An Empty-Nester Couple’s Resort-Like Retreat Overlooks Silicon Valley

For a couple’s forever home, SB Architects draw from resort design to effortlessly blend indoors and out.
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Goya House deals in contrasts: it’s a home for two with the flexibility to become a house for many. It’s just a short jaunt west of Silicon Valley, but its panoramic views make it feel like you’re getting away from it all. And though it’s a residence, it was created with luxury resorts and spas in mind.

The 10,000-square-foot home in Portola Valley, California, by San Francisco’s SB Architects is designed to capitalize on views of the rolling hills overlooking the valley in several directions. "The first impression of the site was that it was really all about its location on this hilltop—and the dramatic, 270-degree views," principal Bruce Wright explains.

The house's front door, tucked under one of many cantilevering portions of the roof, comes after passing through an interior courtyard. "It’s not just an axial arrival to the front door," says Wright. "You come in and shift to the right, and cross a small bridge over the entry water feature. Those little shifts [help] guide a visitor to see these different points of view."

At the same time, the clients saw their new home as signifying their transition to becoming empty-nesters. The couple wanted a relatively intimate space and a single-story home to age in place, yet they also wanted enough space so their children and grandchildren could visit, and to be able to entertain large groups.

"This is kind of their forever house," the architect adds. "This was a couple thinking about the next stage of their life, and how they can design a residence [addressing] their needs, vision, and likes."

The home is designed to encourage outdoor circulation, but nearly all at a single story, to allow the clients to age in place.

In collaboration with landscape architect Thuilot Associates and builder Ryan Associates, the architects created a mini-compound of separate buildings. The master suite is its own small structure, for instance, connected by a bridge to the center of the home: its living, dining, and kitchen. There’s also a separate two-story structure with a small office, a garage, and a guest apartment upstairs.

The Goya House is broken down into a series of pavilions, including a separate master suite (seen at left) connected by a glass bridge.

"We were thinking about the transient separation between the clients and their family when they have visitors. When they’re alone again, they can shut down part of the house and live on a smaller platform," Wright says. He recalls the questions the design needed to take into account: "How can we separate their daily uses into a series of buildings? How can you transition for morning, afternoon, evening, and what it’s like with 50 people there or two?"

The ability to open the living and dining area to the pool and terrace makes the home ideal for entertaining.

Breaking the house down into separate pavilions connected by lush landscaping is not unlike the layout of resorts that SB Architects has designed in countries around the world, which Wright says is often part of a broader idea about incorporating the space between the buildings. "It’s not just about single-object architecture, but a series of objects that create a variety of indoor and outdoor experiences," he explains.

To emphasize the barrier-breaking between indoor and outdoor spaces, the glass walls that look out on public areas essentially disappear.

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Glass walls in the living room and dining area fold away, connecting to a covered, outdoor space.

"When it’s a beautiful spring day, you can open up the living, kitchen, and dining rooms and have them become one," Wright says, noting how these spaces combine with an expansive outdoor deck and pool area.

"When it’s a beautiful spring day, you can open up the living, kitchen, and dining rooms and have them become one," Wright says, noting how these spaces combine with an expansive outdoor deck and pool area. "It becomes one big room. In doing that, you’ve transposed the space and created a much larger footprint." When the weather is less cooperative, the glass helps maintain a visual connection between different spaces.

The clients' art collection adds color, curvature, and a touch of whimsy.

The house’s simple material palette of wood, stone, and raw steel carries throughout, with cedar ceilings adding warmth and texture to both interior settings and the cantilevered outdoor areas. Walls and trim are clad in Brazilian ipe hardwood, and naturally stained millwork continues throughout the house. Interior designer Lorissa Kimm also worked with the clients to select and commission a range of furniture in soft gray tones, setting the stage for pops of color from the clients’ art collection.

A palette of wood, stone, and steel extends from the outside in.

The mini-compound layout also helps emphasize a sequence of spaces that reveal themselves over time, and around corners.

"The courtyard and entry is one layer. As you proceed and see the major body of the house, that’s another," Wright explains. "As you explore some of these longer axial paths that lead to the master bedroom, all these layers build upon one another with this sense of discovery."

Related Reading: Before & After: A Portola Valley Home Draws Inspiration From Down Under

Project Credits:

Architect: SB Architects / @sbarchitect

Builder: Ryan Associates

Structural Engineer: ZFA Structural Engineers

Landscape Design: Thuilot Associates

Lighting Design: Hiram Banks

Interior Design: Lorissa Kim

Photography: Aaron Leitz Photography


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