Tiny house in the forests of California

Mork-Ulnes Architects embarked on a quest for the language of domestic warmth in a small guesthouse blending flexibility, functionality and sustainability of construction.

This small guesthouse designed by Mork-Ulnes Architects on a steep hillside property in the middle of the forest in Marin County, California, has the same straightforward pragmatism and lucid efficiency as a Le Corbusier's machine à habiter and, at the same time, that domestic warmth which small proportions and functional imperatives cannot dilute. And the comparison then goes, despite the volumetric and dimensional, material and geographic differences, to the Cabanon, the minimal living unit (14 square metres) that Le Corbusier designed in 1951  on the French Riviera, shapin it through a perfectly balanced composition of proportions and essential furnishing elements.

The French cabin however, wrapped in pinewood slats, faded into the Mediterranean woods, while the Californian one renounces any mimetic intent to declare a contemporary language not only from a figurative point of view but also from a technical-functional one, in order to respond to the peculiar characteristics of the site and to reduce environmental impact.

Mork-Ulnes Architects, Crest guesthouse, San Anselmo, Marin County, California, USA 2023

The building, set into the hillside on the south side of the plot, serves as an accessory space for the owners' adjacent dwelling. In order to reduce the ecological footprint and deal with the low budget, the building uses the existing foundations of a demolished garage and is built on two levels, with access from the upper level on the west side. A single-pitch roof with a marked eastward slope follows the course of the ground, expanding into a parallelepiped volume at the south end that corresponds to the small mezzanine entrance area. From here, an almost invisible ladder-staircase leads to the level below, where the dining-kitchen area, with a removable unit, acts as a pivot for domestic life: the sleeping area to the north, with a drop-down bed that disappears into the wall during the day, leaving space for the living room sofa; the services to the south arranged in two micro-cells with bathroom and shower stall with a window overlooking the woods. A panoramic terrace to the east, accessible through a large sliding glass door, expands the outdoor living space given the mild Californian climate, and blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors.

Mork-Ulnes Architects, Crest guesthouse, San Anselmo, Marin County, California, USA 2023

On the outside, fireproof cement panels, chosen in consideration of the high risk of fire in the area, shape a high-performance shell in terms of energy efficiency while guaranteeing durability and low maintenance requirements.
Inside, a minimal material vocabulary (wood for cladding and furnishings, smooth cement for the floors and, the only quirk, the bright green ceramic tiles in the shower) connotes a space which, amidst differently arranged elements, niches and strategically positioned closets, acquires a proportioned  and radiant configuration, appearing much larger than its 38 square metres.

Project team:
Casper Mork-Ulnes, Phi Van Phan, Robert Scott, Lexie Mork-Ulnes, Kaoru Lovett (job captain)
Structural engineering:
David Strandberg
Civil engineering:
Adobe Associates, Inc. (Aaron R. Smith)
General Contractor:
Damner Construction Axelson Builders

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