Perched atop a small knoll on a busy curving road, the previous owners parked their vehicles across the street and access from the original house was via a steep staircase, known to locals as the Stairway to Heaven. The only safe solution to this problem involved excavation, retaining walls and a cantilever to create on-site off-street parking. This might be a daunting task for the average homebuyer, however these clients came from construction careers, one a high-rise crane engineer, the other the managing partner in a custom millwork shop. In addition they have a lifetime of summers spent with their two daughters cruising on a 36′ sailboat. Thus they were positioned to tackle critical parts of this project, not only the very physical work of excavation and building retaining walls, but familiarity with the efficient use of highly detailed cabinets and built-ins. The result is a very comfortable 800-square-foot home that happily accommodates a family of six adults and an occasional dog.

The whole undertaking of this project took a certain bravado and we wanted that to show in the details. The massing replicates the original house but we added a swing and swagger to the sweep of the roof. Instead of using traditional double-hung windows on walls with views, we created a mosaic of casement and awning windows, composed to make a design statement from both inside and out, during daylight and at nighttime. By maximizing the transparency of exterior walls and treating the window layout as a figure/ground composition, the house is experienced as a larger, light-filled space and the framed views become art on the walls, part of the decor of the living area and bedrooms.

Spring views to the east are into and over the cherry-blossomed treetops. In winter your eyes run through bare branches and straight to the ocean. A small backyard provides just enough area for a compact vegetable garden, grilling and lounging, below the canopy of a mature peach tree. Rather than risking your life stepping into traffic to get from the house to your car, the Stairway to Heaven now goes up and delivers you to a little piece of paradise.