St. Helena, California
The impetus for the Zinfandel project was an embrace of Northern California’s ecological setting – one that includes destructive fires, sweeping winds, and renewing rainfall. This drive was coupled with the owners’ desire to extend the rich history of this particular parcel, one of the oldest cultivated Zinfandel vineyards on the valley floor. The core of the design program wove around the need to accommodate both small and large gatherings, infused with a playful balance of connection and of privacy that could bring us closer to the land, and one another.
Rather than build a fortress against the elements, we designed Zinfandel with an ethos of opening up to the environment, and participating in a respectful dialogue with the land. The residence stretches out through three wings, its arms echoing those of a stand of three hundred-year-old oak trees that form a windbreak for the twenty-acre site. We organized the compound to produce a wind-sheltered courtyard within the larger embrace of the stand of oaks: a layer of building within a layer of landscape. An organizational line, stretching between a majestic valley oak and the Sugar Loaf mountains, provides an axis-in-the-void off which the forms of the new farmhouse can shift and slide. The gathering spaces are centrally located, facing in, with the private spaces pulled out to the periphery, facing out into the long shelter of the valley. An old barn on the property was repurposed into a new barn housing an intimate gathering space that pulls us through the vineyard towards the mountains to the west.
Central to the project was the challenge of creating a contemporary expression of the age-old typology, while pushing the envelope of contemporary construction. Rather than copying or mirroring the local vernacular, we split it off into its particulates: reclaimed wood; corrugated gable roofs; a prominent front porch; a sense of refuge; and a feeling of being intimately connected with the land. These elements were then expressed in new ways, lending themselves to a unique architectural identity, and unforgettable sense of place.