Who We Are
 House Talk
 Before & After
 Contact Us


1960 Mountain Blvd.
Montclair CA 94611
(510) 339-0400 x346
fax  (510) 339-9129


3070 Claremont Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 652-2133
fax (510) 652-0114


House Talk

No. 13 - September, 2003

Building a House to Blend Architecture with Nature"
A talk with Kathrin Parsons in the Sonoma Wine Country

Recently, Sheila Sabine of the Glass/Sabine real estate team spent a peaceful day in the Sonoma wine country, visiting with her friend of many years, Kathrin Parsons. Kathrin and her husband Dennis have designed and built a fantastic countryside retreat resting quietly on nine acres of land loaded with madrone and oak trees, peaceful ponds and lots of wildlife. The “back story” is that Kathrin grew up in a family of artists with her father being a very well known architect. She traveled all over the world with her family – their main interest was constantly observing how architecture actually impacts people’s lives.

Kathrin had always wanted to build a home that was designed by her father. As he grew older, the family agreed that it was time for Calvin Straub to design one last masterpiece -a final expression of his great talent. It was a collaborative effort between father and daughter. They searched for months for the perfect piece of land and finally came upon the Sonoma site – nine acres deep in a part of Sonoma County where there had been a former rock quarry. They took advantage of everything the site had to offer and kept strictly to one of their agreed upon guidelines: “When building a house, always respond to the existing natural environment.” 

Kathrin visited the site day and night and began to closely observe the wildlife and the natural surroundings - the deer, the birds, and the patterns of light falling on the land. During the initial design process, Kathrin found a piece of tree bark on the site and carried this around with her all the time to remind her of the basic color themes that she would use throughout the house. Working to create a natural flow between the colors of the outside world and the décor used on the inside of the house, she found slate that matched the rocks, wood flooring reminiscent of the taupe of the tree bark, and she worked with the natural greens of the oak trees. Remembering always the guiding principles, the house began to emerge and grow from the peaceful external environment. There was no conflict between inside and outside, and flow was undisturbed.

Not wishing to disturb the magical “sleeping giant” of the site, trees were carefully tied back during construction, the foundation was cantilevered over the tree roots so that the ancient oaks could gracefully embrace the outside of the master suite. Indeed, being an old quarry, it was a fairly challenging building site. The house and landscaping were carefully placed in and around the rocks. It was not a square house sitting on top of a hill but rather a house that flowed with the terrain. Again, to balance the rugged rock quarry feel, the environment needed water sounds. Kathrin designed and built a series of ponds with tiny waterfalls and luscious landscaping. There are no fences around the house so the deer and other animals come to the oasis ponds every day. In fact, it seems as though the ponds have always been there.

Kathrin says the house is like a living sculpture to her – both harmonious and beautiful. She insists on living around beauty, harmony and order and is very disciplined about establishing those qualities wherever she goes in the world. The house was uniquely designed with a master suite at one end of the house and a large guest suite at the other end. The entire second floor is her art studio where all her creativity occurs - painting, sculpture, and retreat planning. The house can easily accommodate 150 people for large parties or shrink down to a very cozy environment for just Kathrin and her husband.

After completing this huge house-building project, Kathrin continued to march right along with her creative juices and began to organize artistic retreats for women. These began in her lovely home studio then gradually expanded to sanctuaries all over the world such as a 16th century French villa in Provence, a world class villa in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and the Mabel Dodge House, an historic monument in Taos, New Mexico. She has also naturally expanded her retreats into life coaching, assisting people to make tremendous break-throughs in their lives.

When Sheila Sabine asked Kathrin Parsons to share some of her thoughts, here’s what she had to say.

1. All life is about creativity. Your house needs to support you in your chosen creative endeavor – cooking, sewing, gardening or raising plants, or writing. Your home must nurture you in your creativity.

2. Choose pieces carefully for your home. Sometimes, I have taken years to acquire certain pieces. I love the quality and elegance of timeless pieces; McGuire is one of my favorite furniture designers – the selections have a timeless and elegant quality. I also have some real antiques, and a few scattered eclectic pieces such as a Taos drum that I use as a coffee table and an old Chinese chest that I adore.

3. Take risks! We could not afford to build our house but we did it anyway. We pushed for what we really wanted. So my advice is: don’t settle for less.

4. Remember to be generous. We love to use our house for weddings, garden shows, hospice events, birthday parties, etc. We have used the house to nurture other people. It makes us feel happy.

5. It’s all about living your dreams. You have to go for it where your dreams are concerned. .

For further information about creative retreats and life coaching, Kathrin Parsons can be reached at rushstudios@earthlink.net.

Back to House Talk

For further information or questions for our House Talk column, 
please contact Glass/Sabine by email:  Sheila@GlassSabine.com
or call us at 510-326-5055.

  The Glass-Sabine Team is Number One!