The top residential winner in the recent awards put on by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects is only one room and 760 square feet. But the studio/home unobtrusively nestled into the landscape in rural Petaluma makes a big statement with its small footprint.
“By turning a quiet face to the busy road, finding shelter from coastal winds and establishing friendly relations with trees, grass and sun, the architecture looks through a farmer’s eyes for materials and assembly,” writes Mary Dooley and Chris Lynch, the husband/wife architecture team who designed the house for a couple of retired graphic artists seeking a new and quieter life on a tiny farmstead where they have a small orchard, a garden and graze about 50 head of sheep they share with neighbors.
Dubbed the “Red Hill Studio,” the compact dwelling is clad in corrugated metal, making it look not so different from many of the old farm buildings dotting the North Bay countryside.
But that’s a bit of a deception. Much thought went into the placement and design of the structure, where the couple are living until they can build a more spacious main house elsewhere on the 7-acre property at the Sonoma/Marin county line near San Antonio Creek.
Empty nesters Penny Bayless and David Hale had been looking for years for a country retreat. But it was their friends, Sue and Alan Cooper, who scouted out a a property just outside Petaluma and led them to their perfect spot. The Coopers settled on a 50-acre former dairy farm they renovated into an event space dubbed Monkey Ranch. Next door, a much smaller parcel was the sweet spot that caught the eye of Bayless and Hale.
There already was an old farmworker house on the site, but it was so rundown it was beyond rescue.
Dooley and Lynch, who together make up MAD Architecture, said the house had other problems they set out to address. It was perched on a hill facing the road so it offered no privacy, and it picked up all the noise from the road. It also had no comfortable outdoor spots to enjoy the rolling California countryside that weren’t in the path of the notorious winds that bluster through the Petaluma Gap, a wind tunnel between the coast and Highway 101.
“Even on the warmest days you get this blast,” Dooley said. They also stayed within the old building site to preserve the land.
“Rather than build a new place on land that hadn’t been disturbed we tore down the old house and built a new studio in the same spot,” she added.
The compact house they built in its place faces the hillside, offering a sense of privacy, beautiful views and a protected patio.
The house sits above a garage of board formed concrete that is set into the slope, with a side stairway leading to the main entry off a semicircular patio. A metal roof extends down over the patio and the entry side asymmetrically, like a a cap.
The architects created a feeling of spaciousness with a high ceiling that is 16 feet at the peak, a completely open living area that incorporates everything into one space.