Meet Amy A. Alper, Architect, one of three judges for our 2024 Your Modern Cottage Design Awards. You may remember Amy – her firm won an Honorable Mention in the New Modern Cottage category in 2022 for Calistoga Estate. 

She established her custom residential practice in Sonoma, California in 2005. The award-winning architectural practice, with regional, national, and international published work, specializes in new construction and transformational remodel/additions in the north San Francisco Bay Region – for clients from across the county.

Working with the timeless elements of architecture: space, light, texture, rhythm, proportion and clarity of detail, the firm’s work is responsive to the unique desires of each client and the unique opportunities presented by each property. Stewardship of resources, both budgetary and environmental, as well as exceptional service, are also hallmarks of Amy’s practice.

Graduating at the top of her master’s class at UCLA led Amy to career experiences ranging from the modern rigor of Richard Meier and Partners (both in the office and as a TA to his design students) to the contemporary regional styles of William Rawn and Associates and Howard Backen.

Amy Alper, Architect

What is the process for getting all of the pertinent info out of your clients in order to get design on the right path?

We always start with a meeting on site. The discussion is focused on the non-tangible aspects of design. Questions such as, “What view captures your heart and imagination?” ‘What view do you want to see from the living room and from the primary bedroom?” Are there feelings you want to capture in different spaces, like a cozy reading spot, a large space for friends and family, a spa-like bath or a private retreat for work or exercise? Additionally, all pertinent information does not all come from just the client who has engaged me to design their home. To get the design on the right path, as a designer I must also listen to what the property requests regarding terrain, sun orientation and view. The optimum building design will mediate between a multitude of factors including the most practical of preferences and choices. All refine what emerges from a unifying concept.

The Glen Ellen Estate

Is there an underlying philosophy/design approach with each of your residential projects?

The expansive natural landscape of hills, vineyards and woodland views in Sonoma County are a constant source of inspiration. In response, my initial design starts with site design that looks to serve the drama of approach and procession – leading to those views. In Wine Country, sustainable strategies touching upon energy and fire are key. And design in the age of Covid and beyond also calls for the sustainability of social interaction, solved by flexible indoor-outdoor spaces that also allow for distancing.

The Healdsburg Guesthouse and Poolhouse

How do you define design excellence?

Similar to my previous answer, design excellence is achieved by marrying the tangible with non-tangible, on a unique site and with a unique client whose expectations have been exceeded. The architectural tools used in achieving that result are clear organizing principles, studied relationships between plan and section, designing with light in cross section, using materials to tell a story and then artfully managing the transitions between materials.

The Glen Ellen Estate

Do you believe there’s power in design?

I believe in the power of architecture to elicit deep emotions – everything from comfort and well-being to joy and wonder.

Images from a hillside property, soon to be photographed

What info should potential clients have at the ready before meeting with you?

A willingness to go on a design journey where the expected can engage with the
unexpected, culminating in “home.”

The Calistoga Estate – Your Modern Cottage Winner – 2022

Photography for Calistoga Estate by John Merkl Photography

All other project images by Adam Potts Photography