Roofless House Directs Views Upward For Indoor/Outdoor Flow
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Roofless House Directs Views Upward For Indoor/Outdoor Flow

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By Lucy Wang
Shielding against unwanted views, a sinuous perimeter wall in Atherton, California, focuses views on the sky and surrounding canopy.

Virtually windowless when seen from the street, the home that San Francisco–based architect Craig Steely recently completed looks more like sculpture than residence at first glance. Yet the unusual exterior—a curving, one-story structure clad in vertical planks of cedar—is a smart solution devised to satisfy the client’s requests for indoor/outdoor living.

The sinuous Western Red Cedar wall is steel-framed with wood infill studs.

The sinuous Western Red Cedar wall is steel-framed with wood infill studs.

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A covered walkway connects the detached garage and guest suite with the main structure.

A covered walkway connects the detached garage and guest suite with the main structure.

"The lot is long and narrow, and her view on all sides was of the backs of the neighboring houses which (like most typical suburban houses) are huge and blank," Steely explains of his client’s challenging property in Atherton, California. 

"But above these neighboring houses, the mature tree canopy and sky were alive, constantly changing and breathtaking. Focusing on this view ‘up’ rather than horizontally ‘out,’ we created a seemingly roofless house that surrounds the living spaces by huge outdoor courtyards that direct the view up."

The massive curving wall serves as an alternative to the perimeter fence that's common to the neighborhood, an area which the architects says has developed a hodgepodge of architectural styles.

The massive curving wall serves as an alternative to the perimeter fence that's common to the neighborhood, an area which the architects says has developed a hodgepodge of architectural styles.

An approximately 100-foot-long breezeway extends down the west side of the structure and branches off to the open-plan living areas flooded with natural light. The north side of the property consists of the kitchen, dining room, and living area arranged in an L shape whereas the master suite and additional bedroom are located on the southern end.

An oversized, seven-square-foot glass pivot door marks the main entrance and leads to the foyer.

An oversized, seven-square-foot glass pivot door marks the main entrance and leads to the foyer.

A view of the breezeway looking south towards the private areas.

A view of the breezeway looking south towards the private areas.

"What sets this building apart is the continuous curving wall that surrounds it," continues the architect. 

Travertine flooring by New Marble Company continues from the interiors to the outdoor courtyards to further emphasize indoor/outdoor living.

Travertine flooring by New Marble Company continues from the interiors to the outdoor courtyards to further emphasize indoor/outdoor living.

The roofline of the breezeway is raised to allow for clerestory glazing.

The roofline of the breezeway is raised to allow for clerestory glazing.

The winding wall serves as a cocoon around the home, hiding less desirable views while refocusing attention upwards and serving as a backdrop against which sunlight and shadows play.  "At its most elemental, the curving wooden wall creates a visual backdrop seen through the interior landscape of plants and birch trees, animated by the shadows moving across it all day," says Steely.

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Arranged Shapes 2 by Christopher Bettig
Arranged Shapes 2 by Christopher Bettig
Taking stylistic inspiration from the Bauhaus modern art movement of the early 20th century, we partnered with California-based artist Christopher Bettig to create this one-of-a-kind piece. Abstract, primitive shapes are layered and stacked together in a calming palette.
"Unlike its neighbors, this house is not fenced off at its street perimeter," notes the firm. "A meadow of native grasses flows from the sidewalk with existing oaks, redwoods, and newly planted birch trees flowing inside and outside of the curving wooden wall. "

"Unlike its neighbors, this house is not fenced off at its street perimeter," notes the firm. "A meadow of native grasses flows from the sidewalk with existing oaks, redwoods, and newly planted birch trees flowing inside and outside of the curving wooden wall. "

Curved to avoid the dripline of an existing tree, the sinuous wall created an opportunity for in-built bench seating indoors.

Curved to avoid the dripline of an existing tree, the sinuous wall created an opportunity for in-built bench seating indoors.

The living room is flanked with views of two courtyards to the north and south.

The living room is flanked with views of two courtyards to the north and south.

Walls of operable glass by Fleetwood create a seamless flow between the indoors and out.

Walls of operable glass by Fleetwood create a seamless flow between the indoors and out.

The kitchen pantry is housed in a curved, free-standing structure that's also wrapped in Western Red Cedar.

The kitchen pantry is housed in a curved, free-standing structure that's also wrapped in Western Red Cedar.

A peek inside the office attached to the master bedroom suite.

A peek inside the office attached to the master bedroom suite.

The additional bedroom also enjoys direct access to an outdoor courtyard.

The additional bedroom also enjoys direct access to an outdoor courtyard.

Roofless House site plan

Roofless House site plan

Roofless House floor plan

Roofless House floor plan

Roofless House section

Roofless House section

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Craig Steely Architecture / @craigsteely

Builder/ General Contractor: Drew Maran Construction

Structural Engineer: Strandberg Engineering

Civil Engineer: Lea and Braze

Landscape Design Company: Elias Gonzalez

Lighting Design: Craig Steely Architecture 

Cabinetry Design/ Installation:  Drew Maran Construction