Swatt Miers Architects serves up California cool with a warm modern twist

07 Sep 2023

Three exquisitely composed custom residences showcase the studio's mastery at harmonizing form, space and nature

Photo credit: Tim Griffith

Bay Area firm Swatt Miers Architects (SMA) is highly regarded for creating timeless designs that celebrate the natural environment. Specifically, the firm uniquely melds the iconic, mid-20th century architectural forms of Los Angeles and Palm Springs with the Third Bay Area Tradition, most notably exemplified by Sea Ranch, a planned community located along the Pacific Coast in Northern California. To date, the studio's portfolio includes more than 200 new-build luxury residences and speciality-use residential structures across California, Hawaii, Canada, India, and Spain.

Robert Swatt, FAIA, who co-founded the firm with George Miers, AIA, describes the studio's aesthetic as "warm modern." Raised in Los Angeles and educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Swatt counts early California modern masters among his notable influences, including influential architect and educator Ray Kappe (1927-2019), a co-founder of Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc).

As a way of defining the firm’s ethos, Swatt introduced basic principles for modern architecture that ensure projects are "knitted to the land", designed from the inside out, and create connectivity, horizontally and vertically, with forms, both visually and physically, between the inside and outside.

"We approach projects with a curious mind, and bring thoughtfulness and consistency to our designs,” he explains. “It takes work to create a structure that is resonant in its simplicity and feels right."

"Our philosophy is akin to jazz music," adds Texas-born and San Francisco-raised George Miers, who studied under acclaimed post-modernists Charles Moore and Ricardo Legoretta, and the classicist Dolf Schnebli. In recent years, Miers has pioneered companion animal facilities, a project type which complements SMA's residential work. "Our rigorous approach, commitment to consistency, and innovative thinking make us versatile designers who are in tune with our buildings' occupants."


Expansive Places, Intimate Spaces

Evident in the following custom residences is SMA's deftness in shaping expansive architectural volumes for a human-scale environment with transcendent sensitivity.

  • Happy Valley Residence - Located on a 2.3-acre parcel bordered by a year-round creek, this 10,800-square-foot structure sits on the footprint of the previous one; this key design strategy preserves the mature landscaping.
  • Owyang House - Light, nature, and water set the stage for this minimally sculptural new structure, which includes two stories and a full basement encompassing 6,000 square feet.
  • Drury Court Residence - At this unique hillside setting with majestic Redwood trees, an abutting regional park, and stunning bay views, a new structure of 3 clear-span forms gracefully follows the sharply sloping site.

Model Transformations 

In realizing these one-of-a-kind modern homes, SMA has established itself as a sought-after creator of collectable architecture. In keeping with a sculptural tradition, the studio uses what Swatt describes as an "old school" design tool for almost all of its projects - physical design study models. Through the model-making process, SWA learns so much more about architecture than from 3-D computer modelling, which the studio also uses.

"We like to think of a Swatt Miers house as thoughtfully, luxuriously, and, sometimes, painstakingly hand-crafted, from concept to construction," concludes Swatt.