Last Updated on March 3, 2023
Spatial designer Camille Peignet has conducted many high-end projects with the acclaimed Red Dot Studio since 2017. Red Dot is one of the finest architecture and design firms in the San Francisco area, known for its modern, wide-ranging high-quality work on premium projects around the U.S.
With Red Dot, Peignet has worked on numerous prestigious projects of varying types, including a coworking space, multiple preschools, a modern cottage, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and home renovations.
Here’s what Peignet had to say about moving between projects:
“Each project takes time, sometimes three to four years, and not all projects came to an end, especially during the pandemic. Currently, I’m working on the renovation of an Herb House in the historic Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine and four home renovation projects.”
But one of Peignet’s most fascinating projects thus far has been the renovation of what is referred to as the “Yosemite Waterfall House,” and it’s this house that will be the focus of our coverage today.
However, before we launch into the Yosemite Waterfall House project, let’s properly introduce the core concepts of Spatial Design. A layperson might think that this term is synonymous with interior design, but spatial design is about so much more.
An introduction to spatial design/interior architecture
Spatial design is a relatively new yet highly-regarded discipline that incorporates elements of architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design.
For further clarity, we can also consider a closely-related discipline: interior architecture.
But neither title communicates the full extent of spatial design. Peignet describes spatial design this way:
“Spatial design is the process of understanding people’s needs to iterate spatial solutions, requiring research and time to develop a proposition that will fit a project’s individual needs and uses, but which will also be feasible, both technically and economically, as well as reliable, sustainable, and beautiful. Most often, it intervenes inside a built environment.”
Spatial design gives greater consideration to human needs and integrates them into the design of the building. Using specific design strategies and design psychologies, spatial design influences the way we feel and the extent to which we enjoy living in a space.
Spatial design is a very technical and demanding field that brings together aspects of many different disciplines to create a pleasing and highly usable space.
As Peignet explained to us, spatial design takes volumes, shapes, lighting, color, materials, and flow into consideration in order to curate a space, usually an interior space.
Now that we have a better understanding, let’s hear how Peignet adjusted all of these parameters to execute a masterful renovation of a unique property.
The Yosemite Waterfall House
The Yosemite Waterfall House is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house that sits at one of the entrances to Yosemite National Park, nestled between large trees, just above a waterfall.
The clients, a couple who love the outdoors, purchased the house back in 2018. In September of that year, Red Dot Studio began work on the renovation, with Peignet assigned as the lead designer and project manager.
The house was in a lovely location, of course, but sadly, it was also in a state of disrepair. The owners asked Red Dot to transform the cabin into an appealing holiday and rental home. They wanted it to become a welcoming and minimalist space with a new ensuite bathroom, and all of this needed to be accomplished while sticking to a strict budget.
However, as work on the house began, the scope of the project and the ultimate goals of the project shifted quite a bit.
“Construction started only a few months before the pandemic. The owners, who were living in Newport Beach, were soon able to work remotely and decided to move there first for a short time, and it has now become their main house. They decided to do a lot of work themselves, such as plumbing, electrical, and more. What started as a rental and holiday home project ended up becoming their main residence as their love for the place grew.”
It may sound like the premise of an HGTV show, but for Peignet and the team, there were many factors to consider during this project, and changes to the project goals required adjustments as well.
But every project starts with a single step, and in this case, raising the ceiling and rearranging the kitchen came first.
“The ceiling was previously flat and quite low, and vaulting it really transformed the space. The kitchen layout was updated to facilitate access to the deck and outdoor dining area as well as accommodate a large and very welcoming dining table.”
The team also specified white IKEA cabinets for the kitchen, as well as an upgraded terrazzo countertop to add some natural appeal while also connecting the kitchen to the living room fireplace stones.
Respecting the landscape
For all of Peignet’s spatial design projects, the surrounding environment of each space is carefully accounted for.
But for the Yosemite Waterfall House, the environment and the landscape were extremely important. After all, the house’s location is a central element of its appeal.
This was also one of Peignet’s first major projects in a rural location. Even when indoors, the owners and their visitors needed to feel connected to the forest.
