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Hiding the House, Seeking a View

Lauren Murrow | April 5, 2013 | Story Architecture

Pacific Heights architecture firm Turnbull Griffin Haesloop is known for pulling off deft designs in tricky settings, whether flooding an ancient, cavelike house in Sausalito with natural light or building a cantilevered deck around mature Napa oaks. But when a former software executive and his wife, a photographer, approached the firm’s principals about building a retirement home on this scenic Marin perch overlooking Mount Tamalpais, the architects thought they may have met their match. Rather than gently sloping, the tame-sounding hill turned out to be neck-craningly steep. “You could stand upright, extend your arm straight out, and touch the side of the same hill,” says Eric Haesloop.

In place of the existing small, 60-year-old cottage on the site, the couple commissioned a 5,500-square-foot residence that would provide ample room for their personal photography collection and for weekend guests. Rather than planting the house precariously on stilts, the architects dug into the hillside, building the home along a curving, 150-foot-long retaining wall and a central courtyard that follows the land’s natural contours. The bulk of the two-story house is tucked beneath a landscaped living roof, which also houses photovoltaic and solar hot water panels. In effect, the home appears to grow out of the hillside itself, at times shrouded in morning fog or bathed in golden light. “For such a large project, it’s a very discreet house,” says architect Mary Griffin. Above the courtyard, the living room and kitchen open through a pair of 10-foot-long sliding glass doors to an elm deck, where the owners soak up views of Mount Tam and the bay with their morning coffee.

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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