Jerrold Lomax and Jorie Clark create a Carmel Valley house that responds to its setting.
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 7/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
One so often hears of residential houses having to go through architectural contortions in order to fit awkward venues that it comes as something of a surprise to learn of a total-about-face situation. It's to be found in Monterey County, California. Local ordinances there decree that private domains must be assured of visual and, by extension, aural privacy from motorists on nearby freeways—and it's up to the homeowner to position the house accordingly. Thus architect Jerrold Lomax, engaged to design a hillside dwelling in the county's Carmel Valley, made no attempt to build a place that fits the land. Instead, he changed the topography. Specifically, he created for his clients a flattened construction site among extant oak trees on a steep mountain plot, doing so via excavation, soil transferal, compacting, and drought-resistant transplanting. Only then did he erect the structure, one that now seems to meld with the verdant two-and-a-half acre site. Interior design was assigned to Jorie Clark, head of her own studio and a whiz at meshing her skills with those of Lomax by complementing and counterbalancing the architecture. The clients were Kenneth and Sharon Ashton, both engineers who work as Ashton/Casella-Ashton. He acted as contractor and builder.
Lomax speaks of the 3,000-sq.-ft. house as a purist structure made of metal, glass, and concrete blocks. It is a compound composed of a central 1,400-sq.-ft. open area—only the master and guest wings are behind doors—flanked to the west by a terrace with perforated overhang and greenhouse. To the east is a "Zen-like enclosed bamboo and rock garden"; set parallel to the dining space is a koi pond, half of it devoted to growing equisetum, a horsetail reed. A three-ft.-wide by 33-ft.-long skylight runs end to end. Below ground are a garage and the owner's wood/metal workshop. Also thanks to the architect's scheme are terrific views to hills and glimpses of the ocean.
Jorie Clark took most of her inspiration for furnishings and finishes from wabi sabi, a Japanese aesthetic. She had read about the concept first in a book by Leonard Koren, then in a differently slanted treatise by British architect John Pawson. Her own interpretation was to counterweigh as well as sustain the simple steel framework's strength with the muting effects of organic substances. "High-tech machine quality," as she calls it, is contrasted and, at the same time, compatibly paired with less-than-immaculate products of home-grown origin since, as the Japanese credo has it, one "finds beauty in the organic textures and imperfect qualities of nature." Subtlety and minimalism are by-products. Illustrative of her wabi-sabi choices are: vertical grained Douglas fir for the Lomax-designed cabinetry; honed black granite for counters tops; and etched glass for shower enclosures, doors, and dining table top. More japonaiserie appears in artworks, obi cloth, bamboo and hemp mats, and shoji-type glazing. Her colors are cribbed from nature; walls appear to be white but are, in fact, eucalyptus-toned; and her furniture choices come under the rubric of contemporary classics. It took about two years to complete the job.