Project DescriptionOn Site
A Northern California Retreat Creates A Visual Grammar All Its Own.
Two features the editors of this magazine especially admire in a custom home are a site-specific design and artfully exposed structure. Custom building affords the chance to find, reflect, and amplify something essential about a particular place; it would be shame to waste the opportunity. And because the process involves the skilled input of many people, elegantly revealing how it was constructed adds much to a building’s appeal. We could go on, or we simply could direct your attention to this family retreat in the hills of Northern California. Located on 384 acres of ranch land, it adds human habitability to an extraordinary site without diminishing in the least what makes this place special. In so doing, it celebrates the art of building as well as the art of living.
Tucked into the trees at the edge of a sloping pasture, the compound consists of a two-bedroom main house, a pair of twin guest pavilions, a swimming pool, and a garage/recreation building with a children’s bunkroom above. The elements, arrayed in roughly pinwheel fashion, surround a courtyard centered on a huge madrone tree. To the north, where the grade falls away, the buildings cantilever over stone retaining walls. Under great, overhanging shed roofs, their high glass walls face the pasture, which descends into a valley and climbs the opposing slope.
“The property extends almost two-thirds up the ridge,” says architect Richard Schuh, pointing to a spot on the distant slope. “It’s almost the whole watershed here.” Responding to the power of the site, Schuh and his partner, Amy Nielsen, chose “materials that had a rugged texture and a structural integrity, so there’s a sense of how the house is built.” Three parallel walls of exposed board-formed concrete organize the compound, running through the main building and composing the colonnade that links it with the guest pavilions. Rising some 30 feet from their footings, the massive walls support a steel framework that seems delicate in contrast. “Exposed structure can look really clunky,” Schuh notes. “We wanted to take that idea and pare it down.” Light steel I-beams carry a roof structure of Douglas fir purlins and decking that projects far beyond the outside walls. Each component—concrete, steel, and wood—stands as an independent object; every connection is satisfyingly visible and plain in its function.
Of course, virtually every component in this scheme also involved a separate phase of construction, an independent set of operations, and a different trade contractor. In light of that fact, the owners chose the right builder. “We do a lot of high-end homes,” says Jerry Eddinger, founder of family-owned Eddinger Enterprises. Pouring concrete walls 30 feet high posed a challenge, Eddinger says, as did selecting just the right boards for the forms. “We must have gone through 20,000 to 30,000 board feet just to get what we wanted.” Building a steel structural frame that also is the finish frame for windows 6 feet wide and 14 feet tall was another neat trick. No problem, Eddinger says. “My son-in-law owns a steel company. He did all the steel fabrication on site.” What’s more, he continues, “The electrical contractor is my cousin. The painting company, we own that. We own the plumbing company.” And with daughter Nancy Eddinger Madarus as project manager, he adds, “We can do a lot of quality control.”
Quality control was especially important in marrying the structures to the site, one area where the owners wanted to leave no trace of the building process. Achieving that effect, which Eddinger calls “a moon landing,” entailed removing trees and boulders, stockpiling them, and craning them back into place after construction. “We had a stack of rocks piled up bigger than that building,” he says. Minimizing impact on the larger environment also received due attention. Landscaping material consists solely of native plants. Photovoltaic panels mounted on the property’s horse barn supply all the compound’s electricity. The project easily exceeds California’s Title 24 energy standards. Earning 100 points under the state’s Build It Green guidelines also is considered pretty green, Eddinger says. “This one was about 300 points.”
Project Credits: Builder: Eddinger Enterprises, Healdsburg, Calif.; Architect: Nielsen:Schuh Architects, Sonoma, Calif.; Living space: 6,074 square feet; Site: 384 acres; Construction cost: Withheld; Photographer: Matthew Millman. / Resources: Bathroom plumbing fittings: Hansgrohe; Bathroom plumbing fixtures: Duravit, TOTO USA; Dishwasher: GE; Fireplace: Spark Modern Fires; Freezer: Sub-Zero; Garage doors: Northwest Door; Garbage disposer: KitchenAid; Hardware: Omnia Industries; HVAC equipment: Carrier; Insulation: Icynene; Kitchen plumbing fittings: Julian; Kitchen plumbing fixtures: KWC; Lighting fixtures: Birchwood Lighting, B-K Lighting, Juno Lighting Group; Oven: GE; Paints/stains: Benjamin Moore, Cabot; Patio doors: NanaWall; Range: Electrolux; Refrigerator: Sub-Zero; Roofing: Duro-Last Roofing; Solar energy system: BP Solar; Structural lumber: iLevel; Trash compactor: GE; Windows: Blomberg Window Systems; Window shades: Lutron.