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Sierra Madre Residence

Sierra Madre Residence

Studio William Hefner
United States
Private Houses
Laura Hull

Sierra Madre House

Studio William Hefner as Architects

The name Pasadena seems to represent southern California at its most settled, with traditional values firmly rooted in the quiet community, underscored by such architectural masterpieces as the Greene & Greene houses. Yet the wooded hills to the east, with their proximity to the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest, remain, surprisingly, dramatically untamed. That was the location of this house, for a fifth-generation Pasadena family of four: a large expanse of land on the edge of a wild ravine, wreathed in old oaks, with magnificent views of the San Gabriel foothills. The brief was for a substantial residence of some 8000 square feet, one that could accommodate not only its residents, but also an extended family for whom holiday dinners for 35 were a regular event.

Concerned that a house that large would spoil the beauty of its location, I distributed the programmatic elements between two wings--joined at a cylindrical entry pavilion--and allowed each to follow the contours of the landscape. Upon entering, one can proceed to the left, into a three-story block that drops down into the ravine, or to the right, into a series of one-story volumes that tumble gently down the existing slope. Thus the house embraces its setting in two ways: by capturing both public and private views, and by capturing itself to the topography.

The "ravine" wing features an office and guest room on the top floor; a formal dining room, kitchen/breakfast area, and family room on the middle (entry) level; and a gym and home theatre down below. As so many of the extended family get-togethers revolve around the pleasures of the table, I integrated sitting space into the main kitchen island, so that the more senior members could join in without having to stand. We also designed a long dining table that can be split into two, for those more intimate occasions.

The "slope" wing contains the living room, two children's rooms and the master suite in four pavilions, each of which is distinguished by a standing-seam, radially curved metal roof. These volumes have the pleasingly prosaic quality of a farmhouse that has been expanded over time, a quality well suited to the semi-rural environment. As our clients hoped to avoid air conditioning, overhangs were added--with pockets for exterior rolling screens--to naturally shade the rooms.

Uniting all the main floor's spaces is a single-loaded hall that runs nearly the full length of the house's public facade and, with its low, wooded-paneled ceiling, recalls the head-scraping corridors of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian designs. Indeed, the residents requested a Craftsman house--the style, like their family, flourished in Pasadena--and the extensive use of Douglas fir and stacked stone, and repeating boxlike fixtures and custom-crafted furnishings (which honor the family's love of tradition with Mission-style bones, but convey a more contemporary flavor via their fabrics and detailing) reference the work of the aforementioned Craftsman style pioneers Greene & Greene, as well as Wright. These tenets are further expressed in the overall emphasis on the horizontal, evident even in the stainless steel stair rail, a slightly playful nod to the past masters who inspired the design.

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