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Modern marvel: Family transforms conventional LA house into open, energy conscientious showplace

Photo By: Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photo By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Ronit Bodner enjoys leafy-green views from the large bay window in her living room.

A father-daughter team and a father-son team have transformed an aging midcentury house in Los Altos into a modern marvel.

Los Altos residents Ronit Bodner and her father, Elie Alcheck, were the general contractors for the project, designed by Stan Field and son Jess, whose firm, Field Architecture in Palo Alto, specializes in landscape-sensitive architecture.

The Woodview Terrace residence – conventional exterior, manicured yard – was typical of the neighborhood. Now it’s atypical with a dramatic portico formed by a butterfly roof and shading trellis. Native plants and rocks stair-step to the entrance.

Fans of modern design will be able to explore it – and nine other homes – when Dwell Home Tours comes to Silicon Valley in early November (see sidebar).

The tour homes demonstrate forward-thinking approaches to site planning and sustainability.

“In a place known for constant innovation, it makes perfect sense that the residential architecture of Silicon Valley is also on the cutting edge,” said Michela O’Connor Abrams, Dwell Media president.

Ronit and her husband, Zack, were certainly forward thinking when they purchased the Woodview Terrace house as a rental while living in San Francisco.

“We knew we wanted to make it our home,” said Ronit, who grew up in the house across the street, where her parents still live.

The Bodners’ San Francisco condominium, set in an old Victorian, became cramped with the arrival of daughter Talia, now 8, and son Elie, 5, so it was time to make the move to Los Altos. A second daughter, Orly, joined the family three months ago.

Before moving in, the couple wanted to modernize the house, located on a corner lot that steps down from north to south and is bordered with redwoods. They enlisted the Fields and Ronit’s father, founder of Alcheck Properties Inc. in Los Altos. She is the firm’s general counsel.

“We try to uncover the best that each site has to offer and shape the home to fit perfectly to its site,” Jess Field said. “We wanted to preserve the charm of the original house, while opening it up and giving it new life for the growing young family.”

After meeting with the Bodners for the first time, Stan Field gave them an assignment: “Go home, open a bottle of wine and write a paragraph on how you envision the space.”

The couple took his advice but wrote a page and a half.

High on the list was a big open space so that the children could go in and out and everyone would be involved at family gatherings.

“The children have nine cousins in the area. We’re often 20 to 30 people,” Ronit said. “And there’s no gathering that doesn’t involve food.”

So an open kitchen was a “must,” as was bringing the outdoors in.

“We went contemporary because we wanted a home that, from the exterior, was bold yet minimalist, and from the interior, light and airy with a flexible, open floorplan that created a connection to the outdoors,” Ronit said. “We also wanted a home that was modern in the environmental sense – energy efficient, built with sustainable materials and taking advantage of green building technology.”

The Fields’ concept was to remove all the small exterior windows and indoor partition walls and use the house to connect the gardens on either side of the multilevel property.

“We located the kitchen at the heart of the action with large sliding glass doors on either side that pocket away and let indoor living and dining flow onto the outdoor terrace,” Jess Field said.

There is only one wall – more like a partition – in the living area. It separates the multipurpose open space from the living room.

“We needed something to anchor the kitchen,” Ronit said.

“Our biggest challenge was working with the existing house – knowing just what to keep and what to replace in order to tie the old and new together and achieve the best result,” Jess said.

The biggest challenge for Ronit was functioning as general contractor with her father.

“It was the first home I’ve ever built, and the learning curve was very great,” she said. “We had to be focused each day on what was being constructed and, at the same time, line up the next several stages of construction.”

That left little time to agonize over decisions, which often were made on the spot. For example, the finishes, fixtures and furniture were chosen in a matter of a few days with the help of her mother, Yael, and sister-in-law Nancy Millstein.

Zack, who works for a non-profit organization in San Francisco, weighed in on the “big stuff.” His mother, Ellen Bodner, designed the closets.

The first phase of the project involved deconstructing half of the house, a sustainable alternative to demolition. This is where the new living space with its soaring ceilings and butterfly roof was created. The other half of the house remains much the same. However, by stealing an area from the master suite, they found space for a fourth bedroom. The staircase to the lower level was flipped to allow additional light. It features a frameless glass railing.

Downstairs includes a playroom, office and guest bedroom open to the pool area and vegetable garden. In addition, there’s a mudroom where the children can stow their stuff when they come through the garage.

“We used a material palette of cool-colored stucco complemented with warm Ipe wood, and large spans of glass which allow the inside and outside to thread together seamlessly,” Jess said.

Floors are either maple or porcelain tile, cabinets are walnut and countertops are white Caesarstone. The fireplace is faced with basket-weave limestone, and a bench running the length of the front windows is salvaged walnut.

“Transforming the house was truly a family affair,” said Ronit, who gives credit to her brother Mike and brother-in-law Bill Sheppard, her “tech experts.”

“What we love most is the opportunity to work with families and shape their dreams into reality,” Jess said. “We worked closely with Ronit, who became increasingly excited about architecture and design.”


Dwell Home Tours

Dwell’s Silicon Valley Home Tours, showcasing 10 modern residences, is scheduled Nov. 3 and 4.

• A Meet the Architects Cocktail Reception is scheduled Nov. 2.

• Homes in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills open Nov. 3 include: “Williams Residence” in Los Altos Hills by 350 Design Studio; “Woodview Terrace” and “Jay Street House” by Field Architecture; “Clay Project” by KC Cullen Design for Living; and “House for a Structural Engineer” by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

• Homes open Nov. 4 are: “Menlo Oaks Residence” by Cass Calder Smith Architecture; “Atherton Residence” by Turnbull Griffin Haeslopp Architects; “Hypereichler” by M110 Architecture; ”Hillsborough Residence” by Kuth/Ranieri Architects; and “Los Altos Hills Residence” by Cass Calder Smith Architecture.

The Meet the Architects reception is $25, a single-day pass is $75 and a weekend pass, which includes one free ticket to the Meet the Architects reception, is $150.

A portion of the proceeds benefits Dwell Home Tours’ nonprofit partner, Architecture for Humanity (

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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