Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty,” wrote Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki in his sublime essay, In Praise of Shadows. That thought seems perfectly expressed through the interplay of architecture, landscape and natural light in the modern abode architect Daniel Piechota designed for Steve and Dee Dee Kim on an 8-acre parcel in Carmel’s Santa Lucia Preserve. “One of our design priorities,” explains Piechota, “was to maximize views and to define architectural opportunities for showcasing the site’s very best moments of seasonal light and shadow.”
After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than two decades, the Kims began seeking a more relaxed way of life, and amid the Preserve’s gently rolling hills and oak forests, the empty nesters found what they were looking for. “The main attraction for us was the unique character of the Preserve, its sense of community and its emphasis on nature preservation,” says Steve. To that end, the couple assembled a team including Piechota, designer Susan Schippmann, builder David Stocker and landscape designer Bernard Trainor, who all set out to create a home that would seamlessly integrate with and capture views of the surrounding landscape.
In developing a concept for the house, Piechota walked the property with Trainor several times early on in the process. The idea that surfaced was to design the house around two perpendicular axes. One would run between the house and a separate guest wing, and the other would follow a wide outdoor stairway separating the house from the master bedroom. “The axes are
the negative space that the house was built around,” Piechota explains. “They were critical to maintain, as they provided the greatest opportunities for the most essential views throughout the home.”
Following that idea, Piechota, who worked closely with project designer Cameron Helland, created two separate structures, one holding the public spaces—including the kitchen and the open living and dining areas—and a second for the master suite. A bridge connects the two sections and appears to float above the outdoor stairway, which leads from the lower-level arrival and parking area, up between the two volumes to a central courtyard and the main entrance. Another structure, which contains the guest wing, stands apart from the master suite but still shares a common roof. Pulling the volumes apart “created greater opportunities for framed views, flow, light and shadow, as well as privacy for the master suite,” the architect says.
The careful positioning and the site itself also allowed for different view experiences. The courtyard enjoys a sunny clearing, while an oak grove off the living area “makes it feel like you’re in a tree house,” explains Piechota, adding, “We were aiming to create interesting vignettes looking throughout the house.” Those vignettes range from expansive—such as the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living area that capture deep views into the valley—to narrow, as with an opening in the wall of an outdoor sitting area that carefully frames an old-growth oak. “It provides a singular observation within an otherwise open landscape,” notes Piechota.
Stocker and his crew clad the structure’s exterior with its distinctive tight-knot cedar siding and cold-rolled reclaimed-steel panels. “The exterior materials were put together with really fine detailing,” says Stocker, “and that’s one of the things that makes this house fabulous.” The organic materials also lend warmth to the modern form and enhance its connection with the landscape.
The outdoor connection played an important role in the interiors, as well. “It was very important that the exterior was integrated with the interior,” says Schippmann, who worked with the Kims to incorporate their family pieces and artwork with new designs. A custom Ted Boerner bed, for instance, anchors the master suite, while the designer had the couple’s tansu chests fitted with new steel bases for the living area. In choosing pieces for that main space, the designer selected a comfortable sofa and chairs by A. Rudin and then covered them with textured linen. “The fabrics and the furniture needed to be able to support the architecture,” she explains. “They couldn’t be so lightweight that they got lost, and they couldn’t be so strong that they became a focal point; there needed to be a balance.”
The balance continues outside, where Trainor worked with project designer Ben Langford to ensure a seamless flow between the architecture and the landscape. Designed with openings to leave the mature oaks undisturbed, decking leads to the central stairway, which ascends to the courtyard. “I don’t think you sense how beautiful it’s going to be when you come up the stairs and enter this inner sanctuary with birds, trees, wildflowers and grasses blowing in the wind,” Trainor explains. “There’s a Japanese philosophy of allowing things to unfold slowly rather than all at once, and that sense of layering is one of the most powerful parts of this project.”
When it came to that central courtyard, Trainor let nature be his guide. Crushed gravel and large concrete pavers connect an outdoor sitting area just off of the living area with a hot tub near the guest wing, while simple ornamental grasses and native plants add color and texture. “I start with the idea of regionalism, basically identifying the beauty of the place, and amplifying it,” Trainor explains. “Sometimes a simpler approach allows the existing attributes of the site to sing.”
Likewise, Steve and Dee Dee appreciated the integrated approach and collaborative nature that brought forth their new home. “This team really understands and respects each other, and we were great beneficiaries of that experience,” says Steve, noting how pleased he and Dee Dee are with their decision to move to the Preserve, as well as the new house it produced. “This is an empty nest with a vengeance.”