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Hilltop Haven
Collaboration with Clients Results in a Versatile Landscape

Hilltop Haven

The pool was renovated with new water-washed Connecticut Bluestone paving, and an Ipe deck expands the entertaining space for large gatherings. A gravel path leads the way to a fenced alpaca paddock and stables, which are visible from both the home and the pool areas.
Photo: Treve Johnson Photography


Hilltop Haven

Located in the foothills of Northern California, this luxury residence's landscape was given a modern update by Robert Mowat Associates (RMA), who combined both beauty and functionality to allow for many different activities and uses. A corten steel fire bowl entices guests to the far end of the pool and provides a dramatic view of the home.
Photo: Treve Johnson Photography


This luxury residence, located in Northern California, enjoys the benefit of a mature natural landscape. Native California Oaks and Pines dot the 1.5-acre property, allowing for beautiful scenes of plant and animal life. The steeply sloping site offers an incredible view of the northern end of the Santa Clara Valley, and the western California Coast Range provides a beautiful backdrop to the house. This Los Altos Hills property is home to a bustling family with two daughters, several alpacas and a yellow lab named Barkley. Robert Mowat Associates was invited to create a spectacular landscape that matched the beauty of the natural features surrounding the residence.

Make It Work
The house had been recently renovated and, like many home improvement projects, had been brought up to contemporary standards. However, the landscape was non-functional and aesthetically awkward; it lacked a sense of cohesion. The property held a number of exciting features that required renovation to make them current and useable. Additionally, there was no formal space for outdoor entertaining or dining, yet the clients often held large parties, soccer team meetings and small get-togethers, and were anticipating two weddings to be held at home.

The landscape, while in need of a major renovation due to its dated look, held the promise of something more, judging from the existing trees, pond and dramatic views. The active owners, with their two athletic children, were keenly interested in art, design and landscape architecture. Therefore, they were closely involved in creating, analyzing and formulating the design solutions.

Convergence of Ideas
The homeowners possessed a sophisticated design sense and were adept at using the program SketchUp to express their ideas for the landscape. They wanted a contemporary style to complement their new architecture, but nothing "too cute." The combination of plant forms and architectural elements was of significant importance in the landscape, and the desire for usable outdoor space for their children and Barkley was paramount.



Hilltop Haven

A renovated pool, patio and new Ipe deck provide all the amenities desired by an active family of four.
Photo: Treve Johnson Photography


Hilltop Haven

In this before view, the pool and slopes were in dire need of creative solutions that would complement the views of the valley beyond the home.
Photo: Robert Mowat Associates


Hilltop Haven

A before shot of the 1970's pool looking towards the home's recently renovated rear faA?ade shows the unflattering distinction between new improvements and outdated designs.
Photo: Robert Mowat Associates


The landscape architects began the design process with colored sketch concepts for the deck and the entry experiences. After a meeting reviewing the ideas presented, the clients realized the design team had a lot to bring to the table.

The project focus quickly grew into a full-fledged creative collaboration. The clients and designers found an easy flow of communication on many subjects. The homeowners' art background provided a shorthand for flushing out ideas. Their in-depth knowledge of design and clear articulation of concepts created a system for style solutions between them and the design team. Ideas were quickly thrown out, and the clients' experiences with SketchUp brought about concrete form to many of the objectives they were trying to achieve. This symbiotic communication was immensely beneficial since construction crews were building the ideas as soon as they were put onto paper.

Light It Up
The landscape design became a study in light, shadow, texture, color and forms. Plantings playing against corten steel slabs were an archetype for the many plantings on the property. The building materials were chosen within the firm's philosophy of utilizing traditional materials with innovative forms, and the sophisticated lighting design provided a dramatic
night environment.



Hilltop Haven

Three large, 1/2" thick corten steel plates were structurally engineered into the ground, providing artful backdrops for plantings, a fountain and an entry portal to the home.
Photo: Treve Johnson Photography


Hilltop Haven

Two series of bluestone steps break up the steep slope connecting the pool entertainment areas to the home's top deck.
Photo: Treve Johnson Photography


Hilltop Haven

RMA created a design that incorporated many different factors yet blended them together to create a streamlined landscape. 1. New Entry with Corten Panels, 2. Bluestone Paving with Fountain, 3. Dog Run, 4. Stable Access, 5. BBQ and Food Prep, 6. Social Patio, 7. Upper Deck, 8. Koi Pond, 9. Lower Deck, 10. Pool and Spa, 11. Fire Pit, 12. Alpaca Stables
Photo: Robert Mowat Associates


Since the homeowners entertained both formally and informally, nighttime use of the outdoors was of critical importance. The clients desired a system of low energy consuming lighting that they could manage via a mobile app. The final solution utilized GE Z wave adapters and their corresponding mobile software app. The design team specified low voltage lights manufactured by Volt and BK Lighting, and numerous small 75-watt transformers were designed to create ultimate programmability. The fixtures utilized LED lamps between 3 and 5 watts, creating very low energy consumption.

Putting It Together
The clients' requirements for the overall project were multifaceted. Similar to any large estate, the fusing of space allocation, social functions, hardscape, grading and drainage, planting and irrigation design all became topics of opportunity, constraint and solution. Once the conceptual social spaces were formalized and visualized in SketchUp, the designers quickly went to work on the details for color, form and finish.

Being amongst the trees, BBQ counter, fire feature and water, built-in and movable seating served multiple functions in several different areas. The Koi pond was also renovated for a dramatic view from the home's living and dining rooms.



Hilltop Haven

In the narrow side yard, a social space was carved out beneath an existing Redwood for seating, food prep and a BBQ cook top.
Photo: Robert Mowat Associates


Hilltop Haven

One problem that occurred during the design process was how to keep the tree top views close to the outdoor spaces. This was solved by an Ipe wood deck with Redwood posts painted white, providing support for a Cable Rail System handrail.
Photo: Robert Mowat Associates


The clients wished for the planting choices to focus on succulents, and they asked the team to avoid some specific color choices in the landscape. The landscape design team came up with a drought tolerant plant list heavy on succulents and low maintenance plantings in terms of pruning and fertilization. The use of drip irrigation was also employed.

Animal House
Access to the alpaca stables for hay and other needs required a new access way to be planned, and this was joined with a guest entry and portal of corten steel to serve dual functions. In addition to the alpacas, Barkley the dog also required a quick and convenient place for his outdoor business. The front yard with a small, dedicated spot for him became the most logical place. As this area is on the same living level as the main social spaces along with the entryway, the clients can quickly access his area and clean up as needed.

Conclusion
The completed landscape showcases unexpected materials, dramatic contrasts in texture and form and highly accessible and functional social spaces. The project addressed the clients' unique needs, and the added elements were designed in a fashion that created utilitarian spaces in areas not usually thought of as functional.



As seen in LASN magazine, December 2018.



Filed Under: CUSTOM RESIDENTIAL, LASN
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June 27, 2019, 2:00 am PDT

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