Respect for Nature Makes Good Design Sense
By Melanie Chatfiled and Michael Chatfield
From Homestyle by the Sea Magazine, Fall 2006
Photography by Paul Dyer, Claudio Santini, Kodiak Greenwood and Roland Bishop
Encompassing 20,000 unsullied acres in the Santa Lucia Mountains, The Preserve strikes a balance of respect for nature and historic lands with people’s desire to reside here. The “green design” of Dan and Sandy Feldman’s vacation retreat shares a strong attachment to those sentiments. Designed by San Francisco-based architect—and son—Jonathan Feldman, every detail was crafted with the natural environment in mind.
The 49-acre parcel rambles through steep meadows, reaching up to the home site on a narrow ancient-oak studded ridge. All but two of those acres will remain open space in perpetuity. Determined to achieve synergy with the natural surroundings and limit the impact of man-made structures, Jonathan took special care in situating the living spaces.
“Building on the most obvious site would have meant removing several of the beautiful oak trees that formed a canopy, creating an outdoor room feel,” says Jonathan. “By crafting the house literally into the hillside, we were able to spare the oak grove and maximize the magnificent views.” Every effort was taken to employ “green” materials in construction as well. “Wherever possible we used environmentally sensitive materials such as sustainable harvested lumber and insulation made from waste generated by the manufacture of denim,” he says.
“We wanted to guide people through the oak grove to reach the main house,” says Jonathan. Granite from the Sierra, quarried 100 years ago and abandoned, had acquired an attractive patina that matches the stone found naturally on the property. These boulders were skillfully integrated with the concrete entry stairs to give them the feel of having been there forever.
The 2,950-square-foot main house is actually a trio of grass-roofed “pavilions.” These rest in a flat area created by the construction of a massive retaining wall that would become the lynchpin of the home’s design. The vegetation-covered structures cohabitate naturally with the rolling meadows that stretch out into the distance. Planted with drought-tolerant, native grasses and wildflowers, the adjacent meadowland is alive with color, and affords resistance to wild fires. The resulting vistas harken back to the historic Ranchos that these lands were once part of.
In addition to allowing the house to blend into the landscape, roofs planted with native grasses and wildflowers enable rainwater to be absorbed on-site rather than flowing off to a storm drain. They also serve to help keep the house cool during hot weather. “We incorporated a passive solar design using large windows that expose concrete floors and retaining walls to the morning sun,” says Jonathan. This allows the dense concrete to absorb the sun’s warmth, minimizing the need for artificial heat.
In the main house, large panels of photovoltaic skylights are interspersed over the glass-ceiling, generating enough power to enable the Feldmans to earn credits from PG&E when the home is unoccupied. The solar panels offer some shade when the sun is at its highest point and serve as a distinctive design element.
Creating separation between the buildings not only achieves a spacious yet intimate home, it invites light on three sides of each pavilion as well as through many skylights. The home was strategically oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating.
“The exposed concrete that prevents the house from losing warmth during chilly nights, also serves to keep it cool on hot days,” says Jonathan. Extra insulation, roof plantings, low-E glass and carefully-placed ceiling fans and windows that open work with the site’s natural breezes and shading to keep the house comfortable on even the hottest days. “As a result, we did not have to install air conditioning,” he says. A hydronic radiant heat system and water heater are also employed. The spaces between the pavilions expand the size of the home, providing beautiful outdoor living areas.
“This was our first true ‘green’ building project,” says Brian Groza, owner of Groza Construction, Inc. “Now we’re heavily focused on that. While this home differs from the typical house in the Preserve, it exceeds all the ideals of the conservancy.” Groza was involved in the project from foundation to finish. Much of the build-in furniture, beds, dressers, desks, closets, and outdoor furniture—was designed by Jonathan and crafted by Groza and his team. Douglas fir harvested from certified sustainable forests dominates. Some of this lovely honey-toned wood is vertically grained, providing interesting contrast.
The open floor plan is clean, sleek and contemporary, as well as warm and inviting. Between the suites is the more public space including the kitchen, dining room, and loft (a grandchild’s dream play space). The clerestory windows in the double-height living room provide a view of the oaks in the grove above and allow the late afternoon sun to light up the living room ceiling. Nearly every room has wide glass doors that allow easy flow to the outdoor terraces.
Wherever feasible, the architect pulled structural elements away from the corners and used butt-glazed windows to achieve a sense of the rooms flowing into the land. “It’s tricky to use corner windows under sloping roofs,” says Jonathan. “We worked closely with Portofino Fine Windows and Doors in Sand City to come up with a graceful solution to this challenge.”
Chimneys and indoor and outdoor fireplaces are of weathered steel with exposed rivets. Massive iron chains serve as downspouts. Commercial-grade steel beams add dimension and strength. The concrete retaining wall—which serves as the rear interior wall of the pavilions—was given its silvery wood grain pattern through an innovative technique. Wooden forms were sandblasted, bringing the wood grain into relief. The concrete was poured into the forms, transferring the texture. With the forms removed, the wall has the appearance of wood beams and the durability and cooling qualities of concrete.
Several different kinds of glass were used throughout the home—some retain heat, others allow heat in to warm the concrete—depending on which way they face. High-performance glass products from Loewen Windows of Canada were custom-crafted by Portofino. “Loewen’s materials had the exact properties we needed,” says Jonathan. “We also love the vertical grains and the quality of the Douglas fir they use. “
“Jonathan created the designs and we worked with him for about one year to craft the dramatic and unusual windows—some done for the first time,” says Hank Foster, owner of Portofino Fine Windows and Doors. “The house mixes high-tech, contemporary qualities with the rustic natural beauty of the area. We enjoyed being part of the team.”