Enlightening challenge

Before discussing the design of this home and its beautiful kitchen in Eldorado Hills, Calif., one first must acknowledge the site condition prior to construction. The house sits on a steep slope [see photo pg. 19], creating challenges for both the construction and design teams. Much of the hill on which it sits was excavated to create space for the home to slide into. This does not, however, solve the problem of allowing enough natural light to enter the home and illuminate the kitchen.

To capture sufficient natural light, the home is wide and shallow, with more windows in the kitchen than any other space within it. On the hill side, or rear side of the kitchen, the corner windows provide views into the uphill side, opposite the lake, to capture morning light. “The corner windows do it perfectly,” says homeowner Connie Warner. “I didn’t think they’d be able to get any windows in that space. Now we can see deer walking by in the morning. It’s beautiful.”

On the lake side of the hill where all the glass and stunning views are, excessive heat can be a problem. The sun reflects off the lake which intensifies the heat, making it critical to control it, and the glaring and blinding light as well. To address these problems, Dean Stevenson, designer, Dean Stevenson Design, Granite Bay, Calif., included roof overhangs covering the decks on the two upper levels. Stevenson also included Phantom roll-down screens hidden in the ceiling of the covered deck, which drop down and block the hot western sun yet allow breezes to flow through.

“I love the screens. They work so well. They cut the sunlight so much. I could have gone with the blackout screens but we went with an efficient model. You can see through them. We also have them inside our bedrooms and those are blacker, more dense than the ones in the kitchen, and we can still see the lake,” Warner says.

The view of the lake is the focal point of the entire home, and Stevenson’s task was to capture it everywhere, including the kitchen. “It’s important to get that view, being in a room where you spend a lot of time. It was critical that my design capture the view of the lake. I designed the kitchen to fit the site. Every design I do is site-specific. Each time, I must figure out what the best views are, the worst views, and how I can get a sunny view,” Stevenson says.

The view is the biggest part of the home; the homeowner bought the lot because of it. “Even our exotic parrots have a view of the lake,” Warner says.

As with most homes, the kitchen is the focal point. The challenge here is how to provide enough space for everyone while keeping them out of the way of the cook. An island with stools on the side opposite the appliances was the solution. Another trick was to place the sink in the island so the cook can look out at the lake and face guests while using it rather than facing a wall.

Another challenge was to ensure the house doesn’t feel too large like a hotel lobby and keep it intimate and comfortable while accommodating large gatherings, Stevenson says. “It’s a relaxed floor plan, with a kitchen that is open to the living room and not hidden away as it would be in a more formal home,” he adds.

Cool pool

Positioning a home on a steep lot is difficult enough, but when the homeowner says he wants a pool, too, an entirely different set of challenges surfaces. “When Ted, the husband, showed me the lot and described how he wanted the living room opening up to a pool, he didn’t realize that the pool would be 20 ft. in the air. I said it’s not possible. Then he described his vision for supporting the pool, with fiberglass or other lightweight material,” Stevenson remembers [see photo above].

“To create the pool deck we had to make sure the soil report confirmed it could support that amount of weight,” Stevenson says. “In California we have to design for earthquakes, and moving water can cause the deck to fall apart. Ultimately, the bottom of the pool is 15 ft. above grade. It worked out very nicely.”

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