A Modernist Dream Home Makes the Most of a Rare Double Lot in Palo Alto

Add to
Like
Share
By Deborah Bishop
After a few stabs at realizing their dream home, a couple hit the mark with an exquisitely modern domicile in Palo Alto.

Each time Mark and Laura Pine build a house together—this is their fourth from the ground up—they edge a bit closer to their Platonic ideal of home. 

Working with a sumptuous material palette, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects designed a sprawling new residence in Palo Alto for Mark and Laura Pine. The teak wood and handmade Danish bricks that define the exterior are used inside as well; distressed stainless steel panels by Chris French Metal sheathe one side of the upper volume. Blasen Landscape Architecture chose Peruvian feather grass to flank the entrance walkway. 

Working with a sumptuous material palette, Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects designed a sprawling new residence in Palo Alto for Mark and Laura Pine. The teak wood and handmade Danish bricks that define the exterior are used inside as well; distressed stainless steel panels by Chris French Metal sheathe one side of the upper volume. Blasen Landscape Architecture chose Peruvian feather grass to flank the entrance walkway. 

The Pines weren’t actively looking to move, back in 2013. But when a rare double lot became available a few blocks from their home in Old Palo Alto, one of the most sought-after real estate markets in the Bay Area, they were thrilled at the idea of perhaps creating a more perfect home. 

Above the custom elm dining table, a Wave pendant by Henri Bursztyn hangs from the slatted teak ceiling.

Above the custom elm dining table, a Wave pendant by Henri Bursztyn hangs from the slatted teak ceiling.

"We were living in an Italianate-style house with a contemporary interior and beating back the desire to tackle a new project," says Mark, an engineer-turned-investor and veteran of such companies as Dropbox and Facebook. "We had a list of sacred cows, as well as things that bothered us about our last house," adds Laura, a human resources consultant and former HR executive at DreamWorks Animation. 

Bracketed on one end by glass, the living room captures a view through the guesthouse breezeway to the cypress trees beyond. The sculpture "Big Red Poppies" by Donald Sultan provides a pop of color on the lawn.

Bracketed on one end by glass, the living room captures a view through the guesthouse breezeway to the cypress trees beyond. The sculpture "Big Red Poppies" by Donald Sultan provides a pop of color on the lawn.

To help guide the process, the couple wrote a 15-page brief on how they live—everything from how they wake up and how often they work out (four to six times a week) to where they drop their keys, how they entertain, and how much of the house they wanted to use on a daily basis (more than 80 percent). Another consideration was the fact that they plan to always have a large dog romping around. Their current companion, Oreo, is an affectionate German Shepherd with eyes that can melt chocolate. 

An internal courtyard features Boxwood chairs and coffee table by Janus et Cie. 

An internal courtyard features Boxwood chairs and coffee table by Janus et Cie. 

Thus armed, their search for an architect started around the corner, with a house they had long admired for its material richness melded to a modernist profile. When they met with its creators, Takashi Yanai and Steven Ehrlich of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, the rapport was instant, and sketches started flying for the placement of the new building—or rather, buildings. 

The master bedroom was raised and cantilevered so as not to disturb the mature oak tree roots. Boulders are used as steps to the lawn.

The master bedroom was raised and cantilevered so as not to disturb the mature oak tree roots. Boulders are used as steps to the lawn.

"That we had to design it as two structures on the double lot is part of Palo Alto’s reaction to tech," says Yanai, explaining locals’ harsh response to the sudden invasion of Brobdingnagian manses owned by Silicon Valley types, a reaction they wanted to avoid. So the architects placed the 5,000-square-foot main house on one of the lots, and a smaller guesthouse with a gym on the other, for a lighter footprint. 

A chain curtain from Cascade Coil separates the kitchen  without interrupting sightlines or sunlight. "When you light the outside brighter than the inside at night, it becomes more opaque," says Mark. Bulthaup cabinetry joins appliances by Gaggenau and Miele.

A chain curtain from Cascade Coil separates the kitchen without interrupting sightlines or sunlight. "When you light the outside brighter than the inside at night, it becomes more opaque," says Mark. Bulthaup cabinetry joins appliances by Gaggenau and Miele.

"Building is a fantastic blend of intellectual challenges and thousands of decisions, from the technical details, regulations, and site constraints to the spiritual journey of the design." Mark Pine, resident

The staircase, which runs from the lower level to the third floor, is lined by a single 32-foot-tall pane of glass. 

The staircase, which runs from the lower level to the third floor, is lined by a single 32-foot-tall pane of glass. 

Although the Pines’ house was initially conceived as an ultra-compact, two-story structure, "it felt squished over and detached from these wonderful mature oak trees," says Ehrlich. "So we decided to fragment it, and have it interact more with the land." 

The second floor, which houses Mark’s office, has aluminum-framed windows on three sides and opens to a roof deck. The general contractor on the project was San Francisco–based Matarozzi Pelsinger.

The second floor, which houses Mark’s office, has aluminum-framed windows on three sides and opens to a roof deck. The general contractor on the project was San Francisco–based Matarozzi Pelsinger.

