A Second Chance


Architect Craig O’Connell helps close family friends rebuild their dream vacation home in Calistoga

Lighting from RH was used throughout. Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

“I approach each project by studying the natural elements of the site including trees, views and light (with this particular project the pool that survived the fire was a big factor in placing the new home on the site),the vernacular design of the area (wine country traditional and modern farmhouse looks), the sense of place and the clients’ personality and living habits; my design will reflect all of those things,” says architect Craig O’Connell. “I still love to draw by hand, in sketchbooks, and on trace paper for my initial design concepts and throughout the architectural process which is a classic many-layered design process that I learned 20 years ago in architecture school at Montana State University.”

Custom cabinetry by Woodencraft frames the open kitchen.Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

When realizing this 3,000-square-foot home in Calistoga for a young family who are close friends, O’Connell was equipped to design the perfect, personalized environment. “Since I knew them well, I was able to take inspiration from their personalities and style as well as the mountainous Wine Country setting,” he notes. “I was especially excited to design an energy efficient and fire safe home with green building elements.”

A Tesla wall, lighting control and solar panels power the house while concrete floors were installed for passive cooling.
Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

After losing the original home in 2017 to the Tubbs Fire, the family was eager to start fresh. “They decided to create a retreat for themselves, other family vacationers and corporate/wellness guests,” says O’Connell. “The vision was to create a beautiful, comfortable, functional and flexible space for corporate events and retreats as well as family vacations.”

Fortunately the pool and surrounding Redwoods survived the fire, inspiring O’Connell to shift the site of the new structures that include a barn and the house which is made up of a one-story building and a two-story building connected by a stunning 20-foot steel and glass breezeway that can be open-air in the summer months or closed off in the rainy season. He notes, “Since the clients wanted to use the home for themselves and also rent it out, a challenge was maximizing the allowable square footage that the county would approve for the site while providing ample sleeping areas, bathrooms and functional and comfortable spaces to hang, dine, work and play.”

Fleetwood Windows and Doors help bring the outside inside a breezeway that connects two of the structures.
Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

“One of my favorite design features is a glass breezeway that connects the two buildings that make up the home. The breezeway allows for patio access on either side and 180-degree-views as you pass through it with the pool and patio on one side and the redwood trees and mountains on the other,” says O’Connell. “It’s an example of welcoming the natural environment inside.”

Custom shiplap walls add the desired farmhouse style to the interiors.Photos by David Duncan Livingston.
Tile from Munoz tile and stone adds soft warmth in the primary bathroom.Photos by David Duncan Livingston.
O’Connell worked with Tamalpais Construction to create a true immersion with the outdoors.
Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

For the interiors, the team pivoted away from what the clients’ didn’t like about the previous home, while creating durable spaces with much better flow that were built for entertaining including more spacious living areas and numerous large windows to welcome the outdoors in. “I also incorporated into the floorplan various functional and comfortable areas conducive to socializing and kids’ play and worked in more guest rooms,” he says. “I’m also proud to have designed a home with “off-the-grid” potential, equipped with its own well, Tesla-powered wall and solar paneling, fireproof siding, energy-efficient lighting, and other cutting-edge, eco-friendly features.”

Turner & Taylor Metalworks helped create custom moments in each space.
Photos by David Duncan Livingston.

Since the wife served as project manager, there technically wasn’t a big reveal, rather a cohesive bliss knowing they could finally enjoy this special property. O’Connell overheard the husband say, “We are immensely pleased with how the design and finishes came together, and especially thrilled with how immersed in nature we feel, both inside and outside of the home, because of the orientation of the home, the glass (breezeway and sliding panels), the high ceilings, and the perfectly situated windows and openings. We’ve delighted in discovering the golden light on the hills opposite the sunset ridge and the huge birds of prey that glide all around the home in this private nestled valley sanctuary. We love to cook and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so being in this beautiful, well-appointed, wide open space that allowed us to feel a part of the outdoors and the nearby garden made us so happy.”