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By Anh-Minh Le | Photo: Helynn Ospina | February 11, 2016
For a modern home in the Alexander Valley, MAS Design lets nature guide the way.
Before they even laid eyes on their clients’ Sonoma County dwelling, interior designers Dawn Carlson and Carol Perry had a strong idea of how they would approach the project.
“The home is a good 10 miles off of any main road—situated on 20 acres, atop a rolling hill, with no visible neighbors and just the river valley and vineyards in the distance,” recalls Carlson. “As you start the long drive toward the house, you really get the sense that you’re immersing yourself in the quintessential wine-country experience.” Indeed, she and Perry embraced the surroundings, which set the tone for their composition.
During that initial visit to the property back in 2013, there wasn’t much of a house for them to see. It was still in the early stages of construction, a shell of the building with the windows and exposed Douglas fir beams in place. Two years later, the partners at Oakland-based MAS Design had conjured into existence a comfortable home that harmonizes the clients’ modern leanings with the pastoral setting.
“We wanted to create drama without distracting from the natural environment, which is the focal point of the house,” explains Carlson. To that end, its 3,300 square feet are a repository for clean-lined furnishings, myriad textures and heritage pieces. There are no vibrant patterns or splashes of color in sight—other than those provided by Mother Nature. Neutral hues and a handsome materials palette help unify the home’s four bedrooms and 4 ½ baths: walnut wood, leather and wool, for example. The flooring throughout features porcelain tiles that mimic the look of wood, and are arranged on the diagonal. Carlson continues: “We tried to establish interest with subtle juxtapositions. And keeping people guessing is always a goal of ours.”
In the kitchen, expanses of white porcelain counters—durable enough for a family of four—are paired with black walnut cabinetry, book-matched to highlight the natural grain. The lighting choice above the 14-foot cantilevered island is unexpected: Carlson and Perry found a trio of Tibetan water backpacks converted into pendants. “Scale is another way to create a point of view without being too bold with color,” says Perry, noting that the well-worn wooden vessels measure about 20 inches in diameter and are roughly 3 feet tall.
A perfect example of MAS Design’s knack for balancing contrasting styles can be found in front of a nearby window. A custom bench by Illinois-based fabricator John Beck is comprised of contemporary polished nickel legs topped with cedar planks treated with an ancient Japanese charring process called shou-sugi-ban.
For the open-plan kitchen and living and dining spaces, the “drama moment,” as Carlson puts it, is the 30-by-13-foot wall sheathed in limestone that includes a fireplace. “The husband initially wanted a more rectangular, linear tile,” says Carlson. “We were still able to make it modern, but the texture of the stone keeps it from feeling too cold.”
The living area is anchored by a linen sectional that is a combination of backed seating and ottomans. “This makes the room feel more open,” Perry elaborates. Three sliding glass doors—each 8 feet wide—open and stack to the side, allowing for an effortless flow into the outdoors. The coffee tables, which resemble enormous river stones, provide another connection to the natural world. A handmade taupe wool rug, Lucite trunk with rustic rope handles, overscaled floor lamp, leather-and-metal chairs and Mongolian fur poufs round out the organic yet modern scheme.
In the dining room, the table was selected by the homeowners; it was initially purchased for their residence in San Francisco, but didn’t quite work there. Carlson and Perry have positioned hand-covered and -stitched leather chairs around it. While their sculptural silhouette is reminiscent of the iconic Verner Panton design, the cross-stitch details at the seams impart a relaxed vibe. A close look at the three lamps overhead reveals ribboned cotton shades encased in hand-blown glass. Mounted above a series of built-in walnut shelving is a trove of masks collected during the clients’ family’s travels. “By putting them together in one contained area,” says Perry, “it feels more curated.”
Three of the bedrooms, along with an office, are located on the second level. In the master suite, Carlson and Perry devised a platform bed with attached nightstands. The piece was built by Hammers and Heels using sustainable, forested ash wood. The warm walnut stain is a hand-mixed custom water-based dye, and the hand-stitched headboard is upholstered in a gray linen.
Additional one-of-a-kind accents populate the room. The cluster of lights consists of repurposed Indonesian fishing nets that have been lined with rice paper. The art above the bed is a Senegalese textile with a hexagon motif that the designers opted to display on the reverse—“so you can get a better sense of the weaving process,” says Carlson. The black-and-white work is framed in Lucite.
The clients’ affection for modernity is especially evident in the adjacent bathroom, where a floating walnut vanity is matched with the same white porcelain that appears in the kitchen. The teak platform in the shower is one of the few accessories in the space. Above a generously sized tub, a window frames views of the oak trees.
From the start, the designers posed the following question to themselves: “How do we achieve a modern expression without the house feeling out of place?” The answer was often in the details and—in true MAS Design form—those juxtapositions. Take that Foscarini floor lamp in the living room; its shape is inspired by industrial piping, yet it is enveloped in white fabric that imbues softness and a warm glow when illuminated. “There are a lot of interesting elements, even if they are understated,” says Perry of the project as a whole. “It’s about bringing in things that you don’t expect to see and making everything work well together.” Adds Carlson: “The details are thoughtful but minimal, allowing one to really rest in the serenity of the natural landscape.”
Leather over stainless steel handles on dining room built-ins
Ceramic Tile Design
Limestone tiles on living-area wall
Porcelain floor tiles
Hammers and Heels
Master bedroom platform bed with upholstered headboard and nightstands
Lucite trunk with rope handles and leather dining chairs
Karma Dog Construction
Kitchen island and custom cabinetry, and beams throughout
Master bathroom hand shower, wall-mounted faucets and toilet