The clients had been living on a sloping two-acre site for over 20 years and felt their traditional stucco home, enclosed by a tall solid wall, cut them off from the full extent of the site and bay views. They approached the design team with a request to create a new energy and water-conscious home that fully utilized the merits of their property in the hills above Monterey Bay.

Over a series of years and many charrettes, the landscape architect collaborated with the owners, the architect and interior designer to completely transform the way they engaged with their land. Careful study of the site, and its topography and coast live oaks woodlands that rimmed the meadow, drove the siting of the buildings. While the original house was set into the lower meadow, the new compound was set high on the property to look across the meadow to the bay and engage with the edges of the oak woodland.

The team used the architecture to create more connection to the land, reimagining one large home as a series of modest structures composed to encompass distinct outdoor rooms. The floorplan of the house and its program in effect doubled in size with the addition of these key outdoor spaces.

With hot summers and pleasant winters, the exposure and aspect of each outdoor room was keenly considered to provide sun when desired and shade when needed. Leading the site planning, the LA drove the building placement and massing to create, at the heart of the project, the Summer and Winter Terraces. The terraces fall to either side of the largest building in the residence, taking advantage of being north and south facing.

The Summer Terrace was defined by the placement of the art studio and garage to the north of the main residence building. This space is a refuge from the heat. The LA employed passive cooling methods by planting a bosque of olives over the dining area on the southern side to provide refuge from the summer heat. A covered loggia encloses the eastern edge with filtered light passing through the lacy filigree metal screen. The final defining element of the courtyard is an 8’ eggplant-colored stucco wall with a blackened steel box spilling water into a basin with water-washed stepping stones. A small cooking area with a Tuscan grill is tucked away behind the fountain wall. Cantilevered off this wall is a long, reclaimed timber employed as a bench. A place to rest, its rustic character complements the materials palette of decomposed granite paving, board-formed concrete and stucco walls.

Limestone pads and steps ground the dining patio at the house level and work with the grade as the art studio and garage step up the hill. Between the two small buildings is a vegetable garden and lounging nook in a 12’ tall stucco folly.

The Winter Terrace in contrast, is a bright outdoor room for use on cool Northern California days. The design of the house connects the Summer Terrace to the Winter Terrace through pocketing glass doors. Long monolithic limestone steps lead down to the sun drenched patio.

A firepit of boulders emerges out of the terrace rimmed by water-washed stone and accented by boulders for seating. Here the reflected heat off the building walls sets up ideal conditions for cactus and succulent plantings. The LA composed the rhythm of architectural plants as an artful expression to complement the blank canvas of the dramatic walls. Restraining the hardscape to counterbalance the wild, drought tolerant garden the client desired, the LA selected cacti, succulents and grasses with native plants to weave a tapestry of texture for year round interest. Palo verde trees frame views from the large patio without interrupting views to the meadow below.

The grade of this terrace and garden is supported by a series of stacked water-washed boulders. The boulders overlap vertically and horizontally to make for a more natural transition from the house to the meadow below. A dry planting palette furthers the desert-like feel with four types of grasses, native buckwheat and coffee berry along with kangaroo paw and Leucadendron as the bank meets the meadow of native grasses.

Continuing up the hillside, a pathway of monolithic limestone steps with gravel landings climbs to one of two hot tubs on the property. This one, set under the oak for shade, is positioned to look over the Summer Terrace and its buildings to the long and distant view of the Monterey Bay. Taking advantage of the south facing aspect, this hillside is planted with a range of fruit trees forming an informal orchard. These trees along with ornamental grasses and native plantings provide a landscape buffer between the Summer Terrace and the secondary garage and guest parking above.

Through thoughtful site design, this new interpretation of the site and its buildings takes advantage of the land in unexpected ways. Responding to a range in microclimates, the planting varies to adapt to each and create distinctive garden spaces throughout the site to create complex experiences for the homeowners and their guests.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Bret Hancock
Photography credit: Marion Brenner
Project location: Santa Cruz Mountains, California, United States
Design year, completed: 2020
Year Built: 2020


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