Thanks to its modular construction, a modern retreat treads lightly on the pristine landscape.
When Clive McCarthy and his wife, Tricia Bell, were on the hunt for an escape from San Francisco, they found the perfect spot for their second home three hours north of the Bay Area on a 64-acre site in Willits.
With an elevation of 2,300 feet and dramatic valley views, the landscape was primed for a dramatically different style of housing from the couple’s main residence-a renovated industrial space in the Mission District.
"In contrast to their introverted loft, High Horse Ranch was designed to be outwardly focused and defined by the site, its views, and the natural landscape," says KieranTimberlake.
Minimizing site disturbance was a priority, and so the duo tapped KieranTimberlake to design their retreat-which they would soon call High Horse Ranch-after learning about the Philadelphia–based firm’s work with prefabricated housing.
The property offers 64 acres of varied terrain, including an open meadow, manzanita thickets, and forests full of oak, madrone, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine.
Using off-site modular construction to minimize waste and ensure precision, the architects crafted a 2,580-square-foot main house with two secluded 290-square-foot guest cabins.
All three flat-roofed buildings are clad in weathering steel expanded metal rainscreens, while floor-to-ceiling operable glass walls bring the outdoors in.
"The owners were struck by the dramatic experience of approach and arrival, where the edge of a cliff falls away and reveals a panoramic view of the forested valley below," explains KieranTimberlake of the couple's desire to recreate the initial discovery experience.
The main house comprises two primary and 11 secondary modules organized into two offset bars. One volume houses the great room that is oriented for views of the valley, while the master bedroom and study located in the other volume face northern views of the canyon.
A spectacular southeast-facing view greets guests in the great room. Full-height Fleetwood glazed doors pivot open to connect the living spaces with nature outside.
"Accordingly, the design was driven by their early vision of the guest experience: a long, climbing drive; a short, shaded walk to a sheltered welcoming area; and then, upon entering the house and rounding a corner, taking in the view."
The locations of each structure were carefully staked out early on in the process and chosen for optimal views and minimal site impact.
A glimpse through the main house from the living area to the study area beyond.
Reclaimed Douglas fir lines the 11-foot-tall ceilings, while stone-tiled floors with built-in radiant heating are located underfoot.
The buildings have been constructed with glulam columns and beams.
The master bedroom is enclosed in glass, and connects to the outdoors via massive pivot doors.
Each cabin was assembled from single, mostly completed modules craned into place and raised atop concrete piers. The cabins include a bedroom and bathroom, a study desk, a covered porch and a fire pit.
The flat roof features deep overhangs to shield the interior from solar heat gain.
In the guest cabin, a sliding wall of glass opens the bedroom up to views of the forest.
"The factory-built modules were carefully transported up winding roads and set in place without harming a single tree," adds the firm.