Home & Garden Design
Publication Date: Wednesday, July 20 , 2005

Living in a glass house
Only a wall of glass could protect such a smashing view

by Carol Blitzer / photos by Matthew Millman

Vasu and Jayashree Vasudevan wanted a glass house for the simplest of reasons: They had a breathtaking view of Silicon Valley from their Los Altos Hills home and they wanted to experience it from as many rooms as possible.


The exterior walls that face the spectacular view are all made of glass, supported by steel girders painted the red of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Today one enters through a stunning, 10-foot-tall glass door. Just a few feet in, a glass wall runs nearly the length of the house, revealing that amazing view. Designed by Palo Alto architect Tony Carrasco, the home is a feat of design and engineering -- as well as collaboration with the client.

The couple quickly outlined what they did not want: a home designed for others (i.e., for resale) or a home designed for how they'd like to live, as opposed to how they really live (no fitness room or formal dining room).

A 10-foot-tall glass door, with inlaid glass prisms, lines up with the carved temple doors that lead to the master bedroom.

"I didn't want rooms. I wanted spaces," Vasu says, adding that as an engineer he likes precision and fairly straight lines. He took two years off to manage the construction of the house, just to make sure they got what they envisioned.

Much of what they wanted didn't exist in the U.S. Their custom windows and doors were crafted in Switzerland and Germany, their limestone wall came from outside Haifa, Israel, their slate from Italy. They did have their custom-designed living room furniture made in Berkeley -- all from non-endangered woods.

 

 

 


The house is divided into spaces, rather than distinct rooms, with the kitchen easily visible from the dining area.

Although the lines are, well, linear, there's nothing cold about the steel, concrete, glass and limestone structure. Colors add interest and warmth, from the lilac Venetian plaster on the living room half wall, to the dull gold on an opposing wall, the creamy limestone (up-lit from the floor), or the "Golden-Gate-red" painted exterior support columns.

Even the steel chain-link downspouts were created with the view in mind. The limestone floors extend through the glass doors outside to the patio, making a fluid transition between inside and out.

Rich, textured Venetian plaster covers the demi-wall with art niches that separates the 'living room' from the 'dining room/family room.'

No unsightly wires -- from lamps or television sets -- impede the view or the sense of clean lines. In his home office, Vasu's "desk" is actually a glass table where his computer sits, the brains behind "control central," a basement room full of electronic gadgets and close to 100 miles of wires.

Adding interest to the kitchen is a window box that juts out behind the stainless-steel sink. A light prism casts rainbows in different places, depending on the time of day and season. The countertops are a gray Juparna granite with flecks of red, but the backsplash is glass tile. Behind every decision, Vasu says, was that question, "how do you make a house not boring?"

The kitchen was laid out for an economy of movement while preparing meals. For example, a large island across from the Miehle cook top houses a two-drawer Sub-Zero refrigerator for vegetables. The Gaggeneau oven is near the larger Sub-Zero refrigerator, just around the corner from a pantry.

Throughout the house, subtle touches add to the clean design: The bathroom features Soss hinges that are invisible when the door is closed. Instead of moldings that stick out, there is a slight "reveal," or break in the wall to separate it from the baseboard. Ball-catch levers are installed, instead of doorknobs that require twisting. There are no ledges to step over to enter any of the showers.

"Even though this is modern, we wanted to add older elements," says Vasu, pointing to a 200-year-old Indian temple door leading to the master bedroom suite. He notes the contradictions in the carving, the rectilinear patterns that complement the house, as well as the lotus buds.

A live ponytail palm thrives under a glass dome in the center of the house. The wide staircase leads to the lower story, which houses more bedrooms, a wine cellar and the electronic control center.

The master bedroom features that breathtaking view from three walls -- all with no draperies. Early risers, the Vasudevans don't mind the light. Vasu acknowledges that they love large bathrooms, so they built in a Jacuzzi (with a view, of course) as well as a large shower and two chrome-plated sinks.

In the center of the house is a tree well, with a live ponytail palm under a glass dome. Cherry-wood stairs lead to the lower floor, which houses more bedrooms, another family room, a large pool table, a laundry room (with a dumbwaiter), a home theater that seats a dozen, the control room and a wine cellar.

By managing the construction process firsthand, Vasu was on the spot to make decisions. "Without taking time off, it would have been a different house," he says, noting that they simply stopped when things were not right.

Some things were well worth waiting for. That 10-foot glass front door with the magnetic shear lock? It took six months.

Design challenge/goal: Create a modern house that encompassed a spectacular view
Unexpected problems/hidden costs: Wanted to underground wires that are in their sight line but lacked the easement
Size of house: 4,000 sq. ft. upstairs, 3,000 sq. ft. downstairs (below grade)
Year home built: 2002
Time to complete: Two years
Budget: More than $400/sq. ft.

Resources:
Architect: Tony Carrasco, Carrasco & Associates, 1865 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 322-2288
Contractor: Jim Latier, J. F. Warren Construction, 3707 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, (650) 494-3288
Lighting: Michael Souter, Luminaire Souter, (415) 863-8800
Window walls: Kenner-USA, Inc., Ray Perman, Oakland, (510) 652-6523, www.kenner-usa.com