Fire-Resistant Sonoma Home Is Perched in the California Landscape
California wildfires inspired Frame House by Mork-Ulnes Architects as a contemporary, fire-rated home
It wasn’t until months after Mork-Ulnes Architects completed a trio of concrete guest houses for a private client in Northern California that the region’s devastating wildfires hit, destroying the main house. of the property – but miraculously leaving the guesthouses intact. Soon after, the owner approached studio founder Casper Mork-Ulnes and his team to commission a new main house for the property, and Frame House was born. This is a Sonoma home purpose-built to withstand similar future disasters, while looking every square inch of the sleek, contemporary family home.
The project is located on an idyllic perch in the hills of Sonoma, used as a retreat for a family from San Francisco. Guests use the space for vacations and to get away with friends and extended family on long weekends. Although the owners were lucky and no one was hurt in past wildfires, they were understandably very concerned about future incidents, putting fire resistance at the top of their priority list. Mork-Ulnes agreed, working from the outset with a selection of fire-resistant building materials.
The house is created around a two-story concrete structure based on a three-dimensional grid, set above a landscape of manzanita groves, pine-forested hills, and the property’s swimming pool. “After the 2017 Nuns Fire ravaged the surrounding area and damaged the property, clients asked us to design a new house that would be shielded against future wildfires,” explains the architect. “The concept was to design an all-concrete house wrapped in a sacrificial layer of wood that nodded to local vernacular agricultural structures in the area – so that its materiality still felt like it matched a Northern California home, despite being structurally concrete.
Modernist influences from the Mid-Century heritage of the West Coast, the importance of light and air, as well as its own Nordic heritage played a part in the final design of Mork-Ulnes, providing a property generous, bright and finely tuned home. The interiors and lighting of Charles De Lisle’s office were composed to blend seamlessly with the overall architectural approach of this Sonoma home.
“A deep loggia and a repeating grid of columns create the structure of the house. The loggia creates both a respite from the hot Sonoma sun and a rhythmic pattern that provides order and frame to the home. The grid structure defines the functions of the house and whether they are introverted or extroverted to the site, depending on whether they are filled with a glass void or a solid wall,” explains Mork-Ulnes. Functional and aesthetically cohesive, the house is a 21st century retreat that responds to its site and circumstances. §