99: Wildland Fire Protection | Fire Country Lookout Home

44m 48s |
In this episode, Cherise is joined by Maura Fernandez-Abernethy, Principal, and Andy Drake, Project Manager from Studio Vara in San Francisco, California. They discuss the Fire Country Lookout family retreat in Healdsburg, California.

Nestled atop a serene oak-studded hill west of Healdsburg, California, the Fire Country Lookout House exemplifies sustainable living in a world of climate change. Studio Vara envisioned more than a house; it demonstrates forward-thinking design centered on fire resilience and family function.
Photo Credit: Matthew Millman | @matthewmillmanphoto

Maura Fernández Abernethy, Principal, Studio VARA

Maura Fernández Abernethy has been specializing in residential architecture for over twenty years. She has worked at a variety of scales but has found that her passion is truly in the fine details. Her approach to architecture is informed by her love of craft and art and by working from the inside out.

Maura has extensive experience in designing, fabricating and working directly with artisans. After having lived and practiced in five metropolitan cities during her career: Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Barcelona, and San Francisco, she has amassed experience with a range of scales and typologies.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Westchester and Hudson Valley Chapter of the AIA.

Andy Drake, Project Manager, Studio VARA

Andy brings over 20 years of residential and commercial architecture experience to Studio VARA, with a particular interest in the honest expression of materials and ideas in built form.

He loves encountering the ‘ah-ha’ moments of realizing a great idea while working through a project’s design and details.

Project Name and Location: Fire Country Lookout in Healdsburg, California

This multi-generational family retreat on an oak-studded hilltop west of Healdsburg, CA provides a prototype for sustainable dwelling and resilient development in the “post-climate-change” West.

A single 180-foot long extrusion was carefully sited along the east-west axis, its prismatic form kinked at the center to maximize sunrise views of Mount St. Helena and sunset views to the West.

This simple form provides optimum orientation for passive ventilation and solar exposure, while shading the outdoor areas against the scorching summer heat. Hovering above the landscape on its concrete base, a wrapper of standing-seam zinc panels envelops the roof and walls, creating a protective outer shell shielding the inner volumes from sun and frequent wildfires.

A skeleton of prefabricated heavy timber glulam frames organize the plan into a series of spaces along a single-loaded circulation spine, inflected by a breezeway demarcating public and private zones. This structure sets the rhythm of the fenestration and module for exterior and interior materials, with apertures in the outer shell revealing the sumptuous interior, and vertical cedar screens shading outdoor living spaces.

A rugged material palette ties hardscape, pool, and pool house together into a cohesive intervention in the landscape. Scalloped Corten retaining walls stitch the terraces and driveway into the hillside, and a network of trails provides access to the natural beauty of the site while acting as part of the property’s defensible space strategy.

Rooftop solar hot water, photovoltaics, Tesla Powerwall batteries, and a backup generator complete the infrastructure for off-the-grid wine country living.

Additional Information:

Project Team List:


Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT  image
Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT
Senior Spec Writer | RDH Building Science
Maura Fernandez Abernethy  image
Maura Fernandez Abernethy
Principal | Studio VARA
Andy Drake, image
Andy Drake,
Project Manager | Studio VARA