Real Estate

Tucked away, but with a view

Eco-friendly remodel maximizes space of Woodside cabin

Like any self-respecting Prohibition-era "drinking cabin," the one tucked away down a long driveway off La Honda Road in Woodside is almost impossible to find without knowing where to look.

"We like it that way," say owners Bob Smith, a director of technology services at Stanford, and Gaylon Polatti, an editor at Yahoo.

Originally intended as a place San Franciscans could spend a weekend drinking in secret, the remodeled home now serves as a hideaway for two tech-savvy and eco-friendly residents.

Except for linear red accents, the exterior remains unremarkable, blending almost seamlessly into its wooded surroundings.

"What the outside of the house looked like was a very secondary consideration," Smith says. "We wanted to enhance the livability of the place."

Inside, a mudroom entrance gives way to an airy living room/kitchen area lit by clerestory windows. Doors lead to the bedroom and library. At 1,100 square feet there isn't room for much else.

Only one aspect of the house wasn't changed during the remodel -- the floor-to-ceiling greenhouse window facing down the hillside.

"This was our favorite part of the house," says Smith, who bought the cabin 24 years ago and started tinkering almost immediately. A leak in the bedroom motivated the full remodel.

Smith and Polatti rented a neighbor's house during construction, which lasted seven months and was completed late January of last year.

"It was nice," Smith says. "We were three doors away."

This proximity proved important, as Smith and Polatti had a hands-on role in many of the design decisions. The guiding principle was integration with environmental surroundings.

Smith picked out LED lights that use much less energy than even compact fluorescents and are guaranteed to last 30 years. Polatti and a friend picked out paint for the creamy yellow ceiling and peach walls in the bedroom.

"I wanted the wall in the kitchen to be green to match what's outside," he adds. Speaking of green, the room features a compact EnergyStar dishwasher and induction stovetop.

Their eco-friendly commitment was recently acknowledged when Hammerschmidt Construction, contractor for the remodel, won the 2011 National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) Silicon Valley Chapter Judges Choice Award for Green Remodeling.

But not everything went off without a hitch.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for green buildings, but it's not yet the case where (all) contractors know what they're doing," Smith says. In particular, the couple had trouble with the installation of their heat pump -- it required a "smarter" thermostat than less efficient units. Resolving this issue took nine months.

It would be hard to ignore environmental concerns when wilderness is practically right outside. Smith and Polatti receive visits from raccoons, squirrels, deer, owls and other birds and even the occasional mountain lion. These creatures thrive in the woodland environment that needs no landscaper.

"My garden's been here for 20,000 years," Smith says.

Polatti is adding touches of his own -- native plants only.

"Mostly ferns, leopard lilies and huckleberries," he says. "The redwood forest is not big on flowering plants."

A love of nature is in Smith's blood. From a very young age, he and his family spent time at a cabin in the Sierras. He has always enjoyed "being in the trees' space," and the house is designed and furnished with a somewhat "Appalachian flavor," he says.

"Don't worry, none of us has a banjo," Polatti adds.

What they do have are beautifully polished wood floors, artfully mismatched wooden and leather furniture, a guitar and speakers, some glass pieces and other one-of-a-kind artwork that speaks to the sensibilities of both writer and engineer.

Now that the remodel is complete, Smith and Polatti intend to settle in for the long haul.

"We're more than satisfied," Polatti says. "This place is just perfect."


Architect: Chip Jessup, M. Design Architects, Los Altos, 650-565-9036,

Building contractor: Lynn Hammerschmidt, Hammerschmidt Construction, Inc., Los Altos, 650-948-4200

Lighting: Liteline Illuminations, Los Gatos, 408-399-9000

Woodwork: Marcus Jones, Made in Pescadero, 650-879-9128

Goal of project:

Whole house remodel to maximize light, views

Unanticipated issues:

Difficult to install, service energy-efficient heat pump, lighting

Year house built:


Size of home, lot:

1,100 sq ft, 2/5 of an acre

Time to complete:

7 months

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