Custom House Less Than 3,000 Square Feet

The Sonoma WeeHouse is, in fact, not one but two houses—one main house and one guest house—on a hillside site in Santa Rosa, Calif., just north and west of the vineyard-rich region that gave it its name. These small, impeccably detailed, minimalist, weathering steel-clad boxes were designed by St. Paul, Minn.–based firm Alchemy Architects for a client that knows a thing or two about fine-detailing and minimalism: Apple’s senior design director of real estate and development, himself an architect who collaborated on the design.

The structures were designed as part of Alchemy’s WeeHouse system of modular, prefabricated houses. The 640-square-foot main structure, which features an ipe-lined interior and a 9-foot-tall sliding glass door on either side, was assembled in Oregon in two parts: a 16-foot by 40-foot module and a bolt-on porch, which were each shipped to the site largely complete. The 330-square-foot guest house, a single unit, followed suit. The steel-framed modules were then set on concrete plinths on site, ready to occupy. The porch cantilevers out over the hillside, offering views of the valley below, and it was this striking profile that caught the attention of the jury. “It’s so tiny, but quite dramatic,” David Baker said.

With such small footprints, not a single inch can be wasted. The main house features a whitewashed oak bed in the middle of the structures, with the frame forming the bedroom walls, and privacy screens pocket into the bathroom ceiling in lieu of traditional swinging doors. In the guest house, a built-in oak wardrobe serves as storage, and the wall of the bathroom. But throughout, the minimal palette is used to great effect. “I love the use of natural materials,” R. Michael Graham said.

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