The Glen Ellen Aerie is a dramatically sited residence that floats above a 20-acre property in the foothills of Northern California’s Mayacamas Mountains. San Francisco–based Aidlin Darling Design designed the 3,089-square-foot home to maximize views of the Sonoma Valley and please the owners’ request for a single-story residence where they could spend their later years without concerns about mobility.
Conceptually, the house is organized as three distinct volumes located on a north-south axis—two solid standing seam black zinc-clad boxes and a long, narrow glass pavilion that floats over the sloping property on thin metal columns. The entry and kitchen fill the southern solid block, with two guest rooms and associated necessities located in the north volume. The main glazed volume along the west side of the house has living and dining space at the south end, a library in the middle, and a master suite at the north. Each end opens directly to decks that extend the length of the volume and provide expansive indoor/outdoor living opportunities. While the kitchen is located within a solid block that helps define entry to the entire house, it is experienced as a more open space within as its west wall essentially disappears to create an open relationship between kitchen and living/dining, and series of glass doors to the south open to a deck and swimming pool.
Ceilings of western red cedar are paired with distressed wide-plank, oak flooring to establish a treehouse-esque effect for the main living spaces. While the main portion of the house intentionally blurs the distinction between interior and exterior, the house’s material choices can be viewed as a series of oppositions. The closed nature of the two masses lie in marked contrast to the glazed pavilion. The matte finish of the self-weathering black zinc is set against the sleek surfaces of the glass. Rough-sawn red cedar ceilings and distressed oak floors within the glass area contrast with the concrete floors and white ceilings in the more closed volumes.
Floor and ceiling materials are continuous from interior to exterior, stressing the links between the two. At the south end of the main volume, floor-to-ceiling glass doors between the dining room and south facing deck fully retract into a glazed box that is dramatically cantilevered over the valley. On the opposite end of the main wing, a slightly more conventional sliding glass door detail is used between the master bedroom and the north-facing deck.
Subtle variations give the minimalist home a strong sense of texture and depth. Within the main volume, the thin ceiling slats run in the long direction of the house, emphasizing its length, while the wide flooring planks run in the short direction, giving the rooms a sense of intimacy while directing views to the valley beyond.
The narrowness of the overall composition facilitates natural cross ventilation across the house, whose climactic conditions vary from chilly fog to warm sun, typical of California’s prime wine growing region. High performance glazing systems, protected from direct sunlight by wide eaves, cut heating and cooling loads, as does the use of a high albedo roof membrane.
Sadly, the award-winning home existed as seen here for less than a year; it and much of its surrounding landscape was consumed during a wildfire in 2017, although the owners have vowed to rebuild exactly as initially conceived.