A Folk Victorian Farmhouse

Project scope: New five-bedroom, three-bath home, 3734 square feet.

Construction completed: Fall 2008

General contractor: owner-builder

Location: Esparto, California

Features of interest:

  • Designed to blend in with 100 year old site, a defunct dairy farm
  • White on black at exterior and interior compliment home’s utilitarian simplicity.
  • Full masonry fireplace and chimney
  • Locally salvaged railroad ties a family room feature
  • Interior structure of beams and posts exposed

The site of this new home is old Americana, unpretentious and likely to remain so: a scattered collection of ramshackle outbuildings and an old barn, an orchard of aged fruit and nut trees, and surrounding all a moving sea of emerald and golden grasses, continuing uninterrupted to the coastal range in the distance. This was once a dairy farm, built in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and remaining as such through most of the last century. The new owners are in love with the site’s history and unassuming, simple, yet beautiful nature, so were looking for a new home that would be fully integral and sympathetic with its surroundings, both in appearance and in character.

Since utility was an essential or motive principle of the site, and since utility was the means by which the buildings so gracefully integrated with the natural terrain, utility was one of the major forces—if not the primary force—shaping the design of this new home.

Early American rural structures were often built without the help of any plans, and often without the help of skilled labor. Designs were therefore simple and economical. The home we designed took this history into account in its basic rectangular two-story floor plan, yet the old turn-of-the-last-century simplicity is not always so ‘simple’ to achieve, especially when the more complex requirements of 21st century living come to bear on it. Often in the old farmhouse, for example, there is a classical symmetry and composition with the windows and doors: windows of each floor are often all of identical size, and are directly aligned with those of the floor above or below. When one adds the modern conveniences of bathrooms, which usually cannot accommodate the same large windows as those found in the living room, and when you add larger closets, laundry rooms, and the like, suddenly the ‘easy’ balance of identical windows, symmetrically aligned side to side and top to bottom, becomes quite a challenge to achieve.

In the end the new home fits in with the century-old outbuildings and barn as if it has been there since the start: White austerity against verdant fields, a shelter of ease and good living, and luxury without pretense.

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