Genesis of Vista Dhome: From Dome Workshop to Dream Home

Dream Home.

Morning light bathes this uniquely rustic Monolithic Dome dream home.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the things that Dr. and Mrs. Al Braswell like best about their Monolithic Dome home in Yucaipa, California, is all the fun they had and continue having designing it.

Braswell, who owns and manages Vista Pacifica, a small psychiatric hospital in Southern California, says, “I don’t think we will ever be really finished with our dome. We’re in it, so in a sense, it is finished, but we keep coming up with more ideas and things we want to add. We just have so much fun doing it.”

In 1994, Al, his brother John, and his son Barry attended a Monolithic Dome Workshop. “Initially, our interest was geodesic domes. But then we learned about domes using Airforms, and we liked that much better,” Braswell says. “We saw it as ecologically more defensible and aesthetically more pleasing.”

When Al, John and Barry returned from the Workshop, they built a 50-foot diameter dome, now used for storage, on which they practiced all their construction skills.

Rocky Ridge.

The Airform for Vista Dhome is inflated and ready for construction to begin inside.

Al Braswell / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Flowing Naturally.

The undulating roof of Vista Dhome fits into its surroundings naturally.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Braswells chose a site nestled in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. “We’re on a ridge that’s 1500 feet above the prevailing elevation of 3900 feet, with a commanding view of much of Riverside County,” Braswell says. They then decided on an aerodynamic design of three domes flowing into each other: a central dome with a diameter of 50 feet, flanked by two 40-foot diameter domes. The smaller domes are joined to the central dome with saddle connections. Designed into the Airform, the saddle connections provide a gentle slopping or a smooth, instead of an abrupt, intersection between the domes. Consequently, from both the inside and the outside, there is a feeling that all is one, open, fluent structure.

The Braswells named their creation Vista Dhome. “We had fun doing that too,” Braswell says. “We just played with words and finally chose Vista because it means view and we have wonderful ones here, and Vista is also in our hospital’s name.” As for Dhome, they simply combined dome + home.

Vista Dhome’s 4500 square feet of living space includes three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living area, a kitchen, and areas for reading, hobbies, games, exercise, and just conversing and relaxing. The second-floor loft features a generous balcony, half indoors and half outdoors, that encircles the second level of the large dome. An ornate spiral staircase leads to that second level; it merges into the balcony’s banister, a giant music sheet with lyrics to Home on the Range.

Drinks on the House.

Al Braswell mixes a drink inside the Sky Lounge.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Braswells designed the dome’s third level as a plush observation deck. The Sky Lounge is a 15-foot diameter glass geodesic dome suspended from the home’s roof and countersunk. A serving bar and easy chairs run along the periphery of the lounge. “The observation deck gives us a 360-degree perspective and just a terrific view of what’s below and above us. And when we serve refreshments, on the house means literally on the house when you’re in our Sky Lounge,” Braswell says.

Except for a few painted partitions, the Braswells decided on a rough surface for the interior of Vista Dhome. “The shell is rough blown,” Braswell says. “We shot color-coated concrete and then stippled.”

The Braswells chose a natural-looking sand color of stucco for the exterior of the dome. “And I planted vines, about four feet apart all along its outside,” Braswell says. “The vines are gradually covering the dome. Eventually, you will not see the dome unless you know it’s there and know what to look for. There will just be a green mound. That’s the idea. We want it to disappear.”

Taking it Easy.

Al Braswell stands under the loft in Vista Dhome.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Two motor-home-size air conditioning units, one on either end of Vista Dhome, provide cooling. Braswell says, “In July, in Southern California, we had not used the air conditioning. It stays a comfortable 74 degrees in here! Even when it’s 100 outside! We used the air conditioning two or three times last year. But we have a lot of glass, and we didn’t have our Mylar shades then.”

As for heating, it consists only of electric wall heaters installed in each of the bathrooms. Asked if they don’t get cold, Braswell laughs, “Last winter, it did get down to 61 inside when we had a short spell of twenty degrees outside. But we just put on an extra sweater.”

Braswell says their domes are very quiet. “We don’t have echoes, but we do have a phenomenon: Our guest bedrooms are on the opposite end from the master bedroom, about 130 feet apart. But if you stand in a certain spot and face the wall, you can talk conversationally to someone at the other end.”

At Vista Dhome, the Braswells also constructed a 50-foot diameter EcoShell with a 30-foot wide door as a helicopter hangar and a 30-foot diameter EcoShell as a maintenance barn.

Serene Waters.

The pool looks out over a beautiful California valley.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Bright Days.

The sunny kitchen has lots of room for informal gatherings.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Construction continues at the house, too. The Braswells recently commissioned an artist to create a faux rock waterfall by spraying foam into rock shapes and painting them. Water will cascade over the waterfall and into the swimming pool, while seats under the waterfall provide another relaxing, therapeutic area.

“It’s all been fun,” Braswell insists. “We’ve been in the house for more than a year. All the furnishings are in, including the piano. The pool is finished, and we use it. But the privacy wall around the pool is not done—neither is the landscaping. And there’s talk of putting in a fire pit and ….”

A Stoney Creation: Polyurethane Formed Rocks

Barry Braswell, with advice from artist Gene White, continues creating a rock wall, with a waterfall cascading over it and seating under it, to enhance as well as seclude the swimming pool at Vista Dhome. Asked if he has a master wall plan to follow, Braswell said, “No, I just decide (on the size and placement of a rock) as I go along. It’s really not that hard.” He described the process:

  • Create the rock shape with steel loops;
  • Cover the steel shape with fiberglass and a screen netting;
  • Spray this steel skeleton with polyurethane foam;
  • Paint using the rocklike color of your choice.
  • The formed faux rocks provide a break between the driveway and the pool at Vista Dhome.
Man's Best Friend.

Al Braswell and canine friend Max survey the deck below the second-floor patio.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Generous Windows.

Every morning, sunshine wakes this inviting breakfast area.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Spacious Interior.

The open floorplan includes areas for music, reading, games and hobbies.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Comfy Conversation.

Unique chandeliers softly illuminate Vista Dhome’s comfortable conversation areas.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Perfect Pitch.

An inspiring place to practice piano.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Primary Ensuite.

Custom tile, glass and greenery create luxury and comfort.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Around the Corner.

The curving interior wall creates a visually interesting hall.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Primary Bedroom.

The primary bedroom has windows on opposite walls and lots of closet space.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Tuck In.

A conversation spot tucked into the loft.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Loft Bar.

The second-floor loft has a bar and kitchenette with stairs leading up to the Sky Lounge.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Sky Lounge.

The Sky Lounge is inside a glass geodesic dome atop Vista Dhome.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Inviting Pool.

The Braswells spend a lot of time in this beautiful pool with amazing views.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Sky Lounge over California.

The Sky Lounge and upper patio of the second-floor loft.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Rocky Spot.

Vista Dhome sits on a rocky ridge of the San Bernadino Mountain foothills.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Forever Now.

Al and Ruth Braswell’s forever home, Vista Dhome.

David Collins / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0