The tawny peaks of the Sierra Nevada possess a muscular beauty that’s far from delicate. But this Martis Camp abode, designed as a getaway spot for a Southern California family, stands up to the visual strength of the jagged granite mountain range while also expressing an ethereality that allows it to exist lightly in nature. “The site is fairly steep, and the house is made up of forms that cascade down the slope—it’s tightly tied to the natural topography,” says architect Clare Walton. “But water is also at the heart of this project, and it gives the home a feeling of calmness.”
As a central element, water endows the modern dwelling with the quality of an oasis. It’s introduced at the front door with a cubist fountain and a rock-lined pool that ripples from the front to the back underneath a long, glass-sided hallway. In the backyard, the lap pool is mere steps away from the living area and is a frequent gathering spot for the family. “They wanted this home to feel like a retreat, and celebrating the concept of water helps make that happen,” says Walton. “Wherever you are in the house, you can glimpse water.”
It’s fitting, then, that the glass passageway seems to float between the black metal-clad portions of the dwelling, which contain the living and dining areas and the main bedroom suite. According to Walton, the hall provides a transition that’s both practical and soulful. “Walking down it to the bedroom, you have a feeling of lightness,” says the architect. “There’s the sense of going to a space that’s quiet and removed, a place where you can relax.”
The concepts sound lofty, and that was the intent. “This project took a few years to construct,” says general contractor Eben Schreiber. “The clients have a great understanding of design and architecture, and they were meticulous—and that’s a good thing. Their appreciation of quality shows in the details of this house.” Walton calls out the stairway composed of floating treads and a rail that resembles a wide, unbroken ribbon of metal as one of those defining features. “The treads and the articulation of the rail, they speak to the whole dark-light, floating-grounded contrast found throughout the house,” she notes.
Working closely with Walton on the interior architecture, designer Alexandra Loew staged a balancing act herself. The designer, who completed the couple’s primary residence in the southern part of the state, kicked off this project by asking them how they wanted to feel in this home. Their answer was distilled to a single word: harmonious. To engender that feeling here, the designer started by studying the architecture of places of peace around the world, looking at everything from temples to meditation spaces for inspiration. Her goal was to create a sense of tranquility while embracing the husband’s appreciation of minimalism and the wife’s enjoyment of cozy spaces. “They gravitate to black and white tones, so we have a lot of those,” says Loew. “But we’ve added in many textures and finishes that give the spaces a tactile quality. The linen-and-silk carpets, the weathered wood of some rustic antiques and the embossed leathers in this home give it a warm, earthy and inviting nature.”
Operating on the idea that peace is hard to achieve with the presence of visual clutter, Loew worked with Henrybuilt to create the kitchen cabinetry, the bedroom closet systems, the bathroom vanities and the mudroom and ski lockers. “There is a sense in this house of everything being in its place,” she explains. “This is a family for whom physical decluttering leads to mental decluttering, so well-considered storage was necessary for moments of creativity and repose.” With the elements of everyday life behind a door or in a drawer and a soothing color palette in place, the designer was able to highlight what she calls the home’s finest art. “The most important artwork here is the view,” Loew notes. “The landscape is an ever-changing, always beautiful canvas.”
This family plans to enjoy the retreat and its landscape for many years to come. “There were two things that were really important to these clients: the feeling of harmony and refinement they wanted to create here and the fact that this is a forever home they want to leave their children,” says Loew. “All of us understood this is a legacy project.” And, like all good legacies, it is meant to be as enduring and timeless as the mountains that surround it.