A Cloud-Like Refuge in California – Azure Magazine


While we have seen an ongoing appreciation for the modernist aesthetic in interior design and architecture, we tend to forget some of its characteristic design features were first introduced to regulate the behaviour of inhabitants. Le Corbusier famously employed a rational aesthetic of clean lines, rectilinear forms, and smooth surfaces in the spaces he designed to ensure that their inhabitants would self-moderate their behaviour as though in public. Feeling a distinct lack of domestic comfort, the owners of this modernist home in Mill Valley commissioned OPA to create an environment that would be a refuge from “the conformity of the outside world.”

For the project, OPA forewent the tropes of modernism and instead sought inspiration from the ever-changing and variable qualities of nature. Guided by the goal of softening the existing interior — a design decision that gave the project the name Softie — the architects chose to create a cloud-like atmosphere throughout the space. To achieve a dreamy quality, plump, undulating, bulging masses were gently placed onto the existing surfaces of the three-story home. Much like how clouds visually alter their surroundings, the organic forms “erode and blur the order of the rational modernist grid,” without completely erasing it.

Like an uneven settling of fog across a landscape, softness is detailed throughout the space in different intensities and in a variety of ways. A strategic placement of cloud-esque elements meant that OPA could completely change the feel of the entire space without having to remodel every square inch of the house.

From outside, a newly bulging white stair seems to spill out from the interior — a hint as to what lies behind the front door. Inside, the undulating ceiling drops to meet the floor and, in doing so, creates a cave-like nook. Further inside, the walls curve around previously sharp corners and hug structural columns, as if in an attempt to absorb them into their bloated masses. The soft white interior envelope creates a playfully relaxed atmosphere and is open and bright while still providing comfort and a sense of privacy. The project is topped off outside, on the terrace, above which a cloud-shaped canopy hovers — seeming to float alongside the other clouds in the sky.


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