SUNSET MAGAZINE | Wyboy Ranch
Paradise Found - How an architect used unwanted land to build his dream home
The house began with a marriage proposal. On the pretext of scattering wildflower seeds, architect Ron Sutton brought his then girlfriend, Lisa Kincheloe, to a grassy plot of land overlooking Northern California's Petaluma River. When they reached the spot near Novato where the house now stands, he led her through the home as he imagined it.
"He showed me where all the rooms would be and how it would be laid out," says Lisa. Then Ron proposed, and she accepted. Two years and two children later, the new home is a reality. Many years ago, the electric company ran large, ugly power lines across the River near this site. Ron says this is why the land remained undeveloped after the farmhouse that used to be on the site burned down. "The property had been on the market for more than a year without a single offer," he says. "The owner tried to give it to a government agency, but even they didn't want it. But when I saw it, I got excited because it was exactly what I'd been looking for. "Ron positioned the 2,200-square-foot house so that the old oak trees on the property screen out views of the enormous power lines. From the house, all you see is the sparkling river and the waving grasses in the marsh that surrounds it.
Imagining the house was the easy part; getting it built was a challenge. Because of the proximity to wetlands and power lines, the design had to be approved by a gauntlet of local, state, and federal agencies.
THE BARN IDEA, UPDATED
Barns--the ones Ron remembers from growing up in rural Minnesota and the one standing on the property--inspired the home's design. "Barns are beautiful and simple. They have an open floor plan, big openings to the outdoors so livestock and equipment can pass through, and lots of storage," Ron says. "I adapted those ideas for the house." The house has an open plan. Large, barnlike doors slide on tracks to screen the office and bedroom for privacy. Huge sliding glass doors line the east side of the house. When they roll aside, no barrier exists between the living area and the landscape. It is, indeed, large enough for a tractor to pass through.
Sentimental objects surround the Suttons. They were married in the house before it was finished, and they registered at a nursery so guests could give flowers and trees for the landscaping as gifts. "When we show people around, we point out the plants they gave us," Ron says.
ON THE TRAIL OF SIMPLICITY
In a traditional barn, you won't find finishes like drywall or gypsum board. Instead, the framing, beams, and joists are exposed. The same holds true in many areas of this house.
EIGHT GREAT IDEAS
1. Window walls turn a corner of the living room into a nature-viewing platform.
2. Ron found new uses for some of the farm artifacts left on the property, such as this watering trough, which he recast as a fish pond and fountain.
3. While on their honeymoon, Ron and Lisa purchased this 3-inch-square olive-tree tile in Spain. The olive tree is a traditional symbol of welcome, so the couple placed the tile near the front door.
4. Ron likes to use industrial materials in unexpected ways. Here, a metal U-beam becomes a sleek bathroom vanity with plenty of room for towel storage.
5. As an alternative to the space-hogging walk-in closet, the Suttons designed a light-filled dressing hall. One wall functions as a shallow storage area, making it easier to find clothes and accessories. Curtains hide the clutter and add texture to the space.
6. An angular fireplace and broad extended mantel divide the living room and kitchen from the sleeping areas.
7. Much of the site is covered in native grasses, making a great habitat for wildlife. This bird feeder attracts even more.
8. The original farmhouse steps were incorporated into the new design. Billowing Nepeta x faassenii (catmint) softens the concrete stairs.
By Mary Jo Bowling
COPYRIGHT 2003 Sunset Publishing Corp.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group