THE ORIGINAL HOME AND SITE
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.
THE ORIGINAL HOME
Meera and her active family of four were in search of a new home in the South Bay to call their own, and after three-and-a-half-years with no success – having sifted through over 1,000 listings and visited nearly 30 in person – they finally found the one. “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!’, they told Dwell in fall of 2021.
The clients fell in love with this unique circular house and initially planned a modest remodel. The original home, built in 1965, was one of a few similarly shaped homes built in California in the 60s. Soon after moving in, the family recognized the inefficiencies of their new home – low roof eaves awkwardly obstructed the otherwise spectacular views. The original structure, referred to as the “doughnut house,” had an open-air courtyard in the center. It “was really interesting and very awkward at the same time,” said Steven Stept, Partner-in-Charge. The public living areas faced the private wooded hillside, while bedrooms opened onto sprawling, exposed views of Silicon Valley.
“’I have a soft spot for preserving what’s there,’ says Meera. ‘For a while, it was just a finishes (updating interiors/exterior 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 told Dwell.
“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.”
The clients are a family of four, with two middle school aged children. Meera is an avid cook and baker, and wanted food, cooking, and therefore the kitchen to act as the home’s metaphorical and physical center, and also needed to accommodate the cooking lessons she hosts for family and friends. Meera, a talented designer herself (a Principal at AP+I Design), was excited to engage alongside our team, and later, worked to select all the interior furnishings and collaborated on the project’s finish selections.
Spiraling outwards from the kitchen, the updated floorplan aspired to reconfigure the original structure’s public and private spaces in a more logical manner – nestling the primary suite on the opposite side of the home, facing the tree grove, and orienting the great room, kitchen, and outdoor living towards views. The clients envisioned living on one level, so the updated plan places their desired programming on the main level, while the existing footprint allowed the design to accommodate lower ‘bonus’ spaces, like a home office and an extra in-law suite with direct level access to the arrival court.
“It was very exciting to develop a precise plan that respected the tangent points of the circular shape, which all referred back to the central core – the kitchen” Anjali Iyer, Project Architect, told Enki Magazine.
CONSTRUCTION AND TECHNICAL EXECUTION
Los Altos Hills, a suburb originally developed in the 1950s, was zoned to accommodate large, uniquely shaped lots with strict building codes protecting open spaces, vegetation, 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 (Dwell).
A challenging build with atypical geometry on a steep slope required extreme creativity from David Toews, BayWest Builder’s Superintendent, who led the project’s construction through a variety of unique challenges.
Because of the circular plan, David stressed that geometry and strict calculations were important from the beginning, suggesting that the house needed a compass to guide its construction. Viewing the building in layers, starting from the foundation all the way through framing and steel work, he expressed that exacting precision in each phase would result in the most successful project. After inspecting the plans prior to starting construction, he immediately referenced a past project, the Sundial Bridge in Redding, which inspired ‘The Tool’ – a 16-foot-tall by 45-foot-long compass. Its function was to properly measure the circumference of the house during the construction of foundation and walls, helping the team keep track of the plan’s vectors and ensuring each wall lined up with its counterpart. The home’s plan carefully and precisely radiates out from its exact center of the kitchen, where the compass was anchored. Today, you can find the compass base, now serving as a front door stop, in the entryway of the completed house.
“We custom designed steel inserts in the concrete floor, and the decks boards were cut in a tapered shape to respect the curved geometry. The process was thoroughly enjoyable as we had to question and reinterpret each detail in our toolkit that would have worked for an orthogonal building. The project warranted a higher degree of collaboration between the design team, the consultants, and the contractor” Anjali Iyer, Project Architect, told Enki Magazine.
The design interprets the existing structure through a modern lens – integrating current seismic codes and updated structural work throughout the project as to stabilize the home into the existing steep hillside. To further withstand seismic disruptions, the concentric design takes biomimetic approach, “We took some inspiration from things that are naturally very strong structures,” the homeowners explain. “There’s tons of circular steel, and it’s all crossed and connected to each other. That’s a spider web.” Visually, the team took advantage of these structural modifications and smoothed previously segmented walls into pure curves.
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.” That’s something we try to do a lot in the office, 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,” said Steven Stept, Partner-in-Charge, in Dwell.
THE FINAL PRODUCT
Alongside Meera, our team selected clean and modern finishes and furnishings to invite dramatic views to the forefront – a Japanese style of charred wood siding, called Shou Sugi Ban, seamless concrete floors, crisp curved white walls, and minimalist interiors feel fresh and durable. In the kitchen, a circular skylight streams daylight into the kitchen, creating a makeshift sundial that illuminates different sections of curved casework throughout the day. A concentric hallway traces the kitchen, leading to discrete pie-shaped rooms carefully arranged to demarcate private from public spaces. An outdoor deck is strategically carved out at the intersection of the living room and kitchen – framing sprawling views. Tall, curved pocket doors vanish into the walls, asserting a seamless indoor-outdoor connection. The modest perimeter deck allows outdoor access from all the bedrooms, while curved landscape walls radiate outward and into thoughtful softscape.
“Lifting out of a polished concrete floor, the kitchen mimics the external body, embracing a cylindrical design that allows for a large island and uninterrupted flow. A small skylight hangs above, spotlighting the space and casting shadows that reveal the time of the day. Conventional solutions may favor geometry, but fortune favors the brave, and thinking outside of the box – quite literally – has resulted in a home like we’ve never seen before.” Enki Magazine, March 2022 issue.
Find more information on the finished project here. Photography by Adam Rouse.