &#8\2\20;lower&#8\2\2\1; grade wood fit nicely into the budget.)
Above: Piechota clad the house in heavily knotted Western red cedar, satisfying his clients’ request for exterior character. (Luckily, the “lower” grade wood fit nicely into the budget.)

A gravel driveway rings the oak grove in front of the house. Here, Trainor chose a lighter, warmer color for the gravel—”California gold”—to brighten the front landscape and reflect back what little light filters through the trees.

A three-tiered deck of batu wood leads to a &#8\2\20;dramatic arrival experience&#8\2\2\1; beneath the glass and cedar bridge and up the staircase.
Above: A three-tiered deck of batu wood leads to a “dramatic arrival experience” beneath the glass and cedar bridge and up the staircase.
The architects used raw steel throughout the project, intending it to weather over time.
Above: The architects used raw steel throughout the project, intending it to weather over time.

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