Seeking inspiration | March 30, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 30, 2012

Seeking inspiration

Self-guided home tour offers close-up views of modern and mid-century homes

by Carol Blitzer

Clean lines, simple textures, natural materials, glass.

That's what visitors to the self-guided 2012 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour can expect to find in the eight examples of mid-century and modern homes this Saturday.

Three of the homes are in Palo Alto, one each in Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Woodside and Los Altos, plus the Los Altos Neutra House, which was designed by Richard Neutra but is now used primarily as a conference center.

Curating the tour was a natural fit for Ingrid Spencer, former managing editor and current contributing editor for Architectural Record magazine. She grew up in Sunnyvale surrounded by Eichlers and understood from childhood what indoor/outdoor living was. But she didn't develop her true passion for the mid-century icons until she started working as an architectural journalist, landing at Architectural Record in 1999.

"I gained an appreciation for what architects do, a perfect combination of science and art, with a little bit of drama thrown in," she said.

Architects — either those who designed the modern homes or those who have renovated mid-century ones — are an important piece of the tour, she said, and they will be on hand at each home to answer questions. Architects and design firms on the tour include Joseph Bellomo Architects and K.C. Cullen Architecture, Palo Alto; Guy Ayers Architect of Los Altos; and Mark Marcinik (M110 Architecture), Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Sagan Piechota Architecture and Arcon Construction, San Francisco.

Spencer describes curating a home tour much like curating an art exhibition. "You don't want everything to look exactly the same; we wanted to have a range," she said, pointing to the two Eichlers in Greenmeadow that contrast with Bellomo's concrete-and-glass home in Downtown North.

"California modern is something that we — living out here in Austin where there's bugs and heat — have an absolute love and appreciation for, houses that bring the inside out and outside in, houses that exemplify places that can interact with outdoors," she said.

"Of course, they had to be from a modernist perspective," she added, embodying new construction techniques and materials and new ways to address old problems. Architectural Record focuses on inspiring modernist architecture, she said, not copycat, such as Mediterranean.

K.C. Cullen, of K.C. Cullen Architecture, said California Modern was invented in Silicon Valley. "It's part of Silicon Valley history. We have an indigenous architectural style," she said, describing it as a combination of Frank Lloyd Wright's American Modern, with its use of natural materials but more enclosed spaces, and European Modern (think Mies Van der Rohe, Richard Neutra) that used more exposed structure.

"California Modern is a synthesis of both, with redwood, stone, natural materials, but also exposed, with lightness, no massive walls. ... Eichlers definitely fall into that," she said.

While many homes in this area are built with Victorian or Spanish motifs, "imported from other places, ... California Modern was developed right here, specific to our climate, very informal. It appealed to a lot of people who came here for the tech boom," she added.

The Greenmeadow home she designed was extensively remodeled in 2000, adding a family room, new entry, a fourth bedroom, third bathroom and an office and enlarging the living room — in total adding about 650 square feet, she said.

One distinctive feature of the Parkside home is a butterfly roof, that dips in the middle and slopes up toward the outside, with clerestory windows on all four sides, she added.

In partnership with the Los Altos Neutra House, the tour is sponsored by Modern Home Tours LLC, a company based in Austin, Texas.

Modern Home Tours started in Austin four years ago, quickly spread to other cities in Texas, then to Venice Beach, Calif.

"We grew and grew. Now it's a huge event every year where 3,000 people come to 16 houses (in Austin)," Spencer said.

"We realized people want to see modern, want to be inspired, so why not take it on the road? ... Everywhere it's a slightly different aesthetic, different interpretation of modernism. Different cities have a different history, presence with modernism," she added.

Upcoming tours will be held in Fayetteville, Ark.; and Santa Fe, N.M., what Spencer called "quite an interesting place to have a modern home tour."

"Hopefully people will have a fun day, going from house to house, getting inspired, maybe bring some elements back to their own projects," Spencer said.


For more Home and Real Estate news, visit

What: 2012 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour

When: Saturday, March 31, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: eight homes in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Woodside

Tickets: $30 in advance, through the website; $40 day of tour (tickets may be purchased at any of the homes, which are listed on the website); children 12 and under free


Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at


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