Surrounded by Redwoods on a ridge between Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Calistoga Estate is a 19th-century-inspired vacation property in the heart of Northern California’s wine country.
How would you describe Saddle Peak House in a nutshell?
The Saddle Peak House is a secluded retreat in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It offers a sublime and timeless place within the wild part of Southern California that has existed for generations but which very few have experienced.
A question for the architect, Michael Sant: What was your inspiration to create Saddle Peak House and offer it as a luxury vacation rental?
The inspiration was to see how successfully architecture could crystallize and accentuate the most exceptional aspects of the site. Every component of the house’s construction is about strengthening a sense of connection to the landscape and the natural beauty that’s all around you.
The idea of the vacation rental has been growing in my practice for a number of years. This project has become a way of communicating architecture’s role in enhancing the experience of the things we value to a larger audience. To create something like this, and then have the opportunity to interact with a diverse set of travellers about the experience, can be extremely rewarding.
Please tell us a bit more about the architecture and the house, Michael.
The house explores several oppositional relationships – heavy vs. light, transparent vs. opaque, rooted vs. floating – that combine to create a harmonious sense of balance and encourage a profoundly intimate experience of nature.
The house is quite modest in terms of interior square footage but the sweeping experience of the mountains and the sea is almost overwhelming. The house blurs the boundaries between inside and out with giant sliding doors opening onto three decks and allowing the mountain breezes to pass through. One side of the house looks over the Pacific Ocean, feeling very much like a bird’s eye view, while the other is earthbound and intimate, taking in the massive rock outcropping reflected, together with the sky above, in the pure geometry of the infinity-edge pool.
The house and studio are detailed with the same materials and share an alignment across the long site, suggesting an expansive horizontal domain and encompassing the entirety of the mountain range.
How would you describe the atmosphere inside Saddle Peak House?
There is a feeling of being completely immersed in the landscape. The outside swirls around you affording amazing views of the California landscape – the Pacific Ocean, massive rock formations, birds of prey and native plants in bloom. It’s a feeling that never leaves you.
The interplay of concrete, wood, steel and glass, creates a surprisingly intimate environment. Furnishings culled from all over the world, and selected based on their appropriateness for each unique space in the house, reinforce a sense of design integrity and create a harmonious whole. I think the design avoids false notes. It’s a calm and reassuring feeling when things are well resolved and interconnected.
To you personally, what’s so special about staying at Saddle Peak House?
It's a treat to find yourself in a place where you can truly tune into everything in your environment – a wide variety of birds stopping to drink from the pool, hummingbirds darting from flower to flower, mist swirling up through the mountains – as the sun slowly rolls across the sky. It’s an incredibly saturated experience of place.
There’s a sense of going back in time to experience California as very few people have. It’s a wild place and so quiet that you actually hear the bees and hummingbirds. The native plants on the property are found throughout the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains, connecting you to that broader context.
This mountain range set against the sea presents the beauty of California at its most iconic. It’s a rare and timeless thing to dwell in such a place and, for me, there’s nothing more restorative.
And for you, Michael, what’s been the biggest reward to you about creating and renting out Saddle Peak House?
It’s a bit of a proof of concept. I’ve had a heartfelt belief in the power of architecture to make a difference on a deep, personal level, creating an enhanced awareness of the passing day and surrounding beauty. As an architect, the idea of expanding the number of people I can share this with is a compelling idea. Person after person will be able to come here and capture the best of our collective efforts and do so in a joyful and relaxing way.