LILA 2019 Special Mention in Gardens

Sonoma Mountain by

Private Gardens / Private Gardens / California / Built in 2018 /

Sonoma Mountain Garden represents a rigorous approach to minimalist landscape architecture that has a strong collaborative dialogue with the architecture. The garden’s material pallet is contextual, as it pulls in the surrounding landscape through its use of textures, forms and colors. The strong and clearly human-made geometrical patterns offer a complement to the surrounding landscape through contrast. Each space and corridor within the garden are well scaled and present a well-crafted and eloquent suite of details and materials that offer the user a quiet and contemplative landscape that will bring friends and family together.

- from the award statements

Situated on a 4-acre parcel within a 96-acre preserve on Sonoma Mountain, adjacent to Jack London State Park, this hidden weekend and work retreat offers private spaces for entertainment, recreation, and respite. A masterplan effort, inspired by the client’s 2-years of on-and-off camping on the site, optimized the potential of the exterior spaces with adjacency to structures while hiding vehicles from sight, all along a sloping hillside. The approach to the site follows a winding gravel road up the gently sloping land, flanked on either side by varied landscapes of oak groves, fern depressions, or grassy meadows. An opening in the landscape reveals the property’s locale. Elements of the site are organized along the sloping meadows amongst the predominant native Quercus agrifolia. Two small “weeHouse” structures, connective walks and steps, a pool, outdoor grilling area, privacy wall, and seating space are meticulously placed on and carved into the site, surrounded by re-sown native grasses. The dwelling spaces, both indoor and out, offer stunning valley views toward Matanzas Creek below. Further uphill, a small orchard and garden are perched in sunny openings in the landscape.


Hardscape materials comprised of natural stone, weathered steel, and board-formed concrete gently impose on the naturally beautiful and ecologically conserved site. The precisely crafted board-formed concrete wall that separates journey from relaxation, vehicle from pedestrian, holds a wide portal to the heart of the project, a courtyard that includes an outdoor kitchen, pool, aggregate-paved seating areas, and a terraced lawn. Each material change in this zone is crisply executed such that soft, hard, textured or liquid surfaces lend maximum contrast to the overall aesthetic of the space, calming the senses with restraint. To relax the orthogonal nature of the space, a lone, aged olive tree resides in the lawn as sculpture on a plinth. Along the edges of the space, oaks and grasses envelope and transition the designed intervention back into nature.

The small swimming pool features a bluestone surround and zero-edge detailing to maximize the mirrored surface of water to reflect the adjacent oaks and partly cloudy skies above. The pool rests, completely hidden from the motor court beyond, at the low side of the bisecting board-formed concrete wall. A unique in-floor system reveals an emergent pool cover that floats on the water’s surface, secured at the edges, in the evenings or when the owners are back in the Bay Area. This safety cover helps to maintain the water’s temperature and keep the neighboring fauna at bay.

Above the dwelling spaces, a central permeable aggregate parking court is anchored into the hillside, hidden by the concrete wall. Weathered steel steps along the backside of the wall follow a steel retaining wall that acts to preserve a lone, sculptural oak at the portal to the living spaces below. These elements lie below a small fruit tree orchard and garden that are fenced by a simple weathered steel frame with agricultural mesh for deer protection along the upland slope.

Plant selections on the project were minimal and focused near the outdoor room spaces and orchard/garden areas. These included olive and apple trees, Berkeley sedge, Parry’s agave, dwarf fescue, and rosemary. Much of the perimeter of the development area was reseeded with native grasses and wildflowers that are mown following maturation to help keep wildfires at bay.

Project location: Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma, California
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2018


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