DRAFT Minimalist Wildland Sanctuary
The two parcels that comprise this 44 acre Upper Ojai property are contained within the Topatopa foothills and abut the spring-fed, year-round Bear Creek as it winds its way south. Approached from the south by a sinuous gravel driveway, the residential compound is hidden from the road. The House, Guesthouse, Pool and Terraces are enfolded in the crook of a dramatic eastern ridge that provides unparalleled privacy yet affords views of the Topatopa Mountains, the Upper Valley and Sulphur Mountain Ridge.
The architect owners designed the linear 2700 s.f. house as a serene, airy, modernist structure open to its landscape setting. Surrounded by a gravel precinct set amidst lichened rocks, oaks, black walnuts and the foundational shrubs of the chaparral, it includes three bedrooms and two baths. The cathedral ceilinged living, dining and kitchen flow into one another through broad passageways that flank towering walls which establish the integrity of each space.
The 900 s.f. guesthouse/studio, which was added to the 2-car garage in 2016, is designed in a similar manner and provides two generous studio spaces or can function as a full guesthouse. It includes an efficiency kitchen and a three-quarter bath.
The structures are situated on two terraced levels that were created on the gentle south facing slope. The house and pool occupy the upper terrace which is defined to the north by an upslope that leads the eye to the Topatopa mountains beyond, to the east by a rocky knoll which is wooded with mature oaks, and to the west by a walnut, toyon and holly-leafed cherry covered spine which visually separates the two, 20+ acre parcels. The linear garage and guesthouse/studio building sits on the lower terrace at right angles to the house above.
The terraces are linked by an inclined meadow which is covered by a succession of native flora which change according to season and drought conditions. The driveway curves around the eastern flank of this slope to provide auto-access to the upper terrace, while pedestrian access is provided by the gravel, ipe, and concrete steps that follow the inside arc of the driveway.
The sophisticated simplicity of this arrangement reflects the sympathetic relationship that traditional Japanese architecture establishes between dwellings and the landscape in which they are contained. The dramatically varied topography sits entirely within the Ventura County Wildlife Corridor. It features Chaparral, Oak Meadowlands, Coastal Sage Scrub and Riparian habitats dotted with Oaks, Sycamores, Alders, Black Walnuts and Willows.
Mindful of the heat of summer, and of the wildfire hazard, the house features shallow covered porches, or loggias, that open to the north and south and shade all the glazed walls of the Living Room, Kitchen and Principal Bedroom. They are a muted reference to the Japanese Engawa, or transition space between inside and outside. These loggias are sealed off by steel barn doors when there is the threat of fire. When not in use they rest against the solid stucco walls of the house. The guesthouse/studio’s 16’ glazed wall sections face west and east. Both are protected from the sun (and fire) by ipe framed barn doors with perforated steel infill. The glazed wall to the south is similarly protected with a roll-down perforated steel door.
The property is all electric. The passive solar house minimizes the need for heating and cooling but is supplemented by a 5kw thin-film photo-voltaic installation on the standing seam steel roof. This PV array is grid tied and backed up by a Simpliphi battery storage system that provides an off-the-grid capability. Heating and cooling are provided by a heat pump for each building. The house has an electric hot water tank fed from a solar-thermal roof-top system, while the guest house/studio has a hybrid heat pump water heater.
The compound offers a richly modulated experience that has been designed to offer serenity, utility and permanence. Great attention has been paid to the long-term sustainability of the buildings with regard to wildfire, flood, energy use, and pest infestation (the buildings are framed entirely in steel), and to their integration into the indigenous landscape – where they provide shelter and amenities that share the resilience of this beautiful wildland setting.