A Californian Home Gently Steps Down on an Oak-Studded Landscape

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By Lucy Wang
Western Red Cedar and exposed concrete meld together in a nature-inspired retreat knitted into a challenging hillside.

Desirous of a home that was modern, rustic, and above all, encouraging of indoor-outdoor living, a couple asked California design studio Swatt Miers Architects to craft a custom retreat on a semi-rural plot in Los Altos Hills.

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"The roof of the lower level becomes the terrace of the upper level, with unobstructed views to the south," says principal architect Robert Swatt.

"The roof of the lower level becomes the terrace of the upper level, with unobstructed views to the south," says principal architect Robert Swatt.

Located just 40 miles south of San Francisco, the 1.7-acre site offers spectacular valley views and challenging topography. The property slopes in two directions: a gentle incline runs west to east along the road, while a more steep slope tilts north to south.

Set between massive oak trees, the home was sensitively placed to minimize site impact.

Set between massive oak trees, the home was sensitively placed to minimize site impact.

To navigate the tricky terrain and minimize site disturbance, the architects wedged the 3,664-square-foot home between three massive oak trees, and divided the two-story structure into four levels that step down the landscape in two directions.

Vertical cast-in-place concrete walls break up the building's horizontal forms.

Vertical cast-in-place concrete walls break up the building's horizontal forms.

"The design is organized around three cast-in-place concrete core elements—a stair landing, the powder room, and a portion of the guest suite—that step with the land," explains the firm of the Blue Oaks House. 

"Walls and deep overhangs of Western Red Cedar boards span between, and slide by, the concrete core elements, overlapping each other as they step with the topography of the land."

Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) was installed for the flat roofs.

Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) was installed for the flat roofs.

A soaring ceiling delivers a sense of drama to the open-plan great room.

A soaring ceiling delivers a sense of drama to the open-plan great room.

To maximize rural valley vistas, the master bedroom and the main living areas are located to the south where the best views are enjoyed. 

The master bedroom boasts spectacular south-facing views of the valley.

The master bedroom boasts spectacular south-facing views of the valley.

Shielded from the sun by large overhangs, the master bath is wrapped in full-height glazing. The porcelain tile floors are from Porcelanosa, and the walls are a mix of Western Red Cedar, tile, and painted gypsum.

Shielded from the sun by large overhangs, the master bath is wrapped in full-height glazing. The porcelain tile floors are from Porcelanosa, and the walls are a mix of Western Red Cedar, tile, and painted gypsum.

The entrance of the Blue Oaks House is placed on the opposite side of the home to the north and branches off to the garage sited uphill to the west. 

Indoor-outdoor living is embraced in all areas of the Blue Oaks House, thanks to the expansive glazed windows and doors.

Indoor-outdoor living is embraced in all areas of the Blue Oaks House, thanks to the expansive glazed windows and doors.

"The natural materials of the exterior, concrete, and wood have been utilized in many areas inside the home to create strong indoor-outdoor connections, while also giving the interiors a modern, yet rustic and natural feel—exactly what the owners had dreamed of," add the architects.

The kitchen is fitted with Dekton countertops by Cosentino, a porcelain tile backsplash by Iris Ecocrete, and custom wood-veneer cabinetry.

The kitchen is fitted with Dekton countertops by Cosentino, a porcelain tile backsplash by Iris Ecocrete, and custom wood-veneer cabinetry.

A view of the living area from the kitchen. The luxury gas fireplace is from Ortal.

A view of the living area from the kitchen. The luxury gas fireplace is from Ortal.

The neutral color palette was carried over to the interior design, a collaborative effort between Connie Wong, the senior interior designer at Swatt Miers Architects, and Elisa Chambers of Snake River Interiors.

The neutral color palette was carried over to the interior design, a collaborative effort between Connie Wong, the senior interior designer at Swatt Miers Architects, and Elisa Chambers of Snake River Interiors.

Large roof overhangs provide protection against unwanted solar heat gain.

Large roof overhangs provide protection against unwanted solar heat gain.

The powder room is framed with concrete walls and white oak floors, and is illuminated by a large skylight.

The powder room is framed with concrete walls and white oak floors, and is illuminated by a large skylight.

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Swatt Miers Architects / @swattmiers

Builder/ General Contractor: Custom Dreams Construction Group

Structural Engineer: Provest Structural Engineers

Civil Engineer: Lea & Braze

Landscape Design: Huettl Landscape Architecture

Lighting Design: Swatt Miers Architects

Interior Design: Swatt Miers Architects /Snake River Interiors

Mechanical: Monterey Energy Group

Green Building: Simple Home Energy