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A river runs through it

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The watery outlook determined the siting of this home; a desire to take visitors on a journey determined its design

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Waterside environments hold a particular allure for us, more so than any other natural setting. So it comes as no surprise that properties with a water view are highly coveted.

Water is representative of a number of ways in which we sustain ourselves, both physically and emotionally. It acts as a link between us and the greater environment, says architect Mark Dziewulski.

"The owners of this property wanted to take full advantage of a spectacular riverside location. Heavily wooded, the site provides a natural setting rich in wildlife. The design of the house had to complement this setting without compromising its own statement."

Dziewulski says the form of the house is a response to the site; the design is a journey from the public street frontage to the private inner world, which literally opens up to the natural setting beyond.

"The house is arranged in a series of layers. From the road one enters a courtyard – its fragmented curve echoing a gesture of greeting as it wraps around the visitor."

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The curved wall of the entry court has also been designed to provide maximum privacy. This serves to heighten the sense of nature beyond. A bridge over a koi pond links the entry court and front door, and introduces water as a major theme.

"The sight and sound of the babbling water are used to signify the transition from public to private spaces, from the artificial to the realm of nature," says Dziewulski.

Entry to the house is through a converse, though less pronounced, curved wall that acts as an ordering element for the entire house. Its sculptural nature allows it to be recognized in all parts of the house.

The wall, which is naturally lit by a ring of skylights, also provides gallery space for the owners' art collection.

Dziewulski says the wall is intended to be read as a counterpoint to the open façade and the natural views facing it – man-made beauty reflecting a natural one.

Directly opposite the front door is the formal lounge – again another curve marks entry to this space.

"We needed some kind of formal separation from the front door," says Dziewulski. "The asymmetrical open curves were a sculptural way of achieving this without totally enclosing the space.

"The curves extend through the roof to act as a welcoming element that is visible from the courtyard. Upon entering the house visitors recognize the curves and can then put them in the context of defining the main public space."

With all the main rooms flowing out into the landscape – through the continuation of the flooring materials that extend beyond a glass façade – the boundary between inside and out is blurred, adding to the heightened sense of nature.

The glass façade is protected with extended cantilevered roofs that shield the sun and also create a framed view.

Dziewulski says the façade was achieved without the use of bracing or heavy moment frames, by creating two large masonry shear walls.

"Positioned outside the footprint, these walls appear as screens slid open to reveal the view. They also allow the use of large overhangs."

Sheltering during summer, the overhangs have been designed to allow the lower winter sun to enter the house. This is just one example of the passive environmentally sustainable design elements incorporated into the structure. Other passive design elements include the skylights, which allow natural light into the deeper areas, reducing energy consumption. The house was also sited on the block in such a way as to maximise the shading qualities of the many mature trees.

"In addition, photo-electric cells on the roof generate enough power to transfer electricity back to the main grid at certain times," says Dziewulski.

Whether passive or active, the sustainable aspects of the house ensure the homeowners are physically comfortable all year round. The design ensures their emotional comfort is well taken care of through the creation of a private retreat.

"The master suite has been designed for relaxation," says Dziewulski. "The suite has been set up as a self-contained space with ensuite, sitting area and private garden."

Even within this space privacy is key. A semi-free-standing wall acts as a division between the room's sleeping quarters and the sitting area and ensuite. These delineated spaces ensure relaxation and contemplation are maintained.

First published date: 27 April 2007

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Credit List

Architect Mark Dziewulski, AIA, ARB,Mark Dziewulski Architect (San Francisco)
Kitchen manufacturer Custom
Main contractor Sunseri Associates
Structural engineer Miyamoto International
Stonework Medimer
Windows River City Glass
Doors Berke Doors
Paints Benjamin Moore
Cabinets Custom wood and granite by Sacramento Cabinet and Millwork
Countertops Creative Stone Works
Furniture Limn Furniture