Architects’ preliminary design sketches typically include arrows shooting out from the living spaces toward important views. In this compact but powerful Northern California house, those arrows remain, in the form of walls and glass bays that fan out toward vistas that extend over an olive orchard to distant fields and rolling hills. “The idea was to stay away from boxes,” explains New York–based architect Wendy Evans Joseph, “to crash open the corners as much as possible.”

The building is equally expressive in its section, which descends in three levels from its entry to a two-story, glass-walled living room. “My intention was always to do something very dynamic with the landscape and to use the section,” says Joseph, who describes the basic scheme as “a stair moving toward the view.” The resulting grandstand arrangement provides elevated views from every space in the house.

Working with partner Chris Cooper and West Coast collaborator Heidi Richardson, Joseph underscored the building’s directional quality with a two-story wall of exposed concrete that slices through the structure, dividing it into public and private zones. The house’s bedroom, at the entry level, overlooks the living room through an opening with operable screens. A second opening, in the living room, creates a cavelike seating recess with a private window. The product of a challenging monolithic pour, the wall anchors not only the building’s geometry, but also its grayscale color scheme. “We kept this very quiet palette,” Joseph says, “and made the impact with the forms and the spaces.”

In an 850-square-foot house, one judge noted, “there’s no room for error,” and here, “every shot is a winning shot. This is a jewel, and it’s hard to argue with a jewel.” Even among a strong field of award winners, House in an Olive Grove took Custom Home of the Year honors by universal acclaim. “With 20 projects on the table,” noted another judge, “it was a resounding ‘Yes.’”

Entrant/Architect: Cooper Joseph Studio, New York; Architect of record: Richardson Architects, Mill Valley, Calif.; Builder: Redhorse Constructors, San Rafael, Calif.; Structural engineer: Tysinger & Associates, Novato, Calif.; Living space: 850 square feet; Site: 25 acres; Construction cost: Withheld; Photographer: Elliott Kaufman.