By Zahid Sardar — Architect William Duff’s latest commission turns a modest structure into a glowing sculpture for art collectors Cindy and Howard Rachofsky.
Since launching his eponymous firm in San Francisco in 1998, architect William Duff has contributed to the city’s landscape with a brand of warm Modernism. “I like to explore the inherent qualities of only a few materials for a more holistic architecture,” says Duff. That immersive, clean-lined materiality has taken shape in residences, restaurants and offices in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley and beyond with projects that aim to bridge design and art.
Duff’s most recent variation on the theme has materialized in Napa Valley, with a 100-year-old barn he has restored for Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, the Dallas-based philanthropists and art collectors who hold the majority of their vast contemporary art collection in a Richard Meier-designed house.
The grounds of their California home—where the couple spends most of the summer—are dotted with outdoor works by the likes of Richard Long, Ugo Rondinone, Adam McEwan and Korean designer Lee Hun Chung. Responding both to the couple’s request for a minimalist aesthetic and a “quintessential gabled barn,” Duff relocated the structure to its current site, and then inserted rectangular, mirror-clad pavilions within the barn for use as a kitchen and gym.
The pavilions are spaced far enough apart to make room between them for a hefty dining table designed by BDDW. Thanks to the flanking mirrored walls, even an intimate meal looks like a sizeable party, as guests enjoy views of the landscape in every direction. The gym, which is clad in two-way mirrors, lets in daylight yet turns translucent when illuminated from within.
The renovation of the barn was faithful to its original design, replete with gaps between the siding that once allowed air to circulate between the sheltering livestock and drying hay inside. The gaps also intimate the architect’s overall efforts to make poetry of light. Sun streaming through the slits and holes forms expressionistic patterns on the new floors; when the
barn doors are rolled back, the gleaming mirrors reflect the view.
“Given the constraints an architect needs to contend with, it’s challenging to be artful with buildings,” Duff says. The way this reimagined barn engages its historic and natural surroundings is effortlessly sculptural. “It is as close to art,” he says, “as any building I’ve ever done.”