Modern marvel: Nature-focused Los Altos Hills showplace brings the outdoors inside

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Architect Malika Junaid designed the ultramodern steel-and-glass Los Altos Hills showstopper she and her family call home.

Junaid Qurashi stood atop his SUV on a wooded hillside to get a better look at the San Francisco Bay view his wife, Malika Junaid, said was there.

They had discovered the 2.7-acre property on Taaffe Road while trail-running in Los Altos Hills. Although it was overgrown with poison oak that obscured the view, she saw its hidden beauty and potential.

"As much as I tried, I couldn’t see it," he said. "But Malika had a vision."

The upshot: The engineer (Qurashi) deferred to the architect (Junaid) and they bought the property where, today, they are at home with nature.

It took them roughly three years to build their ultramodern steel-and-glass "family" home, which is nestled into the hillside. Junaid, co-founder of M+Designs Architects of Los Altos, designed it, while tech entrepreneur Qurashi pushed the envelope in making it super smart.

"It looks so modern and makes a bold statement, but it’s sensitive to the site," Junaid said. "The interior of the house doesn’t stop your eye. It’s a part of nature."

Qurashi put it this way: "There’s no notion of indoor/outdoor. It’s one big environment."

Floor-to-ceiling glass walls maximize the views of the heritage oaks and the bay.

One "wall" is actually a 36-foot-wide-by-24-foot-high glass airplane hangar door. It pivots upward, opening an indoor pool and most of the home’s living areas to the outdoors.

Aircraft hangar doors are rare in residential settings, but Junaid customized the door to fit in with the aesthetics of the house. And it wasn’t easy designing a moveable 20,000-pound glass wall.

"We engaged structural and aircraft hangar engineers to detail all the forces that would impact the structure and the foundation of the house," Junaid said.

Then there was energy efficiency to consider - plus how to create a comfortable environment when the wall is open and it’s cool outside.

"We worked with a glass manufacturer to design glass that’s efficient when closed and safe when opened and hanging horizontally above the occupants," she said. "And we installed efficient aluminum subfloor radiant heating for comfort."

Cutting-edge innovations

The wall is just one example of Junaid thinking outside the box.

"I treated the house as a blank space to experiment with things that didn’t exist," she said. "I knew my client well."

In the kitchen, for example, a dramatic LED-lit 19-foot-long backsplash retracts at the wave of a hand to reveal an appliance "garage." Behind that, a second pane of glass opens to a butler’s pantry. During parties, food can be prepared behind the scenes in the pantry and passed through the opening.

With a touch of a button, a spice rack emerges from behind the cooktop in the 19-foot-long white Porcelanosa island, a chef’s dream with its vegetable prep sink and accessible kitchen utensils.

"We enjoy cooking together," said Qurashi, who is often joined in the kitchen by daughters Mishal, 14, and Alisha, 13.

All this high-tech gadgetry might have something to do with Qurashi’s early obsession with watching the sci-fi drama "Star Trek," which had futuristic features such as lights that turned on and off automatically and flip phones.

The focal point as one enters the house is the suspended dining room. In a Wall Street Journal article, Junaid called it "a very abstracted version of the Starship Enterprise." It is a circular glass dining room that juts out over the indoor swimming pool and is suspended 10 feet in the air.

Reminiscent of "Star Trek" is a tubular pneumatic elevator powered by suction rather than machinery. Because it’s transparent, it doesn’t induce claustrophobia - often a problem with small elevators in private homes. It is another of Junaid’s experiments that has merit.

The elevator is wrapped by a spiral staircase connecting the home’s three levels.

On the basement level, the indoor pool is placed so that it can be seen from nearly everywhere in the house.

"It is the center of our home," Junaid said. "I treated it as an art piece."

The bottom of the pool has a custom tile design of Michelangelo’s "The Creation of Adam."

Also in the "basement" is a guest suite, which is better defined as an in-home accessory dwelling unit, another of Junaid’s experiments; an 18-seat home theater with a cushy carpet and posters of family-favorite movies (actually acoustical panels used for soundproofing); and a home gym.

Family space

As one enters the main level (crossing a bridge over a koi pond), the dining room is directly in front with the family room and office to the right and kitchen to the left. Also immediately to the left is the living room, which looks into a glass-walled garage where a Bentley GT and Ducati 959 Panigale are on view. (The family has a separate two-car garage for everyday use.)

"I love the fact that the family is together on the main floor. It’s very interactive," said Qurashi, indicating the four workstations in the family room. "The communication’s good and we can see each other no matter where we are."

On the upper level, the master bedroom and girls’ suite are on either end of a glass walkway. The girls share a bedroom, which has a panoramic view and a walk-in dual shower - practical because both are on a swim team. A Harry Potter-inspired hidden stairway leads to a loft with books and art supplies.

The home’s interior color scheme is gray and white, but the trees outside add green to the palette.

"Nature is the focus," said Junaid, who paints in her spare time. "The interior is simple to provide a background for art work."

The terraced hillside provides venues for dining, entertaining or simply relaxing. There’s a bocce court and outdoor kitchen.

Deer and wild turkeys wander onto the patio. They, like the family, are part of nature. m

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