Architect Neal Schwartz didn’t set out to startle the neighbors when he designed a 390-square-foot addition to his Sonoma vacation retreat during the pandemic. Yet the principal of S^A | Schwartz and Architecture is a little gleeful about combating the endless ranks of “modern farmhouses” in California wine country with the 18-foot-tall protuberance that rises like an airplane tail from the end of the flat-roofed, minimalist house he designed for himself and his husband in 2012.
The addition is clad in the same gray-stained cedar as the existing house. Photo © Douglas Sterling, click to enlarge.
This addition does have a rural conceit. The structure contains a dozen nesting boxes to attract mourning doves (for observation, not consumption, unlike dovecotes of yore). The strikingly tall form is mostly driven, however, by Schwartz’s desire to create a home office and indulge his creative impulses, untrammeled by client directives.
Inspired by the work of Álvaro Siza, he set out to create a calming space suffused with indirect light. To avoid obstructing the clerestory windows of the existing one-story dwelling, and also to create a discreet skylight, Schwartz gave the 16-by-18-foot addition a sharply pitched roof that rises from 7 feet and quickly ascends another 11 feet, with an average gradient of 30 degrees. Interior wood shutters on the side walls are angled to conceal the windows, and the back wall cants outwards, creating the illusion of greater space enhanced by the 30-inch-high panoramic window at its base.
“I wanted to change the perception of the space and sculpt the light so you don’t focus on the form, but rather on the quality of light over the course of the day,” he says. The high ceiling lends this intimate space—hand-finished in beige plaster—the aura of a chapel. A fresco-like painting by artist Maggie Connors floating a couple of feet from the back wall, reinforces this impression.
A small courtyard (1) creates a private garden for the office (2 & 3). Photos © Douglas Sterling
While the architecture draws you upward, the 12-foot-wide expanse of glass at foot level, dubbed a “floorstory” by Schwartz, looks onto a landscaped area where mourning doves and quail scratch for seeds. A ledge cantilevers from the wall to provide an additional work surface seamlessly integrated into the room. Custom cabinetry of English sycamore, with a pleasing grain, blends with the plaster.
Because the new roof would be prominently visible through the home’s clerestory windows, Schwartz designed it with a feather-like pattern of laser-cut metal shingles, which turned out to be much more economical than a standing-seam roof. He leaned into the bird motif, painting the outside of the wooden shutters with an abstract graphic pattern that references the purple and gray undertones and neck markings of the doves. A translucent curtain that is used to screen the office from the rest of the house is printed with an image of starlings from Richard Barnes’s Murmur series.
Schwartz completed this well-feathered nest in March of 2022. By mid-November, one box of the dovecote had been occupied, though it was not clear what kind of bird had moved in. “Somebody’s building something in 3C,” he noted with satisfaction.
Click plans to enlarge
S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
860 Rhode Island St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Wyatt Arnold, Architect | Principal S^A
Christopher Baile, Architect | Associate Principal S^A
Laura Huylebroeck, Architect | Associate Principal S^A
Architect of record:
Neal J. Z. Schwartz, FAIA
S^A | Schwartz and Architecture
Douglas Sterling Photography
Landscape: Totem Landscape Services
Lighting Design: PritchardPeck Lighting
Feather Roof Shingles: Triton Waterjet & Design
Door Handles (Pull Me Closer) 3D Printing: Andy Cohen
Door Handles (Pull Me Closer) Casting: Bronze Plus Art Foundry
Murmuration Drape Image: Richard Barnes Photography
Murmuration Drape Printing: Contrado
Murmuration Drape Fabrication: A&J Drapery Manufacturing Co.
Photography: Douglas Sterling Photography
Plaster Artist: Orit Yanai
Simpson Strong Tie
Wood: Western Red Cedar Sinding with Rubio Monocoat Exterior Stain, Dolphin
Moisture barrier: Tyvek
Exterior: Tadelekt Plaster
Metal: Custom water-jet metal shingles: Metal Sales (material) | Triton Water Jet & Design (Fabrication)
l frame: Fleetwood
Glass: Custom Fabrication: IDM Glass
Skylights: Custom Fabrication: IDM Glass
Wood doors: Custom Fabrication: Cutright Construction
Pulls: Custom Fabrication: S^A
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Cutright Construction
Resilient flooring: Duro Cork
Plaster: Orit Yanai
Office furniture: CRI | Herman Miller