IDEO Founder David Kelley Asks $13.5M for His Ettore Sottsass-Designed Masterpiece

Nestled in Silicon Valley, the Kelley Residence is an eclectic assemblage of pavilions—and a monument to the Milan-based designer’s inexhaustible creativity.
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Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect a price drop from $14,995,000 to $13,500,000. 

Silicon Valley may seem like an unlikely setting for a home designed by the Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass, but the upscale enclave of Woodside, California, boasts one of the three Sottsass-created residences in the United States. It was no easy feat to pull off—built for David Kelley, founder and chairman of global design consultancy IDEO and the Stanford, the building was subject to conservative codes meant to preserve the area’s small-town character. In the end, the restrictions only galvanized Sottsass’s creativity. The 6,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house is reminiscent of a village with six linked pavilions, each a different shape, material, and color. The circa-2000 structure is not only an unadulterated expression of the Memphis Group’s founder’s design philosophy, but also a reflection of Sottsass and Kelley’s friendship.

In defiance of the American tradition of placing the garage in front and putting cars on display, the Kelley Residence features a simple, brick wall facade that extends a white awning in welcome.

A glass atrium holds together four of the six pavilions that make up the home. Sottsass considered hallways to be unimaginative, preferring to create a flexible village of connected spaces. Above, an architectural light fixture grows organically from the blue wall. 

It was Kelley’s wife who first scouted the five-acre property, drawn by the existing equestrian center complete with a barn, riding ring, and stables. The opportunity to build a house of his own led Kelley to approach Sottsass in 1996, presenting him with a book of writing and photos he’d compiled. "[Ettore] kind of thumbed through it very casually and said, ‘This is a house about the past. Let’s build a house for the present,’" Kelley wrote for Surface. "My brief was wasted completely."

Oversized knobs add a whimsical touch to the kitchen, where a pendant designed by Johanna Grawunder—who worked with Sottsass in Milan—hangs over the circular island. White Viking appliances are integrated with the cabinetry.

Kelley requested a loft-like space for the main living area, but this idea was also jettisoned by Sottsass. Instead, he installed several cabinets made of plastic laminate made to look like rice paper between the living room and the kitchen. Passing from one area to another, guests move through them as though weaving through a forest. Sottsass told The New York Times, "I dream of designing a space filled with boxes."

Unlike the colorful volumes Sottsass designed for a couple in Maui, the Kelley Residence melds with the landscape and uses natural materials in accordance with local code, though the diverse material palette—stucco, shingles, brick, tile, wood, and steel—is an unconventional turn. The pavilions, each serving a different purpose, are playfully shaped: a green house modeled after the Monopoly piece holds the children’s rooms, and a Quonset hut lends inspiring height to the office. In an interview with The New York Times, Sottsass explains the thinking behind the disparate structures: "Because sometimes you have happy moments. Sometimes you want to look outside. Sometimes you want to cry, so you want to stay in a dark room. Sometimes you live with a lot of people. For different moments, you design different spaces." 

Custom built-in furniture is found throughout the home, such as this piece in the living room. Sottsass's Tahiti lamp, an abstracted and geometric bird shape, was designed for the 1981 Memphis collection, and his Valentine typewriter for Olivetti turned a piece of office equipment into a fashion accessory.  

The office boasts an 18-foot, barrel-vaulted ceiling, an architectural metaphor for inspiration and exaltation. Despite only visiting the site once before embarking on the four-year design process, Sottsass precisely placed picture windows to frame available views. "The windows are not done classically," explains Michael Dreyfus, CEO of Dreyfus Sotheby's International Realty. "You can't see out of them except when you're in front of them. David literally has to stop to see outside." The old oak tree that used to stand outside fell a few years ago, but the rock preserves a sense of deliberate placement.

The city capped the total square footage, so Sottsass manipulated outdoor terraces to extend the home into its surroundings, and used a glass-ceiling atrium to smooth the transition from interior to exterior space. Remarkably, the Milan-based designer had only visited the site once, though his experience with California guided his efforts: in 1961, he had spent several months at the Stanford hospital, receiving state-of-the-art treatment funded by his employer, Olivetti. While residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sottsass not only befriended Beat Generation members Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, stoking each of their countercultural ideas, but also internalized a feel for the landscape and lifestyle.

The master bedroom again defies convention by placing the pear wood and maple bed frame in the center of the room. A functional shelf activates the space behind it. Sliding glass doors beckon you onto a generous patio lined in blue tile. 

The master bathroom forges a connection to the outdoors through dark, forest green tile.

Kelley invested his total trust in Sottsass. Most of the furniture in the residence is custom-made as well. Built in an Italian gymnasium, the pieces were then disassembled and shipped to the site, where the same craftsmen lived for a few months to put everything back together. The resulting abode is an immersive, exuberant experience. "The whole concept keeps you a bit off-balance," says Michael Dreyfus, CEO of Dreyfus Sotheby’s International Realty. "That theme is carried throughout the home in the odd angles and giant outside knobs on the cabinets—these things that are odd but utilitarian. It’s a very pleasant home to live in. What first makes you cock your head becomes a fun energy."

The disjunction between each pavilion is most visible from a rear view, which reveals the variety of materials used, from glass to wood to brick. 

The pool and outdoor hot tub bounce green light off the roof hanging over the back terrace, creating a lush environment.

"It’s a very pleasant home to live in. What first makes you cock your head becomes a fun energy." —Michael Dreyfus

The lot originally housed the equestrian facilities of a larger, 10-acre estate. The stables, tack room, birthing shed, barn, and riding ring and turnouts still stand. 

After Kelley's wife moved the horses to another property, he used one of the outbuildings as a design studio, and repurposed the barn for his classic car collection.

The Kelley Residence is on the market for $13,500,000—and dozens of Sottsass originals spanning furniture, sculptures, and sketches are available as well. For more information, visit the property website.

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