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California Dreaming: A Golden Landscape on the Edge of the Continent

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California Dreaming: A Golden Landscape on the Edge of the Continent

April 16, 2021

Picture a house sitting in a meadow of California wildflowers, welcoming butterflies.

That was the dream of clients who searched for two years for the right piece of land before buying a parcel on California’s central coast, near Carmel. The challenge for San Francisco-based Feldman Architecture and landscape architect Bernard Trainor of Ground Studio—who worked together on the project—was to create a home and gardens seamlessly integrated into the “natural beauty of the location in the Santa Lucia Preserve, a 20,000 acre private development and land trust.”

The solution? An environmentally friendly 2,900-square foot, one-story house with butterfly-wing roofs (designed to capture rainwater), surrounded by a low-water landscape that celebrates the spectacular California views.

Photography by Jason Liske.

A Bird’s-Eye View

Armed with an engineering report from Sheerline Structural Engineering, the team designed a gravel autocourt to prevent rainwater runoff and board-formed concrete walls (at Left) to create a visual buffer between the house and a trio of concrete rainwater harvesting tanks.
Above: Armed with an engineering report from Sheerline Structural Engineering, the team designed a gravel autocourt to prevent rainwater runoff and board-formed concrete walls (at Left) to create a visual buffer between the house and a trio of concrete rainwater harvesting tanks.

The house, built by Groza Construction, is divided into three pavilions with a specific functions (living and dining, sleeping and bathing, and relaxing). Each pavilion opens up into an outdoor living space with expansive views of the surrounding hills and canyon.

“In partnership with Feldman Architecture, we designed the shaping of the roof and landforms to move water in a very calculated way toward infiltrating the ground to recharge the water table or into stored catchments,” said Trainor.

“We viewed the natural topography as our partner,” he  said. The landscape captures water on the uphill slope, directly it toward a stream in the valley floor.

Above: A California live oak tree (Quercus agrifolia) underplanted with a carpet of manzanita (Arcostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’) greets visitors at the edge of the autocourt. Grassy clumps of cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum ‘El Campo’) add smudges of deep, rich color to the landscape.

Trainor designed the landscape to create a “seamless transition between nature and building…with the landscape weaving between the three pavilions. As the plants slip through the interstitial spaces in the architecture, they serve to celebrate views beyond.”

Above: Drifts of bright green grasses (Carex divulsa) edge the path. Lighting designer Kim Cladas chose unobtrusive bollard lighting fixtures from Germany-based SLV’s Rusty Slot collection. A Rusty Slot 50 is 262.91 from DM Lights.

The plantings “announce the movement of water across the site in their coloring, texture, and growth patterns,” Trainor said. “This is a ‘quiet’ pattern people notice or they do not. It is an artful experience if you have the heightened awareness.”

 Between the pavers grows a carpet of evergreen creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum &#8\2\16;Elfin&#8\2\17;), which tolerates dry conditions.
Above: Between the pavers grows a carpet of evergreen creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’), which tolerates dry conditions.

The clients’ goal was to build a family retreat where their grown children could visit and where the couple eventually could retire. It took them two years of hunting to find “a spectacular piece of land that was flat enough to accommodate living on one level,” the architects said. “In an initial meeting with Feldman Architecture, the clients noted their vision of butterflies alighting on the meadow site, which the architects took as inspiration.”

The clients wanted to connect indoor and outdoor spaces.
Above: The clients wanted to connect indoor and outdoor spaces.

The butterfly roofs “bring in views of the surrounding hills, expand the main living spaces into the outdoors and also harvest rainwater,” the architects said.

On a patio, a custom fire pit and cedar bench anchor the outdoor living space. At the edge of the patio, Festuca mairei grasses add an airy texture. See growing tips in Festuca: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.
Above: On a patio, a custom fire pit and cedar bench anchor the outdoor living space. At the edge of the patio, Festuca mairei grasses add an airy texture. See growing tips in Festuca: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

With interior design by Feldman Architect, cabinetry, stair treads and custom furniture were built by Commercial Woodworking and Metro18 installed the audio-visual system.

 A neutral palette of the house—concrete floors and walls, large glass openings, plywood ceilings, and steel structure—flows from indoors to outdoors, the architects said: &#8\2\20;The use of concrete and large expanses of glass acts as a heat sink, absorbing heat from the sunlight all day and releasing that heat at night.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: A neutral palette of the house—concrete floors and walls, large glass openings, plywood ceilings, and steel structure—flows from indoors to outdoors, the architects said: “The use of concrete and large expanses of glass acts as a heat sink, absorbing heat from the sunlight all day and releasing that heat at night.”

The architects said, “The house uses little energy as a result of extensive daylighting and passive thermal strategies. A large solar array located out-of-sight provides much of the energy that is used.”

In the foreground, an exuberant spray of cape rush (C. tectorum &#8\2\16;El Campo&#8\2\17;) mingles with grasses and shrubs, including manzanita (Arcostaphylos &#8\2\16;Warren Roberts&#8\2\17;).
Above: In the foreground, an exuberant spray of cape rush (C. tectorum ‘El Campo’) mingles with grasses and shrubs, including manzanita (Arcostaphylos ‘Warren Roberts’).

“Each roof funnels water to a rain chain fountain and into landscape collection pools, which then gather in cisterns where it is stored and used to irrigate the landscape,” the architects said. “In addition, the pavilions were sited to allow storm water to flow under the office bridge during the rainy season and seep slowly into the ground in the main courtyard.”

A custom, cedar-clad rolling cover and a spa from Bradford Products are sheltered by a poured-concrete spa shell and concrete privacy walls on which grapevines (Vitis californica &#8\2\16;Roger&#8\2\17;s Red&#8\2\17; are trained in a lacy pattern.
Above: A custom, cedar-clad rolling cover and a spa from Bradford Products are sheltered by a poured-concrete spa shell and concrete privacy walls on which grapevines (Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’ are trained in a lacy pattern.
A closed case. With the cover rolled over the spa, the visual focus shifts back to the landscape.
Above: A closed case. With the cover rolled over the spa, the visual focus shifts back to the landscape.
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are native wildflowers and grow in the grassy meadow at the edge of the house.
Above: California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are native wildflowers and grow in the grassy meadow at the edge of the house.
 “Openings between the three pavilions of the building allow landscape to carry on through, appearing as if plants are threaded through the buildings themselves.&#8\2\2\1; Trainor said. &#8\2\20;This allows people to remain indoors and walk through glass connections to different parts of the house, feeling as though they’ve stepped outside.”
Above: “Openings between the three pavilions of the building allow landscape to carry on through, appearing as if plants are threaded through the buildings themselves.” Trainor said. “This allows people to remain indoors and walk through glass connections to different parts of the house, feeling as though they’ve stepped outside.”

Read about more ways to use ornamental grasses in our curated design guides to Grasses 101 and see more of Trainor’s landscapes:

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

Cape Rush: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design

Architects’ Roundup: 10 Landscapes Designed Around a Single Tree

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