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Patterns of Light and Movement

Two San Francisco architects use texture and illumination to craft a modern vineyard retreat



Photography by John Sutton

Standing above a 140-acre vineyard near Glen Ellen, the 14,000-square-foot stone-and-glass home designed by Aidlin Darling Design is carefully choreographed to seem more intimate than intimidating.

A bridgelike entrance floats over a long reflecting pool that bisects the structure, connecting two wings of the home. On the side of the entry hall leading to the sleeping quarters, a lush bamboo garden shimmers through sandblasted glass panels that reflect light and leaf imagery in changing patterns throughout the day. “It’s like a shadow puppet show,” says Aidlin Darling principal David Darling. “There’s a kinetic quality to the bamboo waving through the glass.”

Patterns of light and movement are an integral part of the design. Openings in an exterior loggia near the reflecting pool turn into stripes of rippling light that play on the interior ceiling. A window in an unseen corner alcove illuminates a sculptural bathtub. Art pieces in the garden cast different shadows throughout the day so that the whole property becomes, as Darling says, a timepiece. “The owners wanted a quiet, simple color palette,” he says of the white and gray rooms trimmed in mahogany, “so we used texture and light in the way that other designers might have used color.”

For all the majesty of the overall structure, the interior spaces were designed on a more human scale. “The sleeping spaces are intentionally modest and nestle into the hillside,” says Darling, “ to feel more enveloping.”

Corridors serve as art galleries, displaying pieces by such luminaries as David Nash and Sol LeWitt. On the upper level of the main wing, his and hers offices stand across from an elegant powder room that recalls a well-appointed confessional and lead to a media-savvy family room.

Descending to the lower level, the reading room windows slide into the walls so you feel as though you’re standing in the reflecting pool. Bookshelves made of English brown oak line the interior wall, and beyond, a two-story living room with an altarlike fireplace column showcases the stunning vineyard view. At the far side of the room, an extensive kitchen suite, with a butler’s pantry, scullery, and “hot and cold” room, stands ready to nourish a crowd. The breakfast room looks out over an infinity pool.

The surrounding topography and vineyard alignment make orientation slightly confusing within the house, so the architects used visual and textural cues throughout to indicate transition areas or points of arrival. “The owner has a keen interest in cartography,” says Darling. “We designed the home as though we were drawing a map—with materials and design details that help you locate where you are in the structure.” A stone step at the base of white oak steps indicates a transition. Aligned views through door openings and windows give a sense of place.

When possible, the architects tried to incorporate green designprinciples and materials. The orientation, large overhangs, and clerestory windows create effective passive heating and cooling systems that complement a geothermal system and radiant heating. Reclaimed materials, such as the teak entry flooring and the grape stakes from the original 1950s vineyard used as the barn’s siding, honor the site’s history. Two outbuildings, including a rammed-earth caretaker’s house, stand as sentries to the loftier hillside home. “All three structures were designed to fit their location and their purpose,” says Darling. “We felt a huge responsibility to do what was right for the land.”

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