In the late 1990s, a Chicago-based executive and his family found a triangular 1.5-acre site on a bluff with a 250-foot drop to the ocean upon which they wished to build a vacation home.
Enter Anne Fougeron, a San Francisco–based architect, understands that architecture cannot compete with the landscape, especially the landscape along the California coast near Carmel.
The couple knew that they didn’t want a dark stone and redwood cabin like the ones so prevalent in the area, but something daylight-filled, with a low profile, and made of a mix of materials.
Fougeron conceived a copper-clad and glass form set into and hugging the cliff that subtly zigzags down the slope, its slanting roofline echoing the descent. And the clients loved the weird shape; Fougeron based her design on the curve of the Pacific banana slug.
The structure is invisible from the road, although its drama — a cantilever on two sides that thrusts the nose of the house out over the bluff — is only slowly revealed as you descend the site on foot.
The highest volume, entered from the driveway, contains an open-plan living room and kitchen, wrapped in warm mahogany on the south-facing walls and set off by limestone floors. To the north, the facade is almost all glass — large panels set in a robust, elegant custom steel-framing system. This allowed the architect to create vast glazed openings to border the ocean and coastline, as well as have them withstand 70-to-80-mile-an-hour winds. To provide visual relief from the relentless theater of the view, Fougeron opened the living room to a quiet sunken terrace to the south, protected by the natural berm and retaining wall behind it.
A nearly all-glass library unites the living room and kitchen on the upper part of the slope with the master suite on the lower. Five perforated steel beams in the glass roof connect to a beam that sits on the bearing wall but they disappear just enough to create the effect of a planetarium. But, it’s the master bedroom that is the grand finish to this floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows it seems to hover in the sky over the ocean.
A below-ground concrete bunker is perpendicular to the grade-level volumes and contains bedrooms, storage, and mechanical systems while serving as an enormous anchor.
In addition to the northern glass facade, a connection to the outdoors is maintained from east to west, all the way from the living room through to the master bedroom, because of interior fenestration near the ceiling.
Fougeron was concerned about the views’ overwhelming the intimacy of the interiors, and proposed alternating clear and frosted glass panes, until, one day, surveying the views, she said, "You know, maybe “overwhelming” isn’t such a bad thing.”
No it ain't. This is the perfect house for the Northern California coastline; you get the views, but are protected from the winds and the cold. I can see myself, sipping a nice bottle of Pinot Noir while gazing at the sea.