A Spare, Industrially Inspired Home by Aidlin Darling Design Melds Seamlessly into the Mill Valley Landscape



San Francisco design project by Aidlin Darling Design

Achieving a meaningful connection with the site of a future home is more than lip service for San Francisco architecture firm Aidlin Darling Design. A recent project saw co-founder Joshua Aidlin and associate principal Kent Chiang camping out on the property in order to truly understand it: to feel how the wind shifted throughout the day; to hear what the acoustics were like at sunset; and to see how the moon rose at night. It was only then that they proceeded to work with their clients to develop an idea that has, says Aidlin, “resulted in a timeless building that represents their values on this very specific piece of land.”

The 4,000-square-foot home in Mill Valley is sited to leverage sweeping views of the layered valley vistas and iconic Horse Hill in the distance. “The great benefits of this particular property are its two optimistic anchors,” says Aidlin of the landscapes to the north and south. “The clients wanted a very private home that engaged the garden in every way,” he adds. The program also needed to accommodate the owners’ passions for art collecting and cycling. “A courtyard house was the perfect solution for this family,” says Chiang.

To achieve the desired connection with the garden, the architects designed the main living space—housing the vaulted living room, dining room and kitchen—to be transparent to the outside. A sliding glass wall opens to a gracious deck, patio, gardens and the solar-powered reflecting pool in the distance. Passively cooled rooms, including a writer’s studio, gym and art court, all radiate from this central area. The garage also does double duty as the bike shop, featuring an impressive hanging rack that holds 8–10 bicycles, and plenty of space for fine-tuning and repairs.

But eyes aren’t always turned to the outside. To showcase the clients’ art collection, Aidlin and Chiang chose simple, raw materials to create an industrial, loft-like look. Matte black corrugated siding, waxed steel surfaces, poured concrete floors and white plaster walls—on which to exhibit the work of emerging, experimental artists—all figure prominently.

The interior design, by Sausalito-based Susan Collins Weir, is intentionally spare, focusing on curated vignettes of furniture, objects and textiles. Floor-to-ceiling drapes in Great Plains fabric ripple and fold in response to corrugated steel surfaces, all “in neutral hues that are sympathetic to the architectural materials, textures and scale being used,” notes the designer. In the dining area, the reclaimed eucalyptus worktable of British sculptor David Nash—complete with the artist’s chain-saw markings—now serves as an immense dining table. Classic elbow dining chairs by Carl Hansen, a pair of exquisite leather Poul Kjaerholm lounge chairs, and a vintage Carl Auböck side table are just a few of the pieces that have also been carefully selected by Collins Weir. And, as a nod to the couple’s love of cycling, she sourced a chair by Max Lipsey that is “comprised of industrial bike parts, but refined at the same time.” The overall effect is “a house that lives effortlessly,” explains Collins Weir, and that is at once both comfortable and cutting edge.

Seamlessly fusing architecture with art and the surrounding landscape, the home ultimately focuses on design for all the senses. “We are on the human side of modernity,” notes Aidlin. All the more reason to sleep out underneath the starry California sky.

A version of this article appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of San Francisco & Gardens with the headline: The Open House.

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