“While most of my projects are residential and home renovations, this was the first in a more rural area. The focus was to accommodate the surroundings. The scale and open plan of the house also implied that the flow and design needed to be even more harmonious throughout the house.”
This incorporation of the environment influenced various design decisions throughout the renovation, including one of the biggest undertakings: adding a new hallway to the house.
A new hallway
“As we tried to keep as much of the existing house as possible, we removed many walled-in closets that were congesting the space. We worked a lot on the different openings in the house and added and transformed many doors and windows, most of which needed to be replaced.”
With these changes taken care of, the most substantial architectural change involved adding a hallway, one that didn’t follow the angle of the house.
Why take such a drastic step? Well, this hallway allowed for better light distribution throughout the house and also facilitated gorgeous views of the topography.
“This layout change transformed the cabin into a house in the trees, with views all around, all while maintaining the original, discreet exterior language of the house.”
Materials and colors
But what about the interior design of the Yosemite Waterfall House? What were some of the design influences behind this renovation?
Both color and materials were major factors here, as these can serve both practical and aesthetic functions in a home.
Peignet says that multiple cultural influences were combined to help create a space that created just the right feel while also being able to withstand heavy usage.
“We worked with the clients to create a space with Scandinavian and Japanese influences, coming together to create a calm atmosphere. With many salvaged wood accents and both nude and soft tones, the house is warm in a minimalist way. We tried to find the right balance between quiet and lively materials with monochrome tones and simple shapes but with a bit of variation in color and pattern.”
The end result is a space that encourages relaxation and fun. It’s a gestalt made possible by many individual, conscious decisions based on longstanding design principles.
Improving the deck
Peignet told us that one of the last challenges during this renovation was the deck which needed to bridge the interior and exterior spaces.
At the start of the project, the deck had a beautiful location by the waterfall, but the structural condition of the deck was downright dangerous.
The build site was rocky, with drastic slopes, making it even more important to consult with the contractor and structural engineer to make sure that the new posts would be able to support the deck for many years to come.
Beyond rebuilding, the deck needed to serve multiple purposes while not negatively affecting the sightlines from inside the house.
“While it was important to have a deck on the rear side of the house to create a relaxing space for dining, the hot tub, and the fantastic views, we also didn’t want to obstruct the view from the interior of the house. So we lowered a sitting platform facing the living room and recessed the hot tub platform.”
Once finished, the deck was allowed to offer amenities and beautiful outdoor spaces safely, adding a whole new level of value to the house.
Following the completion of the Yosemite Waterfall House project, Peignet came away from the project with some clear takeaways.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway was a new appreciation for flow as part of spatial design, not just the flow of people through the space, but also the flow of light and exterior views.
“The exterior volume of the house didn’t change at all, but meticulous interior changes transformed the cluttered interior into a welcoming space with new openings, volumes, layout, and light sources.”
This is a lesson that Peignet has carried through to other projects on large-scale buildings, such
as her project on the well-known Great Highway in San Francisco, which consists in the renovation of a 3-story oceanside home facing the ocean where views, light, and relation to the outdoor spaces were a key part of the design.
The renovation of the Yosemite Waterfall House also led to a more sustainable approach for Red Dot Studio, which seeks to maintain functional elements of the original space.
“We made an effort to keep what was in place and functioning, which included certain mechanical systems. We’re always implementing more and more sustainable strategies at Red Dot Studio, and this was an important step in that process.”
Peignet is well-known in the field as an expert in sustainable design. She mentioned that many of her colleagues at Red Dot come to her for advice on sustainability in their projects. Recently, Peignet in February 2022, Camille earned the Living Future Accreditation (LFA), commonly viewed in the industry as one of the most challenging and esteemed accreditations in the field of sustainable design in the world.
To conclude, Peignet believes strongly in the way the Yosemite renovation preserved so much of the beauty and value that was already present in this little mountain cabin.
The exterior appearance stayed largely the same, and despite the many changes made to the interior of the house, all of those changes serve to showcase the gorgeous surroundings and create a comfortable and pleasing living space.
This captures one of the most exciting aspects of spatial design/interior architecture: it’s more about transforming a space, not replacing it.