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Additions tripled the size of this 1940s adobe home, without overwhelming the scaleof the original building

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Whatever alterations you may decide to make to a property, it's important to remember why you were attracted to it in the first place and ensure these features are still in place when the project is completed.

The owners of this property were drawn to it by the spectacular site, the views, and the charm of the original 1940s adobe home. They also recognized an opportunity to explore issues of environmental sustainability in the design of the house and around the property. However, the house itself was far too small for their needs.

At this point, they consulted with architect Michael Holliday of DesignArc, with a view to transforming their historic adobe into a much larger home, with a separate guest apartment and an art studio.

"Our design aspiration was to be forward thinking, but to ensure our renovations would be in harmony with the existing structure," Holliday says.

"For a number of reasons, we decided a modern addition would not be the most appropriate architectural response. However, the size and scale of the addition meant the renovations couldn't be in the original building materials. We decided instead to use materials that were compatible with the existing house and integrated seamlessly, but without mimicking exactly the adobe materials," the architect says.

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For the architect, tripling the size of the house created a major design challenge of how to maintain, rather than overwhelm, the scope and scale of the existing building. To do this, Holliday integrated the lower level of the house – a large part of the addition – into the slope of the ground, using natural sandstone walls quarried from the site.

"Such a solution is ideal on a hillside site. The sandstone forms a plinth that wraps round the lower portion of the building, partially burying it; thus the scale of the house is not so evident when you are looking across the valley towards it.

"This concept allowed us to work within the existing architectural vocabulary and utilize natural materials on the site," the architect says.

Because the original adobe materials were not able to be used successfully on the much larger house, the additions are built out of wood framing, covered with a textured plaster finish. This is sympathetic to and reflective of the plastered texture of the adobe, says Holliday.

Existing courtyards flow round an artist's studio that has been added a level below one end of the main living spaces of the house. Two bedrooms and a bathroom in the original home have been combined to create a large master suite.

The rest of the original building is relatively untouched and in keeping with the adobe style, and the small living rooms have been kept as close as possible to their rustic heritage.

"The home was so simple and beautiful as it was, and so charming in its original design and detailing that it didn't need changing," says one of the owners.

To address the issues of environmental sustainability, the house was designed to be energy-efficient. It has been sited to take advantage of the sun's path, and windows are positioned to catch the best natural lighting and to provide opportunities for passive ventilation.

Additional lighting comes from energy-efficient, low-voltage lighting supplied with power from solar panels on a distant part of the property. Thick walls help to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter, while natural wood trellises around the exterior of the house create sunshades.

Environmentally sustainable building practices were used as much as possible during the renovation process. For example, all the sandstone needed for the walls and foundations was dug out of the site.

Where possible, materials from the old house were recycled into the new house. The old redwood deck was pulled down and sandblasted before being reused as barn doors at the front entrance, for interior doors, and for a large picnic table in the garden.

Even for interior detailing, materials were recycled where possible. The tails of massive beams were reused to make vanity pedestals in the bathrooms and other items of furniture including coffee tables and a desk for the office.

The interior decor is designed to be clean and minimal, to allow the natural features of the adobe style to speak. Most walls are painted in Museum White, to provide a backdrop for the owner's own paintings and for the couple's extensive collection of artworks and artifacts.

Many of these pre-Columbian Mexican and American Indian decorative pieces have been collected over the years. Much of the furniture in the house springs from similar sources. For example, two Stickley chairs have their origins in the US Arts and Crafts movement of the 1920s, while the natural-colored, leather sofas in the living area had been in storage since 1970. Bookshelves, made of wood, recycled during the renovations, provide spaces for displaying smaller artifacts.

Part of the simplicity of the interior design was achieved by limiting the palette of materials. Plastered walls, natural wood ceilings, colored concrete, and Mexican terra cotta tiled floors all provide a calm and neutral background.

Heavy wood beams that featured in the original part of the house have been replicated in the new studio and other areas.

One of the largest spaces in the renovated house is the studio. To ensure it feels as open as possible, it has been given a generous vertical scale. Designed as a two-story atrium, the studio includes a loft tucked into one corner to provide an office area for the owner. A broad staircase leads from it to the main level of the house, where the living rooms and master suite are located. These areas can also be accessed through a front door opening off a loggia and large, tiled terrace.

The strongest use of color occurs in the master bedroom, which is in the original section of the house. Here, a purple feature wall makes a powerful impression in the room, in contrast to the softer taupe-colored Oriental rug, pre-Columbian Peruvian tapestries, and Mexican furniture.

The same color adorns the walls of the master bath, where a statue of a saint, found by the owners in Florence, peeps out of a niche above the hand basin.

The owners replanted the garden with a mix of succulent and cacti plants that are native to this area. Other species, such as lavender and rosemary, and fruit trees, including avocados, citrus, and apricots, not only enhance the natural environment, but are also drought-tolerant.

First published date: 24 May 2005

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Credit List

Architect Michael Holliday AIA, Thomas Hashbarger AIA, DesignArc, (Santa Barbara, CA)
Main contractor Young Construction
Interior and landscape design Susan Venable
Sliding barn doors Recycled redwood
Exterior siding on lower level of house Sandstone
Exterior siding on upper level of house Rendered plaster
Roof Handmade clay tiles
Heating In-floor radiant heat (PVC piping)
Door and window joinery Wood casements, large sliding pocket windows, French doors
Flooring Tufflex membrane with color topping of Sinak Relay
Bathroom faucets California Faucets (Venice) in nickel
Bathroom sink Kohler
Glass sliding doors Santa Fe Custom Milling
Sliding door hardware Rocky Mountain Bronze
Maple desk, flat files Handcrafted by William Nettles
Large wood chair in studio Michael Tracy
Other studio chairs Mexican equipale chairs
Artwork Susan Venable, Fritz Scholder, Christo