Most of the rooms, including the master suite and guest bedroom, are spread out on the main level, with Mark’s office sitting lightly atop, like a glass treehouse amid the leafy canopy, and a wine room and laundry room below. Connecting all three levels is a sculptural stair tower that’s defined by a 32-by-10-foot continuous pane of glass by German manufacturer Sedak. Says Mark, not without pride, "Every Apple store uses its glass." 

"Middle Aged Charlie Brown" by David Buckingham hangs at the top of the staircase.

"Middle Aged Charlie Brown" by David Buckingham hangs at the top of the staircase.

The Apple allusion isn’t mere coincidence; the tech giant was one of the couple’s muses, with its retail temples inspiring their stone floors. But the architects also had the "cozy" mandate to consider, not necessarily the first word that springs to mind during a wait at the Genius Bar. 

Oak floors, neutral furnishings, and an area rug by Han Feng for Tai Ping warm the office, as does the view of surrounding treetops. "You really feel as if you’re in the canopy," says architect Takashi Yanai. A vintage Louis Vuitton trunk serves as a coffee table. 

Oak floors, neutral furnishings, and an area rug by Han Feng for Tai Ping warm the office, as does the view of surrounding treetops. "You really feel as if you’re in the canopy," says architect Takashi Yanai. A vintage Louis Vuitton trunk serves as a coffee table. 

"We consider ourselves ‘earthy minimalists,’" says Yanai. "And while we embraced Mark’s desire for a clean look, we like to layer a crafted materiality into our designs, so a home doesn’t feel machined or cold." This is expressed by the brick exterior of the first story, with the brick continuing inside the house, and the distressed stainless steel panels that partially wrap the upstairs office. 

The Statuarieto–walled master bathroom features a Comfort Mood tub by Boffi with taps by Vola; the shower fixtures are by Dornbracht.

The Statuarieto–walled master bathroom features a Comfort Mood tub by Boffi with taps by Vola; the shower fixtures are by Dornbracht.

The handmade horizontal bricks, set to accentuate their irregularity, are from Petersen Tegl in Denmark, whose factory predates the first Apple outpost by a couple of centuries. "They lend the house warmth and humanity," says Ehrlich, pointing out variations in the color and texture. "You can see the thumbprints of the maker—they’re like a piece of Raku pottery." 

The walls of the staircase are made of poured-in-place smooth concrete.

The walls of the staircase are made of poured-in-place smooth concrete.

The steel panels on the office were distressed and patinated by California metalworker Chris French for what he describes as a "perfect, yet imperfect" look. The result is a feeling of pedigree and permanence, as if the house has sat on the land for decades. That feeling is reiterated inside by the teak ceilings and siding, oak cabinetry, bronze windows, and even a leather bathroom door. 

The rear section of the house contains a gym with sliding glass windows on both sides, a guestroom, and a kitchenette.

The rear section of the house contains a gym with sliding glass windows on both sides, a guestroom, and a kitchenette.

The landscape flows in and around the two buildings, with private gardens and an intimate sunken courtyard lapping at the windows. The abundance of glass invites long views—when seated at the dining table, one can see clear through the house, across the lawn, through the guesthouse, and out to the cypresses beyond. 

Janus et Cie Amari Low Back lounge chairs provide a place for gathering on the roof deck.

Janus et Cie Amari Low Back lounge chairs provide a place for gathering on the roof deck.

And now the oaks are fully part of the composition, with the floor of the master bedroom cantilevered out over the roots of one tree. 

Downstairs, a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe joins a Piuma coffee table by Antonio Citterio for Flexform.

Downstairs, a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe joins a Piuma coffee table by Antonio Citterio for Flexform.

So, having attained almost everything on their list, will the Pines really make this their last home, as they proclaimed at the outset? "Funny you should ask," says Laura. "We figure in about twenty-plus years we will have a smaller house, and it’s likely we will build it. 

The kitchen countertop is Silestone White Zeus; the bar countertop (foreground) is Opal White marble.

The kitchen countertop is Silestone White Zeus; the bar countertop (foreground) is Opal White marble.

"We don’t have children, but we’ve heard many friends say they had more than one child because they forgot how painful the process was. We think of building the same way: Rather than the costs or how many decisions had to be made, we remember the excitement."   

A view of the kitchen with the chain curtain closed (above) and open (below). 

A view of the kitchen with the chain curtain closed (above) and open (below). 

Hermès Sellier chairs in Jaune and Etain surround the custom dining table. Kristi Will Design assisted with furnishings.

Hermès Sellier chairs in Jaune and Etain surround the custom dining table. Kristi Will Design assisted with furnishings.

The handmade bricks found throughout the exterior and interior of the house are by Danish company Petersen Tegl.

The handmade bricks found throughout the exterior and interior of the house are by Danish company Petersen Tegl.

The stair treads are structural steel clad in stone over a steel plate stringer created by West Edge Metals.

The stair treads are structural steel clad in stone over a steel plate stringer created by West Edge Metals.

The stair tower is 10 feet wide by 30 feet tall.

The stair tower is 10 feet wide by 30 feet tall.

Mature oak trees provide shade on the back lawn.

Mature oak trees provide shade on the back lawn.

A Modernist Dream Home Makes the Most of a Rare Double Lot in Palo Alto - Photo 23 of 23 -