- Published on Wednesday, 29 September 2010 03:10
- Written by Jan Masters - Special to the Town Crier
The second “LA Modern” Home Tour, scheduled 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 16, with a Preview Party 6-9 p.m. Oct. 15, features seven homes in the Los Altos area, all built in the new millennium and demonstrating innovations in living.
MODERN FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM: The event is part of a series of fundraisers supporting the Los Altos Neutra House, a historical home from the 1930s designed by famed architect Richard Neutra in the California modern style.
Restored and relocated to city-owned land in 2008 under the aegis of the Los Altos Community Foundation, Neutra House, located at 181 Hillview Ave., serves as a conference center for non-profit groups and city of Los Altos, private and business functions.
The other LA
Los Angeles is usually considered the hotbed of California modern architecture, but the Los Altos area has a fair claim to that distinction. Many prominent modern architects left their marks here, including Neutra, better known for his work throughout the southland but famous locally for the Los Altos Neutra House, a gem in its original incarnation in 1939 and in its refurbished state today.
The tour includes homes in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto, all of which contribute to the area’s reputation as a thriving center for modern architecture.
Back in the neighborhood
Ann and Neil Wolff’s Los Altos home sits near the original location of the little cottage that became the Los Altos Neutra House.
“We wanted to bring a Neutra-style home back to the neighborhood,” said Ann of the inspiration for her home’s design and layout.
The minimalist front elevation foretells little of the dynamic spaces beyond the solid-wood entry door. One surprise: twin pairs of wide gray wooden pocket doors that separate or integrate spaces around the kitchen at will, not unlike shoji screens in Japanese homes. The central courtyard, the open floor plan and the attention to detail demonstrate that Neutra is, indeed, back in the neighborhood.
Scheduled for completion just days before the home tour, Anne and Greg Toth’s home off Cuesta Drive is the newest house on the tour.
“I wanted to enjoy our wonderful climate and the continuity of indoors and out,” said Anne of her design requirements. “This is really just a modern interpretation of a Tuscan farmhouse.”
The interplay of spaces around the courtyard is reminiscent of a village. The towering entry, with its Mondrianlike window, is the pivot point between the living and sleeping spaces. The buff-colored stucco walls paired with the dark-stained wood reinforce the allusion to Italian precedents.
The modern vernacular in the Toths’ home, designed by Jonathan Pearlman of Elevation Architects, is expressed in the open plan and interactive volumes. Neutra’s legacy is visible in large expanses of glass, sequences of strip windows and truthfulness to the materials. The commitment to being eco-smart is evident in the landscaping, solar water heating and photovoltaic solar electric systems.
The home of Jawed Umerani and Mahnaz Fashandi, completed in 2007, integrates well in the established neighborhood behind Los Altos High School.
“Instead of the family room I promised to add right away when we bought the property, I built a whole new house – 11 years later,” Umerani said.
The house is not large, but it is exceptional. The steel post-and-beam structure is a masterpiece of design and fabrication. Steel columns and rods support the tall glass walls that frame the reflecting pool and courtyard. Wide overhangs shade the courtyard and frame the sky. Warm maple floors reflect the natural light, while brightly colored niches lend an unexpected vibrancy to the simple interiors.
Jeff and Stephanie Winner love their 2009 modern Los Altos home. California native plants lead to a protected entry. Just beyond the front door is a well-articulated home of graceful proportions. The soaring 18-foot ceiling in the living room and the 6-foot ribbon gas fireplace set into a wall of tile create a feeling of grandeur.
The sophisticated style continues in the kitchen, with its striking Italian lacquered cabinetry and sleek appliances. The dining room features a second wall of tile for balance. Beyond the glass wall is a private dining patio and covered entertainment area. The backyard is more traditional, featuring a wide expanse of lawn bordered by towering oaks and a creek. The house fits well on its site and brings the outdoors inside.
High on a hill
Maryam Dickey’s house in Los Altos Hills features a sweeping 270-degree view of the Santa Clara Valley. The careful placement of the house on the property, the open floor plan and the large expanses of glass bring the valley and the hills into the home. Completed in 2008, the home relies on smooth forms and neutral tones to balance the complexity of nature seen outdoors.
The design uses recesses and projections in the ceiling to define areas within larger spaces. The long, sleek fireplace set into a floor-to-ceiling span of stone seems to hover lightly even as it anchors the space. The lustrous and colorful kitchen balances nicely with the calmness of the adjoining rooms.
Nestled in the oaks
Like a tree house for grown-ups, Karl and Diana Garrett’s home in Los Altos Hills is closer to the legacy of architects Joseph Eichler and Rudolph Schindler than the other homes on the tour.
The house is artfully situated within nature. The warm-colored dwelling steps up a steep hill to bask in the sun. The ceilings slope upward toward the sky, while the tall windows bring the natural scenery inside.
The site is ideally suited to present a far-reaching view of the outdoors, without feeling exposed or eschewing privacy. The cabinetry and trim are oak and further add to the warmth of the interior and the seeming simplicity of its forms. The contours of the terrain and the home’s many levels play off each other dynamically, day and night, to create an ever-changing scene and setting.
Building blocks for living
Built for Markus Fromherz and Heike Schmitz in 2008, the Palo Alto stop on the tour features an arrangement of minimalist “containers” that take full advantage of the property. The house uses a northern European vocabulary. Narrow black wood strips on the second-floor exterior contrast with both the white stucco on the ground floor and the garage articulated with linear detailing. The brushed-metal supporting columns, window frames and hardware speak the same language.
A cluster of redwoods towers above the single-story garage and seems to complete the man-made composition. The interior staircase contributes to the linearity even as it contradicts expectations of enclosure. The outside spiral staircase evokes a playfulness reinforced by the master suite, which appears to float over the pool.
According to Fromherz, his home is a “modern house that celebrates the Californian style of indoor-outdoor living and takes full advantage of the mild Bay Area climate.”
A common language
The seven houses on the 2010 “LA Modern” Home Tour display great variety, yet all use the timeless language of the modern style and demonstrate that California and the greater Los Altos area continue to be places of innovation in design, technology and aesthetics.
Before and after the tour
A Preview Party, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 15, provides “A Taste of Los Altos” buffet of specialty dishes from Chef Chu’s, Aldo Los Altos, Whole Foods Market and Estrellita Restaurant. The event will include live music and a silent auction featuring items such as a Wine Country getaway, selections from Vintage Bath, original art by Linda Gass and Jeff Owens and wines from Los Altos Hills vintners.
A Post-Tour Party, scheduled 3-5 p.m. Oct. 16, offers an opportunity to meet the homeowners and tour volunteers.
“LA Modern” Home Tour tickets are $40 each, and the Post-Tour Party runs $20. Tickets for the Preview Party, $150, include all three events.
To purchase tickets, visit www.neutrahouse.org or call 949-5908. Tickets may also be purchased 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 16 at the Neutra House.
Note that homes on the tour are not wheelchair accessible and some have stairs. High heels are not permitted, and some homes require removal of shoes before entry. Children under 10 and pets are not allowed. Carpooling is recommended.
Sponsors for 2010-2011 Neutra House events include Le Boulanger; Borel Private Bank & Trust; Elevation Architects; Skidmore Owings and Merrill; Charlene Geers of Coldwell Banker; Cobalt Power Systems Inc.; Courtyard by Marriott; Chef Chu’s; Aldo Los Altos; Prochnow Realtors Inc.; Thomas Klope Associates; Young, Craig and Co. LLP; Vintage Bath; Estrellita Restaurant; and Whole Foods Market.
For more information, visit www.neutrahouse.org.