Project Spotlight

Michael Hennessey Creates Hillside Harmony in a Sonoma Valley Home

The architect transformed a Sonoma Valley home with a sprawling footprint reminiscent of suburbia into a sophisticated, retreat-like dwelling worthy of its idyllic environs. 

When asked how he would describe the overhaul of the Sonoma Valley home he refers to as the Ridgeview renovation, San Francisco-based architect Michael Hennessey replies, “radical transformation.” He’s not exaggerating. 

It would be easy to assume the home is a new-build. The cement plaster facade is serene yet timeless, an effect expanded upon by the home’s deference to the surrounding landscape. Forging a connection between the home and its site overlooking the rolling hills of wine country was of particular importance to Hennessey, who says the existing structure “could have very easily been designed for a flat suburban lot.” The architect and his team embarked on an extensive process to make the home more suited to its location, scaling down the towering profile and opening up the interior with windows offering panoramic views. The end result is a sophisticated, retreat-like dwelling worthy of its idyllic environs. 

Here, Hennessey gives Surface an up-close look at the project.

Description: We were asked to renovate a house overlooking an expansive valley. The existing house was too massive in relation to the hillside it occupied. We were tasked with framing the view in a meaningful way and recomposing the exterior to reduce its massive scale. We eliminated the pitched roof, removed the tall bay window at the front elevation, and created a darker garage level to allow the upper two levels of the house to appear to float above a heavy base. The result was a more horizontal articulation of the building that was better suited to the hillside.

Inspiration: The landscape. We worked to frame the view of the surrounding oak trees and rolling terrain in a purposeful way. The existing building completely ignored the rural, hillside context and could have very easily been designed for a flat suburban lot. That made our job a challenge, but we worked to revise the structure to be more respectful of the hillside condition and to find a way to make more meaningful connections to the landscape.

Blueprint: The house is organized with an upper level of bedrooms, a middle level containing the living, dining, and kitchen spaces, and a lower level garage. The exterior entry stair is reconfigured to wrap around an existing Japanese maple tree before leading to the front door and pool area. A double-height space at the center of the house ties the living room and kitchen to a home office and surrounding bedrooms at the upper level.

We incorporated a lap pool and sun deck directly adjacent to the kitchen space as a means to connect the heart of the house to an active outdoor space for an avid swimmer. The sun deck is perched above the landscape, which allows for an unobstructed view of the distant valley below. Creating exterior patios and decks was critical to encourage a more direct indoor/outdoor connection. We inserted large sliding glass doors between the dining room and an exterior terrace, encouraging eating outdoors on beautiful Sonoma County evenings.

Uniqueness: The degree of transformation from a traditional structure to a more considered modern design is the unique, defining characteristic of this project. The “before” photo is typically met with astonishment, as the final design is such a pleasant departure from the original building.


Design Team: Michael Hennessey, Sally Gimbert, Claudia Merzario, Jason Laudat.

General Contractor: Sawyer Construction

Structural Engineer: Summit Engineering

Geotechnical Engineer: Murray Engineers

Photographer: Adam Rouse Photography

Michael Hennessey Architecture is a member of The List , the destination for all things Surface -approved. Want to join The List ? Contact our team to find out how to apply.



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