Bigger isn’t always better, as a Southern California family discovered during visits to their St. Helena vacation retreat. “We wanted to build a second structure for guests while we stayed in the main house,” says the wife. “But as we spent more time on the site, we realized we wanted a smaller, more efficient structure for us to stay in.” With that idea, their focus shifted to using the guesthouse for themselves. Working with architect Luke Wade and designer Jennifer R. Macdonald, the couple had requested a structure that “felt like it came from the land,” says the wife. And with that concept, the 1,200- square-foot building began to take shape. “A lot of times when you’re in the wine country, things can turn into a barn or an agricultural building form,” says Wade. “This is more of a woodsy cabin wrapped with a veranda. It’s cozy, yet expansive; nestled into the site, yet embracing of the views.”
Although those views—encompassing the property’s working vineyard and mountains beyond—were unlimited, the building size allowance was not. Because the county had strict guidelines for square footage, Wade opted to create a feeling of spaciousness by encouraging as much light inside the house as possible. Within textured exterior walls crafted of patinated board-on-board red cedar, Douglas fir and native stone excavated from the site, the architect maximized the use of glass, specifying 121⁄2-feet-tall Jada windows and doors. In addition, he designed a light monitor, made of high clerestory windows, to bring dappled light down through the canopy of trees and into the house along its central spine.
Within that light-filled shell, Wade and Macdonald, who are longtime collaborators and worked together closely on this project, chose the basic interior materials palette. “It was important to bring interior design in early so that all of the finishes and colors owed seamlessly,” says Macdonald. To that end, the duo wrapped the interior shell—walls, trim and the nearly 24-foot-tall vaulted ceiling—with reclaimed wood and then grounded the space with integral color concrete floors. Steel elements, including a massive central replace surround, play off the textured wood.
In organizing the layout, Wade kept the main public spaces in one great room with distinct kitchen, dining and living areas; a ladder leads to an open sleeping loft above. As the floor plan progressed, Wade consulted with Macdonald on her furnishings and interiors concept. “Hearing her ideas helped enrich the architecture and knit the project together,” he says.
Given the open nature of the design, throughout the house Macdonald worked with a color palette of various hues of green and silvery gray inspired by the landscape. She chose a deep green Farrow & Ball paint—which is picked up in the replace plaster—for the kitchen’s cabinetry and paired it with an Ann Sacks mirrored-tile backsplash. She also took great care to select or custom-design furnishings that worked with the scale of the room. “Careful attention to proportion allows a smaller space to feel spacious,” says Macdonald. “But things also had to be laid out to address the views, the replace and the TV, as well as be functional for the family.” To help meet those goals, she designed a sofa and chaise to anchor the living area and further defined the space with a wool rug by Stark. A built-in dining bench does double duty as a reading nook, and for the upstairs sleeping loft, Macdonald had two custom twin beds made on casters to accommodate the couple’s teenage boys or visiting guests.
In addition to the roomy spaces, builder Andy Bannister also had to deal with everything happening behind the scenes. “Part of the challenge with a smaller house is that it still has all of the components of a larger house,” notes Bannister, who worked with project manager Jesse DeBaca and eld superintendent Dustin Deason. “We had to harmonize and synchronize, to make sure electrical components, like wiring, worked with all of the exposed- beam ceilings.”
Another departure from the open concept came with the design of the master bedroom. There, the room is enveloping, and Wade added a peaked sub roof above the bed that creates a room-within-a-room effect. Macdonald carried the nature-inspired color palette into the bedroom, and included accents of pale amethyst to “give it a jewel box effect,” says the designer, who had a bed custom-made for the space and upholstered the headboard with a tactile fabric by Dedar. As in the master bedroom, Wade and Macdonald’s seamless working relationship is apparent throughout the house. Their holistic collaborative approach “creates projects where the interior design doesn’t overlay onto the architecture,” says Wade. “Instead, it becomes embedded within it.” Adds Macdonald: “When the interior materials, finishes and furniture complement the architecture, the line between architecture and design is blurred.”
Blurring the line between the house and its surroundings fell to landscape designer Claudia Schmidt, who incorporated a combination of boulders, native grasses, shrubs and perennials into the sloping property. “I used low grasses and perennials to give a meadow feel that left the house open to the view,” says Schmidt. “We also added native dogwood trees to parts of the existing forest for seasonal interest.”
As for the owners, the guesthouse, which they’ve dubbed the cottage, is working out better for them than they could have imagined. “We prefer the smaller footprint, and it’s not so much to take on when we come and open it up,” says the wife. “It’s made us focus in on what you really need to live simply and comfortably.”