Process Case Study: Atherton Renewal

A young family approached our firm with an Atherton home in desperate need of a remodel. The estate, built in 1995, mixed a variety of conflicting architectural elements – steeply sloped roofs, complicated massing, and pronounced dormers evoked another era. “It was overwhelming at first,” remembers Chris Kurrle, Project Principal – the neotraditional architecture made itself apparent in the lack of natural light in each space, the small aperture of all portals and windows, and lack of connection to the surrounding site. The façade was heavily ornamented and the front roof sat at an angle, coming at a cost to the functionality of the interior spaces, creating sharp 45-degree angles, and truncating rooms on the second floor.

The lush and verdant grounds were defined by a heritage live oak that marked the site near the entrance, as well as an overgrown rose garden on the southern edge of the property – yet the structure’s original layout turned its back to every distinctive landscaping moment. A lack of outdoor living spaces further detached indoor and outdoor, and in the rear yard, an awkwardly short, deep pool alongside a pool house felt oddly disconnected from the main house.


The intervention focused on cleaning up, simplifying, and modernizing the façade, introducing meaningful natural light into the home, expanding all glazing sizes, and enhancing views to the surrounding landscape. “The project leverages the bones of the existing building, stripping away all that is superfluous, breathing in a new sense of life,” said Kurrle for California Homes Magazine.

The renovation widens and lengthens cramped spaces, streamlining the overcluttered entry sequence and creating a better orchestrated flow without modifying the home’s programming. The proportions of the original entry created a dark, heavy space – the new design introduces natural light by both expanding vertically as well as punching out the floor into the basement level, creating a bright three-story volume. At the upper level, a mezzanine walkway allows free and open circulation. Inserting new glass walls and a trimming back the previously overhanging Juliet balcony floods the upper office with daylight from the entry skylight.

Transitioning the entry staircase from rectilinear to curved minimizes dead space and naturally accommodates uninterrupted clean, white walls adorned with delicate wood paneling, adding visual texture. The curves of the staircase create a sensation of floating and eliminate the need for landings between levels. The three-story shape of the stair hall is mirrored by an elliptical skylight supporting a multi-tiered chandelier and mimicking the cascading movement of the daylight above.

Additional lighting in the space is strategic and sparse, maintaining the purity of the clean curved wall, free of additional ornamentation. The custom chandelier, designed in collaboration with the interior designer and the lighting fabricator, Allied Maker, floats rods between a foundational metal ring and the skylight’s opening. Numerous studies allowed for precision in the number, placement, and size of each pendant, and directed the experience of the chandelier from multiple viewpoints.

To the south of the entry, the original living room was walled off from the garden, the space on the property that receives the most natural daylight. The renovation opens this southern façade by inserting a wall of folding glass doors, reimagined by BAMO to evoke a greenhouse. To reinforce an indoor-outdoor connection, the team modified the grade of the living room to be level with the outdoor patio, with Slate stone slabs extending from interior to exterior seamlessly. Removing the original ceiling to expose an A-Frame shape gives the space verticality and introduces naturally textured light wood paneling.

Like the Living Room, the renovation remedied a dysfunctional, narrow kitchen layout previously disconnected from the sprawling backyard, inserting a wall of sliding doors that open onto a new, shaded back patio. A trellis unifies the space, extending the indoor kitchen directly into an outdoor dining space.

A new rear trellis is carefully placed as a device to streamline the back façade, masking discontinuity between upper and lower-level fenestrations. The clients envisioned a solution that shaded the space during the hottest points of the day without creating striping, asking for a technically complex and aesthetically pleasing installation. A series of 3D computer studies tested slat angles, depth, and positioning, resulting in a trellis that protected the space from western exposure and glare, providing comfort at every point of the day.

Working alongside a team of trusted consultants allowed us to find success in this complex and technically challenging project. BAMO, the interior designer, was integral in crafting the vision alongside the homeowner and setting the tone for the project. As our team drafted the initial floorplans, BAMO overlayed furniture layouts and set material palettes that heavily influenced both the interior and exterior architecture and allowed for a wonderful collaborative back and forth as we refined the vision. “The Feldman team quickly understood the challenges of the project’s schedule and existing condition. Their fresh design and inventive planning were both bold and practical, efficient yet elegant and was the key component in realizing and exceeding the client’s vision,” Michael Booth, Principal at BAMO.

Ground Studio, the landscape team, was involved and walking the site with us on day one, sharing reactions and initial thoughts about the configurations of the rear yard, as well as the driveway and auto court, which was successfully manipulated and shaped to improve the entry experience.

Plath & CO, the builders, were introduced to the project after the team had formulated and finalized floor plans, and greatly helped polish the significant framing, sequencing, and excavation challenges, playing a key part in completing the project in record time. From presenting cost implications at the right time, to balancing a large-scale project with many technical challenges with cost and speed, the project could not have been completed so successfully without such an amazing team.

Photography by Matthew Millman.