By Serena Brown
A few weeks ago, our office made the journey across the Bay Bridge to visit a project nearly 10 years in the making. Four houses sit atop a large lot in the East Bay Hills, soon to be occupied by four siblings, along with their families. Originally the site of their childhood home, the lot was cleared and divided to accommodate the new individual structures. Inspired by the five sects of traditional Chinese medicine, each of the four houses embodies a different theme. From left to right, the elements assigned to each are metal, earth, water, and wood. The fifth element, fire, is represented by the fire pit in the shared backyard
We began our tour in the Water House and were immediately introduced to the embodiment of its name—a beautiful water feature running the length of the front door to the kitchen. Following the trough, the floor plan then opens up into the great room, designed with floor to ceiling glass walls and striking white cabinetry. Our designers were able to take their time exploring the house; opening cupboards, meandering through rooms, and enjoying the view. The palette of the Water House is minimalist and clean, with white walls, dark hardwood, and black railings throughout.
By contrast, the Wood House next door feels warmer, its palette consisting of lighter wood panels and honey-colored floors. Its namesake is obvious, a tall wooden wall running the length of the stairs, fitted with subtle strips of light. Adjacent to the wooden wall is a large glass panel spanning both floors, a beautiful detail our designers appreciated in more than one of the four houses. An interesting feature in the living room took a bit of explaining at first glance. The architect had designed a customized sliding mount which was fabricated as a frame for a future commissioned piece of art. By sliding the painting to the left, they’re able to entirely cover their television, transforming the wall into a unique statement piece.
During our tour, the owner of the Wood House explained the process by which they assigned lots to the four siblings. When the project first broke ground, her two year old son was given the task of pulling slips of paper labeled ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ out of hat and handing them to his aunts and uncles. Each slip was connected to a corresponding lot. Whatever letter they received was theirs to inhabit. It seemed like a random and fair system to me!
Next on our tour was the Earth House, aptly represented by a large boulder placed at the foot of the stair in the foyer. The stone was selected by one of the owners amongst the dozens of large boulders unearthed by the excavation for the new homes. He collaborated closely with our design team on many of the more artistic features, many of which are found in his house, the final stop on our tour.
Despite being assigned the element metal, the owner of the final house took inspiration from a different aspect of nature: the sky. Named Sky House, the structure boasts a beautiful floating meditation room, countless skylights, and a roof deck with phenomenal views of the bay. A custom light fixture in the main stairwell was created to represent the steps on the journey after death, the lights creating a path leading up into the heavens.In the meditation room, tucked away at the top of the stairs, two large glass panels replace a section of the floor, giving the illusion of hovering between the earth and the sky. A glass folding door opens up onto the upper deck, adding to the outdoor connection.
The four houses share a backyard, connected by a series of wooden decks and walkways. Behind the Water House sits a pool, surrounded by drainage troughs and newly planted greenery. The owners already have plans for family dinners and shared holidays on the outer deck. The owner of Sky House is especially excited to have the opportunity to watch his nephews grow right outside his door. The individual who seems most pleased by the four-house development is the sibling’s mother, who now has her children and grandchildren all within arm’s reach. During our tour I was inspired and reminded of the closeness of my own family, my mother being the oldest of five siblings. Like this family, we too make efforts each year to spend holidays together and to visit as we scatter further across California. It was wonderful to observe not only the beautiful houses this family has created, but also the close bond they so obviously share. I’m looking forward to seeing the houses fully complete within the next few months as punch lists are wrapped up and personal touches are added in. Special thanks to the family for allowing us to tour and for sharing their special story with us all!