An Innovative Approach:

Landscaping the Sunset House of Innovation

Sunset Magazine House of Innovation

When the owners of Sunset Magazine’s House of Innovation called last year for a complete reimagining of their landscape, the J.Montgomery team was in heaven!  Initially conceptualized by Sunset and Popular Science Magazine as part of a series of experimental showcase homes, the famous house was opened on September 8, 2006 in our own home city of Alamo, California.  15 years later, a new J.Montgomery landscape is in development for the site.

Flash-Back to 2006

Realized by Dahlin Group Architects, the house is a high-tech and green design marvel with both Mid-century Modern and Craftsman stylistic elements.  Dahlin Group sums up their elegant architecture as a “warm contemporary interpretation of a traditional California ranch home” with a “dramatic indoor/outdoor living experience.”  At the epitome of innovative design, it features “the future of technology in everyday living with green features like rooftop solar panels, a rooftop herb and vegetable garden, water cisterns, automated lighting levels and temperature control systems, to [sic] the latest in innovative gadgetry.”

Living room of Sunset House of Innovation

Photo – Sunset Magazine 2008

Flash-Forward to The Present

J.Montgomery Design plan in color

Detail of Plan, J.Montgomery Designs

With the recent re-sale of the home, J.Montgomery Designs was brought in to reimagine the landscape into innovative harmony with the house itself.  The existing landscape, while it had a contemporary aesthetic, had one major problem – It just didn’t flow.  And when it comes to the indoor/outdoor living experience, flow is literally everything.  In this case, that translated to raising the grade of the patio to the height of the interior floor for a true walk-out experience.  Not a single step from inside the house straight out to the zero-edge pool.

Hand drawn rendering by J.Montgomery Designs

Conceptual Sketch, J.Montgomery Designs

Wide, elegant floating steps transition to the lower patio, creating effortless movement through the space.  An ultra-sleek pergola with retractable shade screens defines an outdoor room on the lower patio and frames the view of the upper deck with wrap-around bench:  Flow, Flexibility, and the Architectural adage, “Form follows Function.”

Hand drawn rendering by J.Montgomery Designs

Conceptual Sketch, J.Montgomery Designs

Innovative Touches

Detail of J.Montgomery plan showing pool cross section

Pool Detail, J.Montgomery Designs

We couldn’t design a landscape for the House of Innovation without making it innovative, so we went with the cleanest, most contemporary elements and even ventured into some new territory.  Floating steps with underlighting?  Check.  Zero-edge waterfall?  Check.  Glass-front spa?  Check!  Now that one is a first.  (For safety, sturdy architectural-grade plexiglass is used.  The effect of seeing the water held in by no more than a ‘pane of glass’ is next level!)

Q & A On the Landscape

Q:  What is our favorite innovative detail?

A:  It’s hard to choose, but we have to give a shout-out to Brustor Outdoor Sun Systems for their ultra-sleek bioclimatic pergolas, which feature louvers that open and close for full or partial sun protection.  Completely customizable with shade screens, lighting, heating, and sensor-activation, these were an exciting new addition on this project and certainly on projects with a similar style going forward.

Q:  Does it feature innovative planting?

A:  You bet!  Our planting designers had a blast creating an elegant and edgy low-water planting design.  Included are South African and Australian species such as Anigozanthos, Grevillea, and Lomandra, and unique cultivars such as Mahonia “Soft Caress” and Phormium “Apricot Queen.”

Q:  When do we expect this project to be built?

A:  COVID has meant a lot of changes in how homeowners and construction professionals navigate home remodels, but we expect the project will become real in the next few years.  We cannot wait to see it completed!  DREAM photo op.

The House of Innovation is an example of architectural and technical mastery by the original designers.  We are so honored to be involved in the development of this site and excited for the time when the new innovative landscape can be used daily by the homeowners to enhance their quality of life.

 Interested in innovating your outdoor space?  We are available for design meetings going into Spring.  Worked with us in the past?  Give us a shout-out and a vote on Best of the East Bay 2021!

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