Hilltop House

The functional requirements for this 8,000 sf house include the most public spaces: living, dining, kitchen, family room, media room; and also more private spaces: 4 bedrooms/bathrooms. Addition outdoor accommodations include: a screened porch, open terraces and a walled courtyard.

The empty nester owners wanted to provide space to welcome and accommodate their 4 grown children (and future grandchildren). The resulting square footage was large, but they desired a house that did not appear so big when viewed from the curb.

The site sloped upward from the residential street to a hilltop, then back downhill at the rear of the site. The architect took advantage of this topography to locate the secondary bedrooms on a lower level cut into the hill, opening to the back garden, not visible from the street. This configuration allowed the portion of the house visible from the street to appear smaller in scale. In contrast, at the private side of the site the large scale of the house is revealed as the site steps back down the hill. Where the owners agreed on this strategy, they had different preferences for the design aesthetic. One preferring a modern aesthetic, the other insisted on traditional gable roof forms. With the requirement for gabled roof forms, the architect kept the scale small by creating a “village” of five small gabled forms (referred to in conversation as “Monopoly houses”). Each gable is a single room, typically with corresponding vaulted ceilings. The composition of the overall house is an asymmetrical assemblage of symmetrical components. Of the five gables, the most public in function are the front two – living and dining room. As the more public, they are rendered more formally with cuts limestone cladding. Moving deeper into the site, the family room, master bedroom, and garage occupy the remaining three gables, which are clad more informally in wood siding.

Design Challenge

The design intent in form making was to abstract elements of traditional residential architecture. This strategy required careful and creative detailing at the level of each component. What’s most important is what you don’t see. The gable roof forms are detailed with integral gutters and concealed downspouts to generate minimalist abstraction. Similarly, chimneys are rendered streamline in form. Wood siding is installed over rain screen furring, allowing for shadow line reveals to be incorporated. Typically, the siding planks are oriented vertically, however, they are rotated horizontally to reference a cornice where they meet the roof edge. On the interior, rooms within the gable forms were typically configured as vaulted ceilings with abstracted beams along the vault, emerging from a perimeter soffit which functions as an abstracted cornice.

Physical Context

Even though the owners’ program required a large quantity of square footage, it was important to them for their house not to appear so large from the street. The site sloped upward from the residential street to a hilltop where the house was located on an area that was relatively flat before sloping downhill at the rear of the site. The architect took advantage of this topography by locating the secondary bedrooms on a lower level cut into the hill, opening to the private back garden. This configuration allowed the portion of the house visible from the street to appear smaller in scale. From the public front yard (on the approaching upslope), the transition to semi-private is demarked by site walls defining the outdoor areas that connects to the interior spaces. These site walls also create a transition from slope to flat garden. The largest expanse of flat garden is on the southern side of the main level, giving the adjacent spaces that southern exposure as the sun moves across the sky during the day.