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Function meets beauty: Punctuation of color sets Los Altos Hills home apart


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Karen Talmadge and John Fiddes remodeled their Los Altos Hills home with a modern flair and pops of bold color.

Karen Talmadge and John Fiddes have brought their kitchen into the “modern” world – in the true sense of the word.

“We have lots of toys,” she said of the sleek remodeled kitchen in their Los Altos Hills home. “It’s now functional and integrated into the social life of the house.”

Their multilevel hillside home is the perfect example of modern architecture that has withstood the test of time. But until recently, the kitchen remained anchored in the 1980s, when the home was built.

When they purchased the 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house in 2003, they made some aesthetic changes because, as Talmadge put it, “it was tasteful and beautiful but not us.”

However, the changes did not extend to the kitchen, which was serviceable though too small for a family that enjoys cooking and entertaining. It was somewhat claustrophobic and gloomy because of its configuration and yellowish oak cabinets, but they lived with it.

While the rest of the house was open and “truly modern,” the three-level kitchen/family area was disjointed and compartmentalized. A wall separated the kitchen from the family room. The informal dining area was two steps up from the kitchen; the family room, two steps up from the dining area.

Award-winning project

Failing appliances, outdated cabinetry and lack of space finally led them to call on Harrell Remodeling of Palo Alto, with which they previously had worked. Project manager Scott Marshall and team members Lisa Sten and Gloria Carlson worked with Talmadge and Fiddes to create the ideal fit for their lifestyle and modern surroundings.

The project has garnered awards from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Silicon Valley Region, and the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

The wall between the kitchen and family room was removed. The kitchen floor was raised to be on one level. And the dining area was moved to the open family room, making the kitchen large enough to accommodate a 15-foot-long island. A section of back-to-back cabinetry between the kitchen and family room provides storage on one side and bookshelves on the other.

Talmadge created continuity in the home’s decor through the use of soft gray, black, bright white and splashes of red.

The kitchen is a case in point. Ultra-contemporary, high-gloss white Poggenpohl cabinetry contrasts with the black slate floor. The backsplash behind the Wolf range is back-painted red SodaGlass and the countertop is gray Caesarstone. White Silestone tops the island, which is noteworthy for its glass display drawers at one end and seating area with built-in Teppanyaki grill at the other. A red pendant light is suspended above the seating area and its gray leather counter-height chairs.

Talmadge claimed the red knobs on the Wolf range were not the reason for selecting it but rather the high BTUs and durability.

There is a wall of Miele ovens: two conventional ovens, one steam oven, one speed oven and two warming drawers.

A family affair

Talmadge and Fiddes share cooking duties. Their children, Ian and Nicola, join in when they’re around. Ian is working toward a doctorate in bioinformatics at UC Santa Cruz and Nicola is studying for a psychology doctorate at the Wright Institute in Berkeley.

“Ian loves the chemistry of cooking,” his mother said. “I gave him Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’ and he’s read it seven times.”

This scientific gene might be hereditary. Both parents are molecular biologists. Talmadge diverged into co-founding a medical device company, Kyphon, which was purchased by Medtronic in 2007.

A colorful and dynamic oil painting above the fireplace in the living room speaks to their calling. It was painted by Talmadge’s brother, internationally renowned artist James Talmadge.

“It’s a composite of cellular structures. There’s bacteria, viruses and cellular structures,” Karen Talmadge said.

But, to the uniformed eye, it’s a wonderful collusion of shapes and colors.

James Talmadge’s art is the punctuation of color that sets this modern home apart.

Small organic oil paintings (his) frame the family room fireplace, which formerly had a marble surround. Now it’s taupe-colored plaster. A comfy reclining white leather sofa and matching club chairs invite relaxation. The reading lights are red (what else?) with a yellow base.

But the pièce de résistance in the room is the kidney-shaped movable bar table, which has asymmetrical powder-coated steel legs and a back-painted red glass top. It was designed by Karen Talmadge after she couldn’t find a table she liked.

The table came in handy when the couple hosted a recent party for American Diabetes Association volunteers. (She was national board chairwoman in 2013.)

Refrigerated drawers and a wine refrigerator with two temperature zones are integrated into the bar itself. In the rear corner is a coffee station with a red Nespresso machine, whose color was used in picking the paint for the kitchen backsplash and bar tabletop.

Red LED lights add drama to the new refrigerated wine room, which houses 698 bottles behind glass doors. (It was a hall closet.) The back wall is a stone panel with micro holes that let in light. When the lights are off, it appears to be gray stone. Turn them on and a horizontal pattern of red lights illuminates the wine. It’s a good example of function and beauty, which is what the house is all about.

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