A Cor-Ten Steel Retreat Rises From an Iron-Rich Hillside in Sonoma
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A Cor-Ten Steel Retreat Rises From an Iron-Rich Hillside in Sonoma

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By Kathryn McLamb
Triple Barn is a steel-clad retreat inspired by rustic dwellings and the surrounding countryside.

After living in the city for over a decade, chef and food educator Hollie Greene Rottman and her husband Jim yearned for change. Eager to create a place where they could step away from their busy lives to reconnect with nature, the couple asked Mork-Ulnes Architects for assistance. And just as expected, the award-winning firm had the solution.

Mork-Ulnes Architects designed a retreat where the couple could reconnect with nature and foster a meaningful connection with the surrounding community.

Mork-Ulnes Architects designed a retreat where the couple could reconnect with nature and foster a meaningful connection with the surrounding community.

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Sited in Sonoma, California, the Triple Barn house serves as a full-time retreat for the couple, as well as a serene place where they can entertain friends and family. Encompassed by nature, yet conveniently located near town, the 1,750-square-foot home features a professional kitchen that Hollie uses as a cooking laboratory.

"This was the first time we had the opportunity to design a kitchen," says Hollie. "A few elements were important to us: space to prep food together, and space to move freely but smartly." As a chef and food educator, Hollie uses the airy and open kitchen as a laboratory for healthy meals to inspire her job teaching.

"This was the first time we had the opportunity to design a kitchen," says Hollie. "A few elements were important to us: space to prep food together, and space to move freely but smartly." As a chef and food educator, Hollie uses the airy and open kitchen as a laboratory for healthy meals to inspire her job teaching.

Inspired by the rural building typology typical of the area, the team used metal cladding reminiscent of the iron-red soil found at the home's rocky hillside location. "The initial challenge of the project, which really shaped the form of the building, was how to embrace the very steep slope and views of the site while creating access for fire trucks in this wildfire prone area," says Casper Mork-Ulnes, founder of the firm.

Clad in modest rusted metal, the triple-gabled roof divides the 1,750-square-foot home into three zones: a workshop, a retreat, and a forum.

Clad in modest rusted metal, the triple-gabled roof divides the 1,750-square-foot home into three zones: a workshop, a retreat, and a forum.

"We chose Cor-Ten steel as the cladding material for its natural resistance to fire, as well as its resonance to agricultural buildings of the Sonoma Valley," Mork-Ulnes says. "The natural soil of the Sonoma hillside is very iron rich, which gives it a rusted color, making the house tie back to earth." 

The workshop zone centers around a large, free-flowing indoor/outdoor kitchen.

The workshop zone centers around a large, free-flowing indoor/outdoor kitchen.

The kitchen is used on occasion to host healthful cooking seminars for parents and children. A bountiful vegetable garden lies nearby.

The kitchen is used on occasion to host healthful cooking seminars for parents and children. A bountiful vegetable garden lies nearby.

The home overlooks panoramic views from the Sonoma Valley to Marin County. Its rough concrete base serves as a carport and entryway which guides visitors up the stairs to the main residence.

The forum is located in the heart of the home, where the workshop meets the couple's private living quarters, which they refer to as their retreat.

The forum is located in the heart of the home, where the workshop meets the couple's private living quarters, which they refer to as their retreat.

In contrast to its iron-red, rustic exterior, the property features a crisp white interior. Large windows and floor-to-ceiling glass doors create a light-filled atmosphere.

Large windows throughout the home frame expansive views of Sonoma's rolling hills, forests, and farms.

Large windows throughout the home frame expansive views of Sonoma's rolling hills, forests, and farms.

To add warmth and tactility to the residence, the architects made the floors and cabinetry from Douglas fir treated with lye and white oil.

A staircase guides visitors from the home's entry in the rough cement base to the bright and airy residential space.

A staircase guides visitors from the home's entry in the rough cement base to the bright and airy residential space.

"My favorite feature about the house is the way it feels like one continuous room, yet at the same time there are three zones existing under three roofs, each serving a different function," the architect notes. "While this was a very challenging project, it was the open-mindedness and positive attitudes of our clients that led to us being able to solve the unique challenges with uniques answers, all on a relatively tight budget."

Serving as the private living quarters for the couple, the retreat embraces warm, natural light while providing a quiet setting and breathtaking views.

Serving as the private living quarters for the couple, the retreat embraces warm, natural light while providing a quiet setting and breathtaking views.

Reflecting on her new residential retreat, Hollie notes: "The house turned out to be more private than we expected. It truly is a hideaway. It feels like we are in a world away from the hustle and bustle."

The upper floor contains most of the living spaces, while the lower concrete level houses the entry room, a triangular office, and a laundry and storage room.

The upper floor contains most of the living spaces, while the lower concrete level houses the entry room, a triangular office, and a laundry and storage room.

Related Reading: Go Off-Grid in This Prefabricated Cor-Ten Steel Cabin 

Project Credits:

Architecture: Mork-Ulnes Architects / @morkulnesarchitects 

Builder: Nima Construction Co. 

Structural Engineer: Strandberg Engineering

Civil Engineer: Hogan Land Services

Landscape Design: Terremoto Landscape

Interior Design: Lexie Mork-Ulnes Interior Design

Cabinetry Design: Israel Parra