Page H1 . 13 August 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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Patterns of Home
Pattern Seven Private Edges, Common Core: Commons House, Private Wings

ArchWeek Photo

A house in northern California that exemplifies the pattern "Private Edges, Common Core."
Photo: David Duncan Livingston


The site for this northern California residence is on a coastal range with distant views of the Pacific Ocean. It is entered across a meadow from a quiet rural road. Along the north and south edges, stands of trees frame the clearing toward the ocean.

Our clients wanted a main house that would accommodate a growing family, with common areas at the heart of the house where friends could gather to cook, eat, and enjoy the views but where the owners would be equally comfortable when home alone. They also requested a comfortable guest suite, and each needed a substantial home office with space for extensive libraries and meetings with colleagues.

Because the site is exposed and the climate can vary from sunny and warm to extremely stormy, we strove to create outdoor spaces that offered protection from the wind, rain, cold, and sun as well as areas that placed them fully in the elements.

Working with the Site

"Private Edges, Common Core" emerged as a strategy for organizing the building along a north-south axis. The private rooms would be spread out toward the opposite ends of the axis, and the main house, with all its common spaces on the first floor, would occupy the center. Since the main house would be the largest form, the overall "massing," or shape, of the project could be imagined as a cascade of roofs stepping down from the highest point at the center to the lowest point at the edges.

As you arrive from the east, the main house with its wings stretches across the entire clearing. The main building is a two-story structure with dormers and covered porches. A third-story roof rises near the middle of the building.

ArchWeek Photo

Stringing out the buildings along a north-south axis enables each of the major spaces to be conceived as a place of refuge and outlook.
The Taunton Press

ArchWeek Photo

At the core: the family room is open to the dining room and to the kitchen beyond.
Photo:David Duncan Livingston

ArchWeek Photo

The public/private gradient works in section as well as plan.
The Taunton Press

Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

Breezeways fan out from the main building. The one to the north is open and connects the front door of the main house with the guest quarters and frames the view beyond. The space to the south is a glazed hall connecting the main house and the two private studies.

From Bottom to Top

Not only does the pattern work as a way of organizing the house on the site, but it also holds true from bottom to top of the main house. The first floor houses all the major common spaces, which open onto a large wraparound porch on the northwest corner. The long porch supports the social life of the commons and dramatically increases the usable public space.

The second floor aligns more or less with the interior of the floor below at this corner, but it seems to be stepping back, getting smaller. And its balcony is a smaller, more compressed version of the porch. Balconies support the private life of the house and, relative to the main floor and its large open spaces, are experienced as edges away from the core. The third floor continues the pattern, stepping in to become, with its tiniest balcony, the private-most edge of the house.

Patterns of Home

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Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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