Marin Magazine 2007
MARIN MAGAZINE | Wyboy Ranch
Relaxed Modern Rural | March 2007
RON SUTTON, A PRINCIPAL in Sutton Suzuki Architects of Mill Valley; says his mentor was his first employer after graduating from architecture school. “He had a notable small practice in rural Minnesota,” says Sutton, “and his timeless advice was, ‘When in doubt, return to simplicity.’”
Sutton drew on the advice when he designed his own 2,200-square-foot family home on almost eight rural acres in Novato. It’s a contemporary interpretation of the authentic farm structures that are historical to the Lakeville-Petaluma River Valley area and it relies heavily on natural materials such as stone, concrete, steel, and wood beams.
Sutton’s approach was to “to keep the design simple, the expression of the structure and materials honest and straightforward, and the size of the building spaces minimal but adequate for a simple lifestyle and personal use, and to keep the cost within a minimal budget.” The house also needed to respect the site, capture the view, and incorporate passive energy design.
What has influenced your design? Throughout my career, I have been most influenced by ongoing study and appreciation of local rural vernacular buildings-whether those buildings are located in rural Minnesota, where I was raised, or in California, or on the East Coast, or in Italy, Spain, or England. The simplicity of design and forms, the honest use of materials, and wonderful proportions associated with these buildings have always been very appealing to me.
In what ways does your home reflect your style? The honest yet sophisticated use of basic construction materials, such as exposed concrete and exposed steel, are reflective of my style, as is basic black in clothing style. The use of these materials in a creative and contemporary design, as well as incorporating items like 200-year-old hand-hewn beams, adds a curiosity to the design and style.
What were challenges in either the site or the design? The major challenge of the site was to obtain the numerous government approvals required, since the property was located in the Bay Area Tidal Waters and Petaluma Wildlife Preserve. The approval process took over 12 months.
What special features or new technologies did you incorporate into the house? A special design feature was to use passive means of climate control to temper the house in summer so as not to require air-conditioning and to limit the heat load in winter. Techniques included building the house into the hillside to use the earth to naturally cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter; orienting the house away from extreme sun exposures; capturing summer breezes from the Petaluma River; and designing around existing large oak trees for shade in the summer.
What surprised you most about the process of designing your own home? How easy it is to make decisions for clients when designing their home and how difficult it was to make the same decisions when it came to my own home.
What pleases you most about it now? It pleases me most to experience how, as time passes, the house and structure continues to grow and fit naturally into the site as if it has been there for years and years.