Westlake Hills


Based on the existing siting and peculiar layout of the original residence and its sole approach from the road below the steep site, a determination was made to retain as much of the existing structure and unique site conditions as possible, while adding approximately 6,000 square feet of program space to be divided roughly between interior and exterior use areas.  The design was intended to create topographically-derived forms of building and garden elements that were choreographed to fit the strong structure of the site, preserve all possible existing significant trees and native understory plants, maximize cross-canyon and city views, and retain and reference artifacts of previous site uses and earlier development within the new design.

To meet those intended goals, we considered the site as three distinct elevations:  the additional interior space to be constructed, which would literally envelop and occupy the original house elevation at the highest level, or “Ledge” of the site; the mid-level elevation approximately 12’ below the Ledge, which had previously been an original road cut to provide access through what was once a goat ranch and mass thickets of Eastern Red Cedar; and the “ravine” which was the majority of the site dropping off below the road cut level.

Grading of the site was carefully considered and minimized to preserve and incorporate the many large existing trees into the landscape design.  The Ledge of the site occupied by the main floor level of the house uses a rainwater catchment and infiltration system designed as a dry stream bed which channels rainwater from the roof, under the house, to reveal the designed stream bed as a private garden from the master bedroom overlook.  Designed for storm water infiltration with a network of French drains used for water storage, the stream flow redistributes rainwater across a large section of the undisturbed site below the road cut level.

The “road cut” level below the Ledge has been transformed into a private pool garden approach, with preserved trees forming a pleached allee to the pool house gates below the living room of the residence.  Terraced to retain as many of the existing native understory plants as possible, the allee is paralleled and viewed from the unique tree canopy level main entry to the main house level above.  Through the pool house gate, one steps down slightly into a room graced with a fire place and seating for outdoor gatherings of family and friends.   At the level of the pool and enclosing end wall, a simple vine covered gateway, opens to yet another surprise, beyond which is a substantial vegetable garden and beginnings of a small orchard.

Below the road cut, and throughout the ravine, much of the landscape was retained in its natural state and enhanced with over-seeding of native species for several years.  Also, a small “parterre” area seen from the levels above has been filled with mass native perennial plantings leading to what will become the vine room – now a baseball batting cage – hidden on the hillside.  The batting cage screen will be planted with vine species including Cross Vine and Passion Flower among other natives, and with the baseball bats of the children of the home at rest in the future, this outdoor room will become a secluded and very private reading and outdoor dining and wine tasting terrace for the owners.

The owners view the landscape as it was intended, that of a constructed native habitat, and they have continued to maintain a commitment to use only native and adapted species.  The landscape has become a home and migration stop to literally thousands of butterflies each year with almost all of the area species dropping by for a meal or to rest among the intentionally dense flowering plantings.  The butterfly migrations have become a source of annual family amusement and delight.  Other plant species were also specifically selected to attract and sustain native bird populations including a variety of humming and songbirds.