Author: Excerpted from Designs for Living: Houses by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (Monacelli Press, 2014). Reprinted with permission.

Ordinarily, when architects discuss contextualism, the conversation focuses on design—that is, how a new building will relate, aesthetically, to its surroundings. Here we concerned ourselves with contextualism of a different sort. As is often the case in highly desirable communities with much sought-after building sites, the project came with challenges.

On the hilltop, the couple envisioned a writer’s retreat and a place for al-fresco entertaining, which they named the Ahwahnee after the legendary National Park Service lodge in Yosemite, a favorite of theirs. For inspiration, we drew on the work of California architects Bernard Maybeck and William Wurster, and the vernacular barn and shed buildings found throughout the region.