Dezeen Magazine

Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture

Neal Schwartz includes dovecotes in "chapel-like" California studio

A series of shelters for doves were embedded in the laminated-cedar facade of Neal Schwartz's self-designed studio, which is an extension of his Sonoma home.

Called Mourning Dovecote, the extension is attached to Schwartz's single-storey home in Sonoma, California.

Angular roof of Sonoma home extension by architect Neal Schwartz
The extension features a striking angled roof

Schwartz worked with his studio Schwartz and Architecture to create the addition, which the architect uses as a home studio.

The project is an ode to the many dovecotes prevalent across the Sonoma countryside – structures designed to provide shelter for pigeons and doves that are often attached to the rear of houses or barns.

Low-slung home belonging to Neal Schwartz in Sonoma, California
Attached to architect Neal Schwartz's existing home, the addition features a feathery metal roof

Twelve rectilinear nesting boxes were built onto one side of the extension's angled facade, which is clad in powder grey-hued laminated cedar.

According to the architect, the extension's height, proportions, orientation and ventilation were specifically designed to encourage nesting doves.

Nesting boxes built onto Sonoma home extension with cedar cladding
Twelve nesting boxes were built into the extension

The existing home has clerestories wrapping its rear facade, so to preserve these, Schwartz knocked out a wall underneath the windows.

"This threshold was very low, so the addition needed to somehow step or angle back up to have a higher ceiling," he told Dezeen.

"Through a series of iterations, I just kept getting bolder – first angling up to nine feet, then to 12, then to 14 and then to 18 feet."

Rectilinear bird-watching window built into facade of Sonoma house extension
A low bird-watching window was inserted at floor level

The structure is topped with a steep, distinctively shaped standing seam metal roof created from laser-cut metal shingles informed by bird feathers.

"I wanted a somewhat chapel-like space in which it was not immediately clear where the light was coming from," explained Schwartz.

"The angled high ceiling draws you into the space and because it gets so high that it really hides the upper skylight, as in a chapel."

Sheer curtain decorated with abstract flocks of starlings
The house and the extension are divided by a sheer curtain

A low bird-watching window was inserted at floor level in response to the ground-feeding habits of local mourning doves – the bird species that the extension is named after.

Inside, the original house and the extension are divided by a sheer silk curtain, covered in a pattern made from a rearrangement of a photograph from Richard Barnes' Murmur series, which captured starlings in flight.

Light-filled home studio with angled skylight roof
An aperture sits at ground level

Light filters through the extension from the high ceiling's south-facing skylight, while a central painting by artist Maggie Connors is suspended above.

Plaster-clad interior walls give way to sliding timber desk panels, which pivot to reveal magnetic pin-up boards used by Schwartz for giving work presentations.

The panels were finished in colours that take cues from the feathers of mourning doves.

Pivoting desk panels designed in blue, with shadows cast on them, by Neal Schwartz
Pivoting desk panels take cues from the colours and markings of mourning doves

The architect also created bespoke 3D-printed door handles bound in plaited leather are informed by the work of iconic Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.

A small hidden courtyard was inserted alongside the extension, which is characterised by mossy mounds, site boulders and a Japanese maple tree.

Exterior courtyard with mossy mounds
An exterior courtyard was inserted alongside the extension

Visitors reach the extension from the courtyard via a walkway made from surplus cedar offcuts created during the construction of the project.

"When I originally designed the house, I liked how it turned its back to the street, essentially hiding the long vineyard views until you enter the front door," reflected Schwartz.

"Perhaps it was also in part trying to make the modern structure more demure in the rural and traditional setting."

"Now, 10 years later, I was ready to add the front-facing 'head' to the home [the extension] – more confident in its oddness."

Wabi-sabi style cedar walkway made with offcuts from the construction project by Neal Schwartz
Schwartz created a walkway from cedar offcuts and wedged a stone in between the slats

Other designers who have completed self-designed studio projects at their homes include architect Paul Westwood, who transformed his dilapidated garage into a workshop, and designer and artist John-Paul Philippe who refurbished a neglected barn.

The photography is by Douglas Sterling Photography.

More images and plans

Floor plan
Floor plan
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture
Mourning Dovecote by Schwartz and Architecture