Gold in the Hills: A Solar-Powered California Retreat

A handcrafted, solar-powered home in the Sierra Nevada foothills serves many purposes. Enchanting and inspiring visitors is just the beginning.

| May/June 2006

  • The kiva-like living room provides the home’s central gathering space. A soapstone Tulikivi stove, radial beams, cedar paneling and oak flooring offer warmth to this space. Hot air that gathers in the high ceiling can escape through cupola windows and operable vents around the perimeter of the central ceiling window, which is etched with a Native American design motif.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Wildflowers on the hillside provide a colorful, low groundcover around the solar panels that provide hot water for the radiant heating system. The dining room, in the westerly wing, faces toward the Yuba River.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Michael had rocking chairs made from oak trees that were felled from the house site. “I look at those every day in my bedroom and pay tribute to the oaks that were cut,” he says.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Homeowner Michael Funk (left) and architect Jeff Gold
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The entry door plays on the imagery of the traditional keyhole and includes a moon/sun window and references to the four directions and seasons. A two-ton boulder slab was set into the entry wall to provide a bench for removing shoes upon entering.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The house’s radial lines are reflected in the curving soffit and ridge beam. A local furniture maker created the dining room table and chairs using native black oak and pine from the property
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The backsplash behind the stove is a woven design with a Native American bird motif using black and green slate. The sustainably harvested mahogany and oak cabinetry was finished with natural oils for a low luster.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The “bunker” adjacent to the house entry contains a fire hydrant connected to the water stored for emergencies and fire-fighting, and for the building and garden sprinkler systems.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Granite stepping stones weave a path through the courtyard garden with perennial color and native groundcovers. Dogwoods bloom on the hillside beyond.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The sun terrace follows the living room’s radial lines and overlooks both the Yuba River and Rock Creek. A built-in planter provides herbs for the kitchen.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The posts supporting the entry walkway are ponderosa pine logs harvested from the property, peeled by hand with a drawknife and shaped at the bottom to fit the supporting granite boulder. A steel pin drilled into the boulder and the post assures a positive connection.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • The roof of the barn building at the garden and orchard site supports an extensive photovoltaic array. Inside, a room is dedicated to storing the batteries and electrical panels that monitor and control the system. A portion of the barn is a greenhouse for starting seedlings for the garden.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne
  • Michael’s favorite room is his office, which offers a breathtaking view of the Rock Creek waterfall. Michael likes the rustic feel of the stone and the ponderosa pine beams in this room.
    Photo By Barbara Bourne

Michael Funk’s 1,200 acres along the Yuba River in the Sierra Nevada foothills above Nevada City, California, are nothing short of magical. Anyone lucky enough to spend time on this land can’t help but leave rejuvenated and inspired; the majestic waterfalls, dramatic gorges and fairy-tale woodlands seep inside and become a little part of you. You leave with a renewed reverence for nature’s magnificence, a refreshed commitment to preserve endangered places such as this.

That’s just how Michael planned it.

Michael had two primary intentions when he acquired his land: to maintain the area’s pristine nature and to share it with others. He envisioned a refuge, permanently protected from the development that’s sweeping up many of the river valleys and gorges around Nevada City, a Victorian gold-mining town now swarming with retirees and real-estate speculators. He also dreamed of creating a retreat for his business associates and members of the environmental groups in which he’s active. So when it came time to build his home on this land—after six months of breaking trails and scaling its creek gorges—Michael asked architect Jeff Gold to build something grand enough to meet these needs and match the setting, but humble enough to know its place.

“I wanted to put roots in real deep and be here the rest of my life,” says Michael, the president and CEO of United Foods, the nation’s largest wholesaler of natural and organic products. “I wanted to build a house that blended with the property and was an example of green building and sustainable processes—a place where we could have meetings and draw people to do environmental work. It’s important to provide places where people can experience a direct connection to nature.”

Organic design 

“Very early in the design process, Michael expressed a desire to do something that was organic and outside the box—not conventional or traditional in any way—expressing the natural qualities of the site,” Gold says. “That immediately inspired my thinking toward doing a home that was not rooted in rectilinear geometry.”

Anabell Jones
12/15/2013 8:57:25 AM

More important sign of this interior is its interior because the real enjoyment is from the inside, whose pictures you did not share. Besides, how is its environment sounding from the inside, and whether there are any introduced to reduce the echo, you said nothing about it.

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