Architect Brandon Jørgensen's First Solo Ground-Up Project Establishes Him as a Stellar Young Modernist



A modern Napa Valley home exterior with pool and vineyard.When architect Brandon Jørgensen first presented his sketches for a Napa Valley home to his clients, he could sense their lack of enthusiasm. The couple had originally approached him with a request for a traditional Napa Valley farmhouse, but after five iterations of barn-style homes, neither architect nor client felt they’d quite hit the mark. Jørgensen decided to go for broke and present them with his kind of architecture: straight-up modern. “They literally stood up and said, ‘Wow, when can we start construction?’”

Jørgensen had worked for several notable firms in the Bay Area prior to moving to Napa, where he joined the esteemed Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects for a year before going out on his own in 2011. The clients for this project—his first to be built from the ground up—were close friends, a retired couple who loved the outdoors and had an exceptional art collection amassed on their extensive travels. In Napa, they found a site for their dream home—an acre-sized lot surrounded by vineyards.

The design that inspired their enthusiasm is an instant classic: The carefully detailed, 5,050-square-foot home has the effortless grace and tranquility of a well-designed space. Its simple shapes and sweeping proportions have a monumental quality, while its warm natural materials and custom features—a master closet clad entirely in cedar inspired by the wife’s love of Asian design, a tiny window at dog’s-eye height by the front door—make it an intensely personal residence. “I was so inspired by their lifestyle and artwork. It was the perfect opportunity,” says Jørgensen. “I wanted to pick up where classic California modernism left off.”

The main house is of locally quarried stone, while a separate cedar-clad volume contains the garage and guest bedrooms. “Typical modern houses feel very hard—they’re all glass and concrete,” says Jørgensen. “Here, the glass just goes away, because it’s irrelevant next to the stone.” At the back of the main living space, the roof cantilevers out on two sides, shading an outdoor patio that runs along the periphery. “In a way, the house pushes you outside,” says Jørgensen, who designed the roof with an internal support structure to make it appear lighter.

The bedroom opens to the backyard through a wall of sliding glass doors (and screens) to function as a contemporary sleeping porch. The route to the master bedroom passes through two long corridors, about 60 feet in length, while artwork on the broad expanses of wall unfolds alongside like a gallery. The project was built under an unusual arrangement: Jørgensen acted as the master builder while also directing the subcontractors (on a typical building project, this is the role of a general contractor).

Because Jørgensen comes from a family of contractors and civil engineers, he was eager to try this hands-on approach. “It was a great experience that enabled us to detail everything on site,” he explains. “In recent decades, the gap between construction and design has grown, and I think it should get back to being an integral process, where the architect is on site during construction, as it has been for centuries.”

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of San Francisco Cottages & Gardens with the headline: A Strong, Clean Vision.

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