Haven in the forest: Couple use open-house experience to design their perfect home

Courtesy of Malika Junaid
The split-level Los Altos Hills home of Donna and Keith Yue takes advantage of the hillside and bay views.

The house Donna and Keith Yue built on Taaffe Road in Los Altos Hills is the culmination of their visits to countless open houses.

"Maybe 700," Keith said.

"It may have seemed like 700, but it was more like 200," Donna countered.

The couple had relocated from Hong Kong to a home they owned near downtown Los Altos but wanted a view, more amenities and space for guests. So they began their search.

At the time, with elderly family members and two teenagers to consider, they wanted an environment that was welcoming for everyone. And they wanted privacy and separation from the stress of high-tech life.

"We saw too many spec homes. They became predictable," Keith said. "We became aware of the flow - what worked and what didn’t. I like to cook, so the kitchen design was important."

Armed with cool ideas from the myriad houses they toured, the couple decided to build rather than buy.

Optimizing the view

Their search for property led them to Taaffe Road and a sloped, wooded site where the vegetation nearly obscured the bay view.

"We bought a house inside a forest," Keith said. "I fell in love with the setting and the peace and quiet."

They judiciously cleared the building site to optimize the views, planting a new tree for every one that was removed, and deconstructed the house. In its place is a 7,500-square-foot residence with six bedrooms (each with its own bath), office, game room, home theater, gym, sauna, wine cellar and tasting room.

Automatic gates provide access to a motor court and what appears to be a single-story Mediterranean-style home. However, looks are deceiving, because the metalwork entry doors open to reveal a multilevel modern interior.

"The site had a lot of challenges," said architect Malika Junaid of M Designs Architects in Los Altos. "Because of the topography and the town’s height and grading regulations - and the desire to take advantage of the view - we had to do a split-level entry. The house steps down with the terrain."

The Yues wanted to maintain the integrity and essence of the site. Junaid’s goal was to have the house adjust to the site rather than damage the site for the house.

"The main design philosophy was to enter the house on higher ground, coming from your normal, fast-paced day, and then leaving stress behind by walking down to the informal level with its views and connections to the backyard and bay," she said.

The master suite, tucked away on the upper level, has the best view and features a row of oversized floor-to-ceiling windows, a fireplace, a jaw-dropping closet and master bath with heated floors and sloped-basin vanities. Both the steam shower and jetted tub can accommodate two people.

Also on the upper level are a scenic loft and two secondary suites nearby.

Common rooms

On the main level is the living room, which boasts 12-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling shelving flanking the fireplace and a folding glass wall that opens for easy indoor-outdoor living. A staircase leads down to the rear terrace.

Just down the hall are the dining room, kitchen and family room.

Keith designed the kitchen, which has natural stone surfaces, an island with bar seating, two sinks, soft-close cabinetry and high-end appliances.

"I like to cook what I love to eat," he said.

A central fireplace unifies the kitchen and family room, which has French doors accessing the terrace. Floor-length windows maximize the views.

Also on this level are a private home office with a complete wall of bookshelves and a guest suite with a stone-clad bathroom.

According to Junaid, the lower level, or basement, was created "to accommodate both teenagers and adults in their enjoyment of sharing a space together while still being able to be separate. The home theater, game room and wine cellar are connected so all ages and groups can hang out together."

The game room, with a pool table, opens to a tasting room with a wet bar and temperature-controlled wine cellar that can hold more than 800 bottles. The home theater features surround sound and tiered seating.

Other amenities from the Yues’ open-house checklist: room-specific lighting, speakers, jamb-less window and door casings, 8-foot doors, wide-plank hardwood floors, an elevator and, of course, solar panels.

"It’s a smart house," Keith said.

However, the couple has made a smart decision. They purchased the property in 2010, but the house was not built until 2015, at which time their children were off to college and their lifestyle had changed. They’ve decided to stay close to downtown and hope another family will make Taaffe Road their home. n

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