This new residential design in the San Francisco suburb of Larkspur was created with a fundamental relationship in mind, between the familiy of four and their wooded community. The aim was to strike the right balance with a contemporary design that eased into its lush green surroundings.

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When he was called upon to design a home on this sloped site rich with oak trees, Mark Jensen, who operates the San Francisco practice Jensen Architects, jumped at the opportunity. But he soon realised that he’d need to come up with a drastic solution to protect the site’s natural beauty. Aiming to preserve the ridge and minimise the structure’s presence, Jensen and his team worked on a design that is partially buried in the hills of Marin County. ’The key was not to build on top of the hill but rather to build into it,’ says Jensen. ’The idea was to make the building disappear into the landscape.’

The site offers unobstructed views of Mount Tamalpais, so placing the more social functions at the top of the house was a strategic move. A light, transparent pavilion atop the three-storey house holds the kitchen, dining and living areas, which open onto an outdoor terrace and pool. A white ’grounded plinth’ housing the two floors below includes the garage, bedrooms and bathrooms.

The client, a graphic designer, was a true collaborator in the process, says Jensen. ’It was great fun to compare my architectural, spatial perspective with his graphic, pure-composition perspective,’ he says. ’I think the house marries these approaches. It’s a pure, abstract, geometric form while also working at an experiential level. It reveals its more subtle qualities through occupancy and changing light.’

The upper pavilion is enclosed by high-performance sliding-glass panels. When they’re open they allow the top floor to fully unite with the outdoors while also allowing for natural ventilation. When they’re closed they provide heat insulation, making the mechanical cooling system unnecessary. Throughout the rest of the house, transparent and perforated screens and window strips have a similar effect. Interior designer Nicole Hollis worked on the carefully detailed interiors to match the architecture’s aesthetic. 

It’s a clever design that incorporates key sustainability features, too. An irrigation system that runs along the driveway feeds the newly landscaped vegetation, which will eventually grow over the brick walls, hiding them completely. A second system collects and manages rainwater, while the house also features a radiant, energy-saving concrete floor.