This Off-Grid Design Studio Feels Like It’s Floating in a Forest

Woodland views take center stage in this backyard office crafted from cedar, glass, and concrete.

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Our Focus series shines the spotlight on the details: the extraordinary materials, spaces, and ideas that take great projects to the next level.  

Sharon and Mike Matas’s backyard studio in Healdsburg, California, feels less like an office and more like a tree house. "The design allows the owners to work fully immersed in a forest of Douglas fir, madrone, and oak trees," says architect Robert Swatt of Swatt Miers Architects.

Robert Swatt of Swatt Miers Architects designed this off-grid studio in Healdsburg with glass walls that provide the feeling of working in nature.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

A ceiling and floor made from western red cedar pay tribute to the forested landscape.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

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Supported by a pair of extra-wide, cast-in-place concrete pillars, the net-zero, off-grid studio cantilevers over a steep wooded hillside. "Out of respect for the beauty of the site, one of our earliest goals was to keep the architecture light on the land," Swatt says. "The structure is partially located above a level pad, and partially over a decline. The floor is lifted so it hovers above the ground, allowing the land and nature to remain untouched."

Sunlight pours through the surrounding treetops, illuminating the forest floor and the interior of the studio.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Extra-wide concrete pillars help to support the studio at its core.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Sharon, a graphic designer and illustrator, and Mike, an interface designer and entrepreneur, met at Apple in San Francisco before moving to a 10-acre off-grid home in wine country. They wanted a remote studio for conducting research and creating without distraction; a place that didn’t just offer views of nature, but that felt woven into it. "We envisioned a design studio where we could work [while being] deeply connected to the environment," Mike says.

The studio cantilevers over a steep hillside, making it feel a bit like a tree house.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

One of the concrete supports rises from a steep hillside.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

The 648-square-foot studio’s structure consists of concrete and glass walls capped by a western red cedar ceiling and floor. The glass blurs the distinction between the interior and the woodland, and the cedar references the trees, while supplying texture and warmth.

The glass walls frame large expanses of greenery.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Sharon and Mike Matas use the studio to design, create, and research.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Sharon and Mike wanted the landscape surrounding the studio to feel native and wild—for it to blend, like the studio’s architecture, with the  woodland. So, they commissioned Bernard Trainor and David LeRoy of Ground Studio Landscape Architecture to rewild the site.

The studio is furnished with a massive wood table, a sofa, and built-in western red cedar shelves.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Like the flooring and the shelves, the window frames are crafted from western red cedar. 

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

The board-formed concrete structure frames built-in shelving.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Trainor and LeRoy devised a natural courtyard between the studio and the house with an edgeless pool sunken into a native meadow. They placed stone pavers in an imperfect path between the main house, the meadow, the pool, and the studio. "The landscape draws us outside and encourages movement throughout the day," Sharon says.

Sharon and Mike Matas work at large wood table in the studio while their daughter plays.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

A drawing  reflects the surrounding forested landscape.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

Trainor and LeRoy carefully protected key existing trees—primarily oaks and madrones—and worked to restore the native plant communities that once grew on the site (before being removed by previous owners). "This included large areas of seasonally changing ferns and grasses, along with a supporting cast of understory shrubs," Trainor says. LeRoy adds, "All remnants of the previous garden, which was comprised mostly of water-loving exotics, were removed." 

Just outside the studio, Ground Studio Landscape Architecture created a natural courtyard with a meadow and an edgeless pool that mimics a pond.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

"The studio has an innate connection to the surrounding landscape from both inside and out," Mike says. "With dappled light changing throughout the day, it’s a magical, energizing place for creating art and design." 

Moss-covered rocks and twisted tree trunks give the landscape a fairyland-like quality.

Photo by Jason Liske Photography

More Focus stories:

The Coolest Indoor Tree House Is Tucked Away in This Stately Tudor 

The Site Was Long and Narrow, so They Cut the Home in Half

A Firm Cooks Up a New Kitchen With $38K and a Dash of Midcentury Magic

Project Credits:

Architecture: Swatt Miers Architects / @swattmiers

Landscape Architecture: Ground Studio Landscape Architecture / @groundstudiolandscape

Construction: Jamba Construction

Structural Engineer: Provest Structural Engineers

Civil Engineer: BC Engineering Group

Cabinetry: Herb Zacks Woodworks

Photography: Jason Liske Photography


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