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Overlooking a valley, this house also has views to the hill behind

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Set on a steep incline overlooking mountain and sea, a house will enjoy a private window on nature. But there are many more ways a home can connect with its environment, from choice of materials to a focus on all things sustainable.

This new house, designed by architects Eric Haesloop and Mary Griffin, with interior design by Margaret Turnbull, and input from the owners, is sited to capture views of Mount Tamalpais and the San Francisco Bay. It also engages the hillside behind – a retaining wall follows the undulating contours of the hill and anchors the house to the steep face.

"The house has a loose U-shape, with the central form set out from the hillside by an internal courtyard with a lap pool – the living spaces all open out to this sheltered area," Haesloop says. "The master suite at one end and garage at the other link back to the hill, completing the U.

"Setting the house out in this way provides views up the hillside. At the front, the home has a panoramic outlook over the valley. The overall effect is a little like an eagle's eyrie, and birds often soar past the front deck."

Almost invisible from the road above, the house has a living grass roof, with three pop-up roofs on a steeper angle rising above. These correspond to the living space, the dining and kitchen volume and the master bedroom.

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"The angled roofs allowed us to include clerestory windows that improve the vistas to the slope behind," says Haesloop. "They also optimise sunlight for the photovoltaic cells on the roofs and create higher, more airy interiors in the spaces directly beneath them."

Besides the grass roof, which offers passive drainage and insulation, and the solar panels, the exteriors reflect a care for the environment in choice of materials as well. The siding is in ipê – a hardwood that needs no finish and noted for its longevity – and concrete with a 30% component of fly ash, a recycled industrial by-product.

The focus on sustainability extends indoors, with locally milled reclaimed elm on the floor and walls. These warm wood surfaces are interwoven with white paint finishes in a way that accentuates the raised roof forms.

"Pitched to follow the hillside, the ceilings call to mind the home's very special, dramatic setting," says Haesloop.

Next to the garage at one end of the house, the understated front door opens to the upper level. From here, there is a clear view down a passageway to the master suite at the other end. An external balcony bites into the volume, corresponding to the roofs and creating a degree of separation between the kitchen and dining area and the living spaces.

Downstairs, the second level accommodates two studies and two guest bedrooms.

Margaret Turnbull says the open interiors are finished to flow with the architecture.

"The furniture is comfortable, simple and grounded, in black, cream and green tones that reflect the environment."

The interiors also offer some surprises, with dramatic artworks acquired by the owners on their travels prominently displayed. Coffee tables in the living room were chosen by Turnbull and are reminiscent of lilypads – another reference to the natural world.

"The kitchen, on an outer corner of the home, is also finished in subtle, earthy hues. And while external shades mitigate the impact of the sun on the interior, these were reduced in this area to facilitate clear views to Mount Tamalpais directly across the valley," she says.

Haesloop says it is exhilarating to walk from the side of the house that nestles into the hillside across the interior to the front deck, which is suspended hundreds of feet above the valley.

"The design of this house was driven by its setting and also by the dedication of its owners, who were involved every step of the way."

First published date: 21 April 2014

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Credit List

Architect Eric Haesloop FAIA LEED AP, Mary Griffin FAIA, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects (San Francisco, CA)
Interior designer and kitchen designer Margaret Turnbull ASID, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects
Cabinet company Mueller Nicholls
Builder Redhorse Constructors
Structural engineer Fratessa Forbes Wong
Cladding Ipê
Roofing Rana Creek living roof with biotrays
Doors and windows Dynamic Architectural Windows & Doors in mahogany
Skylights Royalite aluminum
Wallcoverings and floors Aborica reclaimed elm wood panelling
Paints and varnishes Benjamin Moore
Lighting ELP downlights
Heating Radiant floor
Furniture Living room – Vitra Polder sofa; Ligne Roset Pebble coffee table; Noguchi Cyclone dining table, Zanotta Lia chair
Blinds MechoShades from Shades of Marin
Outdoor furniture Henry Hall
Kitchen cabinets Elm, Mueller Nicholls
Benchtops Madre Perla granite
Kitchen sink Franke stainless steel
Taps Dornbracht Meta .02
Oven, microwave, dishwasher Miele
Cooktop, waste disposal Viking
Refrigeration Sub-Zero
Bathroom vanity Costa Smeralda granite, limestone
Basin Duravit Architec
Faucets, shower fittings Dornbracht
Shower enclosure Custom, acid-etched glass
Bathroom flooring Kota blue low cleft slate; Tatami Wheat limestone tiles by Walker Zanger
Wall tiles Oceanside
Accessories Dornbracht