Building a meditative retreat

Stone Edge Farm

This project, designed as a retreat for the client, is composed of elegantly balanced and linked elements within a serene, uncluttered landscape. A carefully sited trilogy of structures—celestial observatory, spa, stone pyramid—are grounded by linear forms, including a reflecting pool, raised lap pool, and bars of olive trees. The composition floats within meadows of drought-tolerant grasses, connecting the site to the larger Sonoma Valley landscape.

Stone Edge Farm is named for the site’s unique location over an alluvial plane. Serving as the primary residence for the owners, this property has been developed incrementally over a 10 year period to include a commercial vineyard, an olive orchard that produces award winning oil and an organic garden that supplies several gourmet restaurants locally.

On this area of the property, the owners wanted to create a retreat, simple and modern in design to balance the agricultural activity on the other parts of the property. An observatory to house a 20-inch telescope and a spa building, designed to infuse tranquility onto the property were two main programmatic components

The Zen spa building was nestled on one side into the forested grove which separates the spa from the residence. The approach is a deliberately meandering path to preserve the trees and create a meditative walking experience as one approaches the spa precinct. In this way, the forest remains untouched but its benefits are fully appreciated. The walk through the woods and the position of the building creates psychological distance between the spa experience and the daily activity of the residential and agricultural areas.

The remainder of the predominantly flat site was open and called for bold gestures. Dominated by an enormous bay tree, the space needed structure to offer weight and anchor the buildings.

An 80 foot lap pool is raised out of the ground to create a fulcrum that connects two Cor-ten steel structures—a spa building and an observatory that is set in a 12 inch deep reflecting pool. Rows of ancient olive trees, rescued from an old orchard in northern California, add further balance to the site. Acting as structural anchors on the property, they ground the agriculture and provide screening from the neighboring residence.

A 100 foot long asymmetrical pyramid sculpture anchors the eastern side of the property. Built from the native alluvial stones that were un-earthed during construction, this structure grew out of a desire to reclaim local materials in an innovative way. The decision to create a sculptural form out of the enormous weight of these stones created—and was intended to ground— a trilogy of structures in the landscape. It also acts as a screen, sheltering the site from surrounding distraction and offering a quiet geometry. A lawn area—requested by the client for their son—is embedded within the meadow surrounding the pyramid.

The drought-tolerant meadow functions as a planar element linking the lawn, pool and Olive allees, also meant to heal and breathe new life into land damaged from construction. Designed as a monolithic mass, it is made of four layered grasses—Pink Muhly, Atlas Fescue, Slender Veldt and Little Bluestem— whose narrow, thin leaves emphasize a graceful verticality. The plants were selected for their low water-use, while varied times of seed production highlight subtle seasonal change throughout the year. Reinforcing the property’s overarching organic concern, the meadow also unifies the ground plane, knitting the elements together and maintaining the meditative feel of the site.


Honor Award in General Design
American Society of Landscape Architects, Northern California Chapter

Honor Award in General Design
American Society of Landscape Architects


Sonoma, CA




Marion Brenner, Joe Fletcher, Tim Griffith, Vicky Sambunaris and ACLA