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A Contemporary Farmhouse In The Sonoma Hills Rises To Resist The Threat Of Wildfires

Mork-Ulnes Architects designs a home that boasts of verdant views from every room, a warm wooden palette and an abundance of natural light— all within a fire-resistant concrete frame that gives the home its protection as well as visual impact


Atop an idyllic perch in the Sonoma hills, a San Francisco based family had found the perfect retreat for their family and friends. In 2016 they had commissioned Mork-Ulnes Architects to design a compact, three-bedroom guesthouse to compliment the main house. Just after the guesthouse was complete, a wildfire engulfed the property. The forested canyon and hills above were devastated, but the  all-concrete guesthouse survived the event. Re-investing in the land after the property fell victim to this natural disaster was important to the owners who enlisted Mork- Ulnes Architects again, this time to design the main house, ex novo. The property is part of the rebuilding effort following the 2017 Nuns Fire, an unrivaled recovery driven by community resolve and eased by streamlined bureaucracy.


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Mork-Ulnes Architects, Frame House in Sonoma, California. The great room with double-height kitchen and dining area. | Bruce Damonte
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Impacted by the wildfire, which fortunately did not harm anyone, the owners were very concerned about fire protection for their home and family and insisted on fire- resistant building materials from the onset of the design process. They requested a great room with an indoor-outdoor kitchen and dining area, living room with views towards the manzanita canyon, a media room, primary bedroom suite, two guest rooms, and a children’s bedroom with en-suite bath. The architects came up with a simple, two-story concrete structure based on a three-dimensional grid. Firmly planted on a plateau surrounded by Manzanita groves and pine-forested hillsides, the house sits right above the pool area and the previously completed concrete guesthouse.


“The concept was to design an all concrete house that is wrapped in a sacrificial layer of wood that gave a nod to the local vernacular farm structures in the area – so that its materiality still feels like it fits with a Northern California home despite being structurally of concrete.” Casper Mork-Ulnes shares.


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Mork-Ulnes Architects, Frame House in Sonoma, California. The house seen from the north-east | Bruce Damonte


A concrete framework establishes the structure and rhythm of Frame House, a residence atop a hill in the Sonoma countryside. Rooted on a plateau above a forested canyon and vineyards, this structural grid maximizes the connection between the inside and out, allowing for natural light and direct access to the exterior from almost every room in the house. The loggia, which wraps three sides of the house’s perimeter, shades the living spaces below, and provides access to expansive views from the second level decks.


“A deep loggia and a repetitive grid of columns creates the structure of the house. The loggia creates both a respite from the hot Sonoma sun and a rhythmic pattern that provides the order and framework for the house. The grid structure defines the functions of the house and whether they are introverted or extroverted to the site depending on if they are filled in with a void of glass or solid wall,” Casper Mork-Ulnes explains.


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Mork- Ulnes Architects, Frame House in Sonoma, California. The entry on the east-facing façade. | Bruce Damonte
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The materials of the house are organic and rustic in their appearance and tactility, while providing resilience against the threat of the wildfires which have become prevalent in the Sonoma valley and damaged the previous residence on the site. To protect the new home, concrete shear walls are clad in a sacrificial layer of greying wood siding between the columns, which also organize the interior spaces. This rigorous concrete framework creates a perch from which to take in the vistas of the property and beyond.


“Having lived in California for a very long time, I am influenced by the West Coast modernists, Koenig, Neutra, Ain and their contemporaries. Those houses, with their sense of openness, explore issues of light and space that are fundamental for me as well; as a Norwegian, I am always drawn to the psychological importance of light and air in architecture," Casper Mork-Ulnes reveals.


In contrast to the exterior of the house, clad in a fire-proof armor, the warm interiors are lined in Douglas Fir. The house has an extroverted relationship to the surrounding landscape, connecting the interior in almost every room to the California climate. On the inside, the home is organized around a double height space over the kitchen that connects the two levels and is punctuated by a floating catwalk leading to the two bedroom wings upstairs.



The program of the house contains 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, media room, and great room in 4,000 square feet, with interior furnishings curated by The Office of Charles de Lisle. The 18 acre property includes a 3 bedroom, 3 bath all concrete guesthouse also designed by Mork-Ulnes Architects and with interior by Charles de Lisle. The garden, vegetable beds, and pool were designed by Surface Design.


Experience the home through this video by Juan Benavides:



Frame House by Mork-Ulnes Architects - short film by Juan Benavides from The Architecture Player on Vimeo.