Real Estate

Rooms with a view

Annual architects' tour includes modern home with backdrop of coastal hills

The modern home is light and open taking advantage of the surrounding ridgeline views. Photo by Harold Gomes Photography.

"Magic" is the word a Los Altos Hills home site whispered to architect Steven Stept, when he first saw its panoramic view of the ridge line and open space.

"The magic of this site was trying to tell us we needed to experience this all day long," said Stept, of Feldman Architecture in San Francisco.

The bold minimalist home he designed will be on display during the fourth annual Silicon Valley Home Tour on Saturday, May 5. Visitors will have the opportunity to chat up the architects and designers who created the four homes on tour. The event is self-guided, with people choosing to visit as many of the homes in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and Saratoga as they wish during the day.

Stept found the owners, who requested anonymity, keen appreciators of modern architecture. An engineer who spent many weekends touring modern homes, the husband had already accumulated a 98-page document with detailed notes categorizing every piece of art and gathering images of what he liked for exterior materials. (He acknowledged that as a kid, when others were watching cartoons, he was tuned into home shows; he even subscribed to Architectural Digest as an early teen.)

Stept formed a close working relationship with the couple, mediating between her need for warm and cozy and his desire to keep everything white and minimalist.

A long, winding driveway leads to a flat courtyard, big enough for a fire truck to turn around, the owner said. The front wall with garage doors is sheathed in the same 1-by-6-foot wood paneling that wraps around the side of the house.

While many modern homes consist of stacked boxes "like pancakes," Stept broke up that monotony with setbacks, creating "layers of complexity done in very simple ways."

Visitors go down four broad steps to an outdoor courtyard (with water features and a quiet space), where they first encounter the 2-by-4-foot white porcelain tile that continues throughout the public spaces. The front door is an oversized 10-foot pivot door that rotates on a pivot box rather than traditional side hinges.

Open the door and what do you see? One hundred eighty degrees of lush greenery.

Down three stairs and you enter the great room, faced with a wall of Schuco glass doors, looking out on a patio with outdoor seating. Inside, the ceilings soar to 12 feet. To the left is the kitchen, with a huge island topped with a white Dal Tile counter and faced with Cleaf wood laminate. Sitting at the long table, diners can enjoy the view.

Also on the main level is a media room with dark walls and window coverings, an office (technically a bedroom with its closet and full bath) and powder room.

To the right of the front door is what Stept calls a "slot," a vertical box housing the stairway to the second floor, with views of both front and back along the way. At the top of the stairs is a library, with a frosted window wall that allows light into the master bathroom while protecting privacy. Down the hall is the master suite (with a private deck), child's bedroom and guest room (which share another viewing deck). Each bathroom is basically white and gray, with Duravit sinks and wall-hung toilets.

The wife got two things near and dear to her heart: a cozy room for curling up with a good book and a shower that looks out on the great outdoors while being located in the master bathroom. "She got the best of both worlds: an outdoor shower without freezing," the husband said.

She even got hints of color throughout the house, while the husband got mostly white walls and floors.

"We found great moments for both of these to co-exist," Stept said.

"I was questioning if this grayish, bluish wall finish was appropriate. It turned out phenomenal," he added.

Every room in the house takes advantage of spectacular views from front and back, partly through use of Schuco 12-foot-tall lift-and-slide doors which must be opened to one side or lifted from the middle. Up to three tracks allow large opening widths.

Outside in the front of the house, Stept created a wooden screen, what he called a Brise Soleil, made of horizontal, stained-cedar boards set in a stucco box. Throughout the day, the light and shadows change. Designed in panels, the screen is operable, allowing access for window cleaning.

Stept credits the contractor and the owners with having great commitment to creating a sustainable building, and they ultimately earned a GreenPoint New Home Platinum Certificate for its 192 points. The town of Los Altos Hills only required 50 points. Much was achieved with triple-glazed windows, insulation wrapping the building, photovoltaic panels for solar power, a green roof and drought-tolerant landscaping.

Electricity costs for the 5,100-square-foot home runs only about $10-$15 more per month than the couple's former 1,900-square-foot Sunnyvale townhouse, the owner said. While they mostly rely on radiant floor heating for winter, they do run the air conditioning in select rooms at least until sunset. "We open the windows at sundown, and the house cools in about 30 minutes," the owner said.

Envisioning this as their forever home, the owners invested about $500,000 in 45 piers that extend down to bedrock, securing the house from any future seismic activity. And a shaft that can be used as closets on two floors now, could house an elevator in future.

Other homes on the tour include:

• A modern, remodeled update on a three-story East Coast Colonial (Ana Williamson Architect, Los Altos);

• A glass-walled house that floats in a dense oak grove in the foothills (Craig Steely Architecture, Cupertino);

• A highly crafted design with great attention to interior detail, which preserves the site of oak woodland and a seasonal creek (WA Design Architects, Saratoga).

Addresses of the homes for the self-directed tour will be offered after ticket purchase.

What: 2018 Silicon Valley Home Tour, hosted by AIA Silicon Valley

When: Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Four homes in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and Saratoga

Cost: $75 general admission, $59 for AIA members before April 30


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