Tue07292014

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Living in Harmony: Mittelman home in Los Altos Hills radiates warmth, and light

The house that Brenda and Harry Mittelman built is filled with light, warmth and music.

"If we had to build the house again, we'd do it the same way," said Harry Mittelman. "We wouldn't change a thing."

Perfect, too, is the Los Altos Hills setting. It overlooks the old Neary Quarry, home to Canada geese and other waterfowl, and is a source of delight for the Mittelmans' nine grandchildren.

Harry, a plastic surgeon who specializes in facial cosmetic surgery, and Brenda, an opera singer and interior designer, designed the 7,000-square-foot house themselves. "We knew what we wanted," Brenda said. This included open, light-filled spaces, a large high-ceilinged room for her singing, a combined kitchen and great room where family and friends could gather and a master suite on the ground floor with guest quarters on the opposite side of the house as well as upstairs.

The Mittelmans had their plans ready in three months, working with architects Rick Pedley of San Jose and Robin Joy of Los Altos Hills. During the two years of construction, builder Bob Lemma lived in a trailer on site during the week.

In January 2002, the Mittelmans moved into their dream house, a far cry from the Cape Cod-style home they had occupied in Menlo Park.

A gated, semicircular drive leads to the entrance, where guests are greeted by outdoor sculptures such as a golfer, baseball catcher and eagle in flight. The architecture is a sleek adaptation of classic Craftsman style with a slate roof replacing the traditional shingles. An "eyebrow" extends from the roofline to form a covered entryway.

The home's symmetrical exterior - with terraces on each side - echoes the floor plan.

"The Arts and Crafts feeling came from laying out the house," Brenda said.

Inside, she has combined three diverse design styles - neoclassic, Arts and Crafts and Asian - into a stunning and cohesive family home.

"Every part of it is used except the exercise room," she said, "although the grandchildren do use the treadmill to run their cars on."

Visitors cross the threshold into a loggia that extends the width of the house. To the left, it leads to the master suite, office and exercise room; to the right, the kitchen, butler's pantry and guest room with bath. The entry faces the living room and formal dining area - a dramatic bi-level space visually separated into two "rooms" by an arch in the 18-foot-high coffered ceiling and a step down to the living room.

Upstairs is a master suite for guests, plus two more guest rooms and baths.

A favorite part of the house is the kitchen and light-filled great room with its bay windows affording views of the quarry and green hillside.

"We wanted a good living space for the family and a good kitchen," Brenda said. "I love to cook and we love to entertain."

The highly polished, planed Santos mahogany floors match the cabinetry and the base of the 7-by-9-foot central island with its carved corbels supporting a single slab of ultra-white statuary marble. Counter surfaces are matching marble. The same mahogany flooring is used throughout the house.

"We chose it because it has a nice grain - it's like fine furniture - and it's sustainable," Brenda said.

In the kitchen, side by side, are a Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer - sort of a "his and hers" thing. The door of the refrigerator (hers) is pristine. The door of the freezer (his) has a montage of family photos on it - Harry's gallery.

Just off the kitchen - a few steps from the commercial-size gas range - is a small office, what Brenda calls the "mail room," a place where Harry can take care of snail mail and e-mail while she's preparing dinner.

"We can talk to each other and if I don't like what he's saying, I can just close the door," she said as she closed the pocket door to illustrate her point.

Tall mahogany chairs provide seating at the island, which contains a wealth of under-counter storage space along with a warming oven. In addition, the great room has a dining table that can accommodate a big family (each has two children from prior marriages, their spouses and the aforementioned grandchildren). Comfortable furniture is grouped in front of a fireplace.

Architectural details such as extra-wide baseboards, dental molding in the kitchen area and crown molding elsewhere lend distinction to the house.

"We paid particular attention to the ceilings and the baseboards," said Brenda, who drew upon her 25-plus years as an ASID-certified interior designer (she still designs for family and friends).

Harry used his creative talents as well, designing the balustrades for the home's two staircases. He also designs jewelry and compares the architectural detailing to the filigree on a ring.

Nowhere is the architecture more pronounced than in the living room, designed on a grand scale to accommodate a grand piano and provide a musical venue. The Mittelmans searched for the right piano for years before finding a 1938 mahogany Steinway whose tone suits Brenda's voice.

A lyric soprano whose voice has been compared to Kiri Te Kanawa, she sings at charity events and private concerts and has sung the national anthem at a San Francisco Giants game and at Stanford basketball games. She has weekly lessons with voice coach Russell Norman.

Despite its large scale, the living room is warm and welcoming, much like the Mittelmans. French doors open to the outdoors and, above them, windows at ceiling height brighten the room.

"It's the sense of bringing the outdoors indoors," Harry said.

A case in point is the master bedroom, whose bay windows echo those in the great room. The room is bathed in light. The walls are "light mushroom," Brenda's description, and the Art Deco furniture is blonde. A golden aura pervades the room.

The kitchen in the poolside pavilion rivals the state-of-the-art kitchen indoors. It even has a dishwasher. The Mittelmans can cook and eat outdoors year round because of the heat lamps built into the pavilion's roof.

Another place to play - especially for the grandchildren - is the basement. It has a pool table, game table and upright piano. The boys love to sing and tinker at the piano, perhaps another opera singer is waiting in the wings.

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