Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California

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By Luke Hopping and Nic Lehoux / Published by Dwell
A Silicon Valley couple call in the firm behind Apple’s most recognized retail locations to design a relaxed retreat.

It’s not surprising that a husband and wife who work in Silicon Valley would want to hire Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architectural practice known for helping define Apple’s futuristic retail image, to create their home. What is unusual is that, instead of a high-tech laboratory whirring with the latest gizmos, the duo requested a tranquil abode based on a famously simple postwar Californian type. 

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 1 of 7 - Honest materials appear throughout this Los Altos, California, home. In the double-height living area, Mantis chairs by BassamFellows surround a custom live-edge dining table, fashioned from an old Claro walnut tree with help from Menlo Hardwoods. 

Honest materials appear throughout this Los Altos, California, home. In the double-height living area, Mantis chairs by BassamFellows surround a custom live-edge dining table, fashioned from an old Claro walnut tree with help from Menlo Hardwoods. 

"The design strategy for the project stemmed from a desire to make a private world isolated from the suburban density that is all around the property," says design principal Gregory Mottola, describing the single-story Los Altos home. 

 

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 2 of 7 - Two black CH25 chairs by Hans Wegner mirror the baby grand piano behind them. The built-in millwork is custom by the architects. 

Two black CH25 chairs by Hans Wegner mirror the baby grand piano behind them. The built-in millwork is custom by the architects. 

He, his team, and general contractor Matarozzi Pelsinger Builders plotted the project in such a way that it would embrace the region’s mild climate and local environment. The layout snakes around an existing Japanese maple tree and a meadow of tall native grasses planted by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture. Natural ventilation cools the home in lieu of air conditioning. 

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 3 of 7 - Looking out from one of the home offices,  a board-formed concrete garden wall and linear pool draw the eye toward a guesthouse. 

Looking out from one of the home offices,  a board-formed concrete garden wall and linear pool draw the eye toward a guesthouse. 

Architecturally, the home’s horizontal figure, sloping roofline, and long eaves reference Northern California’s bumper crop of classic ranch houses. "We designed this home in the spirit of something that perhaps Rudolph Schindler or Richard Neutra might have done if they designed the house today," Mottola explains.

 

 

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 4 of 7 - A wall of sliding glass doors collapses the divide between inside and outside.  

A wall of sliding glass doors collapses the divide between inside and outside.  

Inside, classic modern furniture selected by BCJ mingle with family heirlooms. "Our clients wanted us to design using natural materials in their natural state; every view of the house is beautiful, calm and simple," he says. Almost all the surfaces showcase a rich wood grain, with varieties including Douglas fir, western red cedar, and gray elm. 

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 5 of 7 - An onsen, or Japanese soaking tub, with a private garden abuts the master suite.

An onsen, or Japanese soaking tub, with a private garden abuts the master suite.

This reverence for nature extends beyond superficial appreciation: BCJ outfitted the home with dense insulation, low-flow water fixtures, and a photovoltaic array to ensure that nothing will go to waste.

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 6 of 7 - A mature Japanese maple was preserved during construction. "The way we designed the entry sequence, with the front door not facing the street, but rather facing the Japanese maple tree, relates to Christopher Alexander’s concept of ‘entrance transition,’" says Mottola. 

A mature Japanese maple was preserved during construction. "The way we designed the entry sequence, with the front door not facing the street, but rather facing the Japanese maple tree, relates to Christopher Alexander’s concept of ‘entrance transition,’" says Mottola. 

All photos by Nic Lehoux  

Channeling Midcentury Modern in Northern California - Photo 7 of 7 - Seen from the guesthouse, the new home touches every corner of the property without overwhelming its natural beauty.  

Seen from the guesthouse, the new home touches every corner of the property without overwhelming its natural beauty.