Room to Grow
For Manhattan-based architect Eliot Lee, building a Napa Valley retreat for his parents has proven to be an ongoing and joy-filled journey.
“My parents were looking to build a weekend house as a quick getaway from Berkeley,” says Eliot Lee, a partner with the New York firm Steven Harris Architects LLP. Situated about halfway up the mountains overlooking Calistoga, the narrow ridgeline lot required an intricate design befitting the topography. “We were all immediately struck by the terrain,” he adds. “From day one we resolved to avoid any major earthwork and to preserve the existing flora.”
Working with his wife, architect Eun Sun Chun, the pair devised a series of spaces to rest gently on the site. “Our main home [in Berkeley] was built in 1911,” explains Tatwina Lee, Eliot’s mother, who purchased the property in 2001 with his father, ophthalmologist Richard Lee. “It’s a stately monster and I just didn’t need another one of those. We gave Eliot a program for how the new house could flow along the ridge: Live over here, play outside over there, but the vernacular is his.”
At a relatively modest 3,000 square feet, the three-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom home is furnished with vintage midcentury pieces by influential designers like Marcel Breuer and Serge Mouille, along with contemporary elements from Modulightor in New York. But the emphasis remains firmly on outdoor living, something Eliot’s parents longed for, not only with the outdoor dining room and pool but with an impressive vegetable garden that anchors one end of the property.
“They really let us run with our ideas,” he says. “The process moved along freely because we knew how they lived.” The finished result, a rammed earth, concrete and steel design, influenced by the work of Luis Barragán and Oscar Niemeyer, more than satisfies its owners, who spend several weekends there every month. “I always find an excuse to stay an extra day,” says Tatwina.
With children and grandchildren on opposite coasts, it has also been the perfect gathering place—so much so, that there’s an addition in the works with original contractor Roy Beaman. “This house is the draw—it keeps us together,” she says.
By Maile Pingel.
Photographed by Scott Frances/OTTO.