Summerhill showplace: Los Altos home offers warmed-up take on modern design

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A sloped roofline and the warm tones of the stonework soften the modern exterior of this Summerhill Avenue home.


Ever fall in love with a house when you walk in the front door?

Home builder Abbie Bourgan aimed to make that happen with his recent project on Summerhill Avenue in Los Altos that he calls a "transitional contemporary" home.

"It’s contemporary but with traditional elements such as a sloped rather than flat roof," he said. "And the earth-tone colors of the exterior warm it up."

What distinguishes the facade is the natural quartzite ledger stone from India.

According to Bourgan, the latest design trend locally has been a move toward modern homes.

"Some of these designs look nice and intriguing on paper or a computer screen but may be impractical for the site or don’t relate to how people use various spaces," he said. "They may feel harsh, cold or out of scale."

His goal was to build a house in tune with the neighborhood - something with curb appeal, an impressive foyer and the illusive "perfect floor plan."

The 4,237-square-foot house boasts high ceilings, a plethora of windows and an open floor plan as well as private spaces, such as a small office nook off the great room. There are five bedrooms (each with its own bath), an office and two garages (totaling 771 square feet), each with electric-vehicle charging stations.

To the left of the foyer is the open living room and formal dining room; to the right, a glass staircase leading to the master suite and two bedrooms; directly ahead, a view through the house to the backyard with its mature oaks.

The living room fireplace is flanked by windows and faced (floor to 12-foot ceiling) with a high-density porcelain material from Spain that has the look of copper. Suspended above the dining room table is a strip of crystal prisms of varied shapes and sizes - one of several unique lighting fixtures selected by Bourgan’s wife, Susan.

"Her influence increases as we approach the finish stages," Bourgan said. "Although she is not initially involved in the architectural design phase, she certainly has veto power on all aspects of a project and is not shy about exercising it from time to time. You could say she keeps me from getting too creative."

However, there is no lack of creativity in the house. For example, one of the downstairs bedrooms is pre-wired for a home theater video projector and 5.1 audio system if a home theater is on someone’s wish list.

Innovative touches

Technological innovations also are featured in the kitchen designed by Sherry Scott of Sherry Scott Design in Los Altos.

"This meant not using the same tools and elements which are now 20-plus years old," Scott said. "For example, stone countertops have pores and need periodic sealing. Today we have sintered particle slab surfaces offering zero porosity, so things like red wine won’t absorb and leave rings on the countertop."

The eat-at kitchen island combines man-made quartz and a next-generation countertop material called Dekton in a color called Trilium. It’s produced with approximately 80% recycled materials and evokes volcanic stones in warm gray, black and rust colors.

"No two slabs are alike - just like fingerprints," Scott said.

The thermo-structured surfaces on the European-style cabinets and drawers may look and feel like natural wood, but they are harder, don’t fade in a sunlit room and are less susceptible to water damage.

The Miele six-burner gas range has a touch-activated control panel, a griddle, a warming drawer and dual-use ovens that include steam, convection and microwave.

To create a warm and inviting space, Scott looked to nature - dark earthy tones on the island, soft natural green back-painted glass for the backsplashes and light metallic cabinets above the range to reflect the sky.

The kitchen flows into the great room, which features a wall of glass opening to a covered terrace with a fire pit. In addition, there is an outdoor kitchen barbecue. A dry creek bed - Summerhill Creek - bisects the backyard of the half-acre property.

Different perspective

Bourgan likes the floor plan because it’s functional and "great for indoor and outdoor entertaining," but what he likes best is the kitchen.

"I do like to cook," he said.

His tech background has enabled him to bring a different perspective to the conventional building approach. Smart Home technology and energy efficiency are important components in the Summerhill house.

Bourgan didn’t become a home builder until 15 years ago, when he and Susan and their two young daughters moved to Los Altos. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Northwestern University and spent 24 years in high-tech product design, development and management in the Boston area.

"I have always had a soft spot for building and construction," he said. "I bought my first fixer-upper right out of school when I was 22 years old. It was much easier to buy a home back then."

He and Susan even built their own 5,000-square-foot Energy Star Certified home in a Boston suburb.

When he decided to make a career change, real estate development was a natural fit, and Los Altos had greater appeal than Boston because of the weather and housing market.

One of his biggest fans is realtor emeritus Abby Ahrens of the Abigail Company of Los Altos, who has helped in marketing, sales and finding high-potential properties.

"He has a lot of common sense and instinctively knows what people may want if they were building the home themselves," she said of Bourgan.

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