Rural farmstead isn’t the style most people think of when envisioning a custom home in California. It is, however, the reality in much of the state. Farmsteads in California, like in the rest of the United States, consist of multiple buildings that serve different functions. It’s only natural, then, that this home in the Santa Cruz mountains in Aptos, Calif., resembles a farming compound.
The structures on this 20-acre property include a barn building that serves as the garage and activity/game space, a “live” building where most time is spent, a “sleep” building plus a separate pool house/bathroom structure. The fifth main element is the pool itself, which is set far enough from the live/sleep buildings to make it a destination, but close enough so parents can speak — loudly — to their children in the water.
The approach to designing a compound rather than one single-family home comes from a higher, broader point of view, says Cass Calder Smith, principal, CCS Architecture, San Francisco and New York. Design is always deductive, Smith says, so he begins with the site and how a house will fit on it. “For this project, it’s a 20-acre site, so we conducted site planning first, determining which building would go where, and which way each would face.
“We had to think about the experiences people would have transitioning between buildings; what it’ll be like to walk between them at night. After that, designing is the same as designing any other house. At the same time, we’re always back-checking in our mind, what does this change mean to the rest of the site?” explains Smith, project design principal.
The fifth compound-style project Smith has completed, he took inspiration for this one from his experience, resulting in the unexpected overlap of roofs between the two main living structures. “We thought, if we can extend the roof, then slide this building under the roof of the other building, it would visually connect them without physically touching [see top photo, this page]. We built models of it and loved how it turned out. When we tuck one building under another like this, it makes me feel good as a designer.”
Positioning of the each building’s footprint hinged on the ocean, with everything on site capturing ocean views. The beauty of this is, Smith says, aiming a house toward the ocean results in the capture of natural breezes.
The main living structure features a lengthy disappearing wall which opens it up considerably [main photo, pg. 23]. Although in the San Francisco area, it can get pretty hot. “The combination of the open wall and the operable skylights at the tops of the buildings can cool off that home pretty efficiently. It creates a thermal chimney, where the air enters the home low to the ground where the cool air is, then exits up high to produce continuous air flow,” Smith says.
Part of the overall site plan is the pool, which always leads to deciding how close to the house to position it. Some clients want the pool directly out the back door for close supervision of children. “I don’t like that. I believe people should have to ‘go’ to the pool, not simply step out into it. For one thing, pools typically have covers, and do you really want to look at it all day? Another thing is, pools are loud and raucous. Do you really want that commotion 10 feet from the house, where people are jumping into it off the roof? At this house, you walk 100 feet to the pool. It’s a place to go,” he says.
Rural outside, contemporary inside
The rural agricultural style of this home is most in line with vernacular California architecture, “…much more connected to California’s legacy than the mission style; those don’t work for me,” Smith declares. “I’ve been playing around with those ag buildings and planning ideas for as long as I’ve been designing houses. I did a house for friends of these clients 15 years ago that was similar, sort of a barn-derived house, and they really liked it. They see this 20-acre property as a ranch and farm, hence the style.”