Thomas J. Story

Dramatic shapes and windows make the most of rural surroundings

Amara Holstein  – January 19, 2008

Wild boars, soaring hawks, and grazing deer were exactly the kind of neighbors that Kristen Johnson and Margaret Davenport had in mind when they decided to build a home in the country for themselves and their 8-year-old daughter, Sofie. Ready to trade traffic and city noise for endless views and rolling hills, the couple bought 90 acres in a remote spot of the Dry Creek Valley just north of Healdsburg, California.

The beauty and serenity of their new land entranced both women, who share a strong affinity for the outdoors. Johnson, a physician who worked for years in the San Francisco Bay Area, was ready for a slower pace. Davenport, a winemaker who had lived in Healdsburg for 20 years, longed for a rural lifestyle. So when they were deciding on a design for their dream house, it was crucial that the architecture embrace its surroundings. “The most important thing here is nature,” Davenport explains. “We wanted the house to be part of the landscape.”

Upon approach the house is unassuming, with a red wall that begins outside the house and continues through the structure, ending on the exterior of the opposite side. Inside the house, the wall’s purpose―to support the family’s passion for reading―becomes clear. “Everyone’s interests are represented, from novels to books about history, music, and current events,” Davenport says of the thousands of editions on the shelves. The wall also downplays the jaw-dropping views that await one step beyond, in the open kitchen and the dining and living areas.

Walls facing the valley are made almost entirely of glass. “It’s especially nice in the winter, when you can sit in the living room, watch the clouds and rain move in, and see the fog settle over the hills,” Davenport says. Every room has a different view―tall trees are glimpsed from the steam shower, the hills’ dramatic dips are spotted from the living room.

Since the family wanted several outdoor living spaces in which to entertain, large sliding doors in most rooms enable guests to drift easily in and out. Groups of chairs are placed amid the property’s many oak, madrone, and manzanita trees.

The dramatic pool area behind the house is one of the family’s favorite spots. On hot summer days, Sofie and her friends enjoy splashing in the shallow end of the pool. It’s also an easy place to host potlucks, with comfortable seating and expansive panoramas. Landscape designers David Deakin and Kathy Vannozzi turned the low, curved poolside retaining wall into a compelling design feature, with built-in benches and umbrella slots along its length.

The influence of the setting is evident throughout. Colors were chosen from nature, and paint selection was a creative effort, with Johnson “gathering twigs, leaves, and wildflowers from the property to become the palette of the house.” Concrete countertops in the bath and kitchen bear the imprints of oak leaves, and the butterfly roof “makes the house feel like it sits lightly on the land,” says architect Richard Osborn, who designed the home with Mary Dooley and Kent Chilcott.

Because Johnson and Davenport didn’t want to spend all their time pruning trees, the landscape architects chose low-maintenance Mediterranean-climate plants. Deer grass, sweet box, and lavender “make the outdoor rooms softer and more inviting,” Vannozzi says. A small cutting garden behind the master bedroom provides flashes of color from dahlias, daylilies, and asters; Johnson also has a small vegetable garden behind the pool with tomatoes and lettuces.

The landscape also provides Davenport with professional opportunities. As a winemaker, she currently produces most of her vintages for other wineries (although she does make a few Pinots for her own label with grapes that she buys). Now she’s planted 4 acres of grapes on the land, which will be made into Davenport & Company Zinfandels in four or five years.

The family has chosen not to have a satellite dish, using their television set only to watch movies. Instead, they grill tomatoes, go on long hikes, build blanket forts with Sofie and her friends, read, or just “have the time to prepare a meal and enjoy it together,” Johnson says. The home has allowed them to slow down and enjoy a simpler lifestyle, which was their goal from the start.


Contemporary design meshes with a rural setting in subtle and unobtrusive ways. “My goal was to create an elegant, functional interior that met the homeowners’ desire for clutter-free living,” says Mary Dooley, the home’s interior architect. Here are a few of her design techniques.

1. Use continuous motifs
A bookshelf wall running the length of the house and a single, clean-lined floor of earthy stained concrete add to the spacious feel.


2. Tuck away appliances
The television set is hidden in the built-in cabinetry that separates the kitchen and living room, preventing it from competing with the scenery and the fireplace.



3. Frame the view
The external part of the house-long wall is both a privacy screen and a shelter for the outdoor shower. An opening in the wall expands the view from the office at the rear of the house.

4. Keep surfaces sleek
Most of the work areas in the kitchen are topped with stainless steel. Roll-up appliance garages keep countertops tidy.

5. Include a sanctuary
The bedroom is made for relaxing. Dressers built into the walk-in closets keep the space spare and calm.


Design:  Richard Osborn, Osborn Design Group, Santa Rosa, CA (707/542-3770); Kent Chilcott, Kent Chilcott Planning and Design, Santa Rosa (707/479-5608).

Interior architect: Mary Dooley, MAD Architecture, Petaluma, CA (707/765-9222).

Landscape design: David Deakin and Kathy Vannozzi, Deakin + Vannozzi Landscape Design, Windsor, CA (707/838-2519).

Lighting consultation: Michael John Smith, MJS Lighting Consultants (713/850-1488).

General contractor: Leff Construction (707/823-4899).


Pool area: Malibu dining chairs ($149 each), Kona table ($329), Selena arm chair with cushion ($349), and Seaside end table ($69), all in silver, from Room & Board (800/301-9720). Custom maroon wall paint from Benjamin Moore (800/344-0400). Floating Wedge wall sconces (on maroon wall) from Shaper Lighting (item 682-WP; 510/234-2370). Corrugated metal siding supplied and installed by Soulé Building Systems (707/793-9277).

Kitchen: Cone pendant lights from Tech Lighting (847/410-4400). Baba barstools in Beech from Design Within Reach ($260 each; 800/944-2233). Custom frameless European-style maple-veneer cabinetry from Sonoma Kitchen + Bath (707/526-3535).

Outdoor shower: Autel showerhead ($73), shower arm and flange ($21), Taboret valve trim ($188), and valve ($92) in polished chrome, all from Kohler (800/456-4537).

Bedroom: Telescope from Meade Instruments Corporation (800/626-3233). Sapien bookcase from Design Within Reach ($200; 800/944-2233). Hotel Collection Pintuck bedding from Macy’s (800/289-6229). Moorea bed and bedside table in Blond from Baronet (866/828-5431).