When Meera Agrawal and her husband walked into a quirky midcentury home in Los Altos Hills, California, they were already three-and-a-half-years deep into their house hunt—having sifted through over 1,000 listings and visited nearly 30 in person. "We walked in thinking, ‘We’ve seen so many homes. This is likely not it,’" Meera says. They walked out, however, with the same unexpected realization: "‘Oh my God, this is the one!’"
While the home’s nearly circular, faceted geometry was intriguing, the low ceilings, peculiar layout, and wedge-shaped rooms made it a wild card of sorts in the Agrawals’ property search. Affectionately dubbed the "doughnut house," it had an open area in the center containing an internal courtyard—puzzlingly, entering the home involved first walking through and underneath it, followed by a spiral ascent to the main level courtyard. "We’ve never seen anything like it!" the couple says.
Relocating from San Francisco with their two young children, Meera, a designer and principal at Mountain View–based AP+I Design, and her husband, a radiologist, saw past the home’s peculiarities and ultimately fell in love with the dazzling views and its desirable location. Perched high in the hills, bordering Rancho San Antonio Preserve—protected open space which could never be developed—the home had a secluded and remote feeling, while still being just five minutes from the freeway.
Just as importantly, the home’s interior hadn’t seen a major remodel in decades—a plus for Meera, who was eager to put her creative stamp on it. "Between my dream of being able to design a home, and my husband’s dream of being in a secluded area where it’s very peaceful and quiet, it kind of worked out," she says.
The initial plan was to do a modest remodel of the residence, which was one of a handful of circular homes built in California in the 1960s. "I have a soft spot for preserving what’s there," says Meera. "For a while, it was just a finishes project." However, once things started failing in the older home, the project morphed into something bigger. "At that point, we thought, ‘We should probably do it right, but we can still pay homage to the original design,’" she says.
The couple soon linked up with Steven Stept, managing partner of Feldman Architecture, whom they had coincidentally met several years prior while touring another property under consideration. Reconnecting in a moment of kismet, the group soon discovered a shared excitement for reimagining the quirky doughnut house, and eagerly began brainstorming ideas for its transformation. Working on a circular structure was uncharted territory for the Feldman team—a first they were undaunted by. "From day one, we thought, ‘What a fun opportunity to try to see what we could do with a circular house,’" Stept says. "We were excited by it."
Los Altos Hills, incorporated in the 1950s as a rural-like South Bay suburb, was designed with large, non-uniform lots and somewhat restrictive building codes protecting open space, trees, and views. The lot’s size and steep slope meant that if the home was built by today’s regulations, it would max out at a compact 1,020 square feet—making it much more beneficial to work with the existing design. After tracking down the original building permit and negotiating with the city, the team eventually got approval for a comprehensive redesign—as long as they didn’t exceed the original permitted square footage.
Maximizing functional square footage, the strategy of the reconfiguration hinged on "filling in" the circle, converting the once open courtyard to interior space—an easy concession for the Agrawals. They had lived in the home for several years before diving into the project, and had rarely used the space. To compensate, other interior spaces were "pulled out," preserving the same net floor area as required, while creating a more expansive and considered outdoor zone.
"I think the breakthrough came when we said, ‘The kitchen should be the hub. It should be the center for this house,’" recalls Stept. The kitchen as the literal and figurative heart of the home made sense for this family, and for Meera, an avid baker, in particular. In addition to gathering in the space with friends and family and baking sweet treats for birthdays, Meera teaches baking classes in the home’s kitchen. "I basically designed this space to be like a teaching kitchen," she says.
With the circular kitchen positioned prominently at the home’s precise center, everything else radiates outward. Switching the public and private spaces allowed the new living room and outdoor dining area, along with the large wraparound deck, to take advantage of the sweeping views—once monopolized by private bedrooms. The home’s upper-level bedrooms are now positioned on the opposite, more private side, enjoying a protected hillside view.
Throughout the home, the design’s success is largely due to an unwavering commitment to the concept. "Once we took on the challenge of really respecting the circle to the nth degree, that really created the plan—and created all the details too," says Stept. From the stainless steel inlays that radiate from the center of the kitchen’s concrete floors, to the curvature of the impressively massive pocket door, to the tapering of the boards on the deck, the details strengthen the design. "That’s something we try to do a lot in the office," says Stept. "Once you have a concept that’s a strong one, just don’t ever forget about it, and try to push through it all the way to the end," he says.
A collaborative venture through and through, all of the design elements, small and large, were made possible by considered input from Feldman Architecture project manager Anjali Iyer and builder David Toews—both passionate about respecting the concept and getting the details right. Meera brought her design expertise to every inch of the home, reviewing cabinet shop drawings and meticulously specifying finishes and fixtures throughout. "We had the same sort of vision," Meera says of the Feldman team. "We’d meet every other week for three hours, sketching details and exchanging ideas."
Beyond the imaginative design and technically skilled execution, the home, at its core, is a vessel for experiencing the ethereal beauty of the surroundings. "I just love the way the building opens up to the land, how it interacts with the site," says Stept. "The views and just the experience — what it really feels like from inside out—that, to me, is maybe the biggest success of the project."
More by Feldman Architecture:
Builder/General Contractor: Bay West Builders
Structural Engineer: BKG Structural Engineers
Civil Engineer: Lea & Braze Engineering
Geotechnical Engineer: Romig Engineers
Arborist: Urban Tree Management
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