The year is 1906.
Just as Los Altos began to resemble a city, Edwin Emerson, a Bostonian, completed construction of an East Coast Shingle-style house on the corner of Emerson and Mira Monte roads, today’s Covington Road and Miramonte Avenue. It was the farmhouse for his 70-acre fruit ranch and took four years to build because he had trouble finding a contractor who could read his architectural drawings.
Plans called for a front-facing gable roof with hipped gables on each side. In the center of the gable was a Palladian window and decorative wood balconette. The roof was shingled, giving the style its name, and the house was clad in horizontal lapped siding. A wrap-around porch was beneath the roof overhang, which was supported by square posts.
During its construction, Emerson’s wife and two children stayed with her parents in the East Bay but spent summers living in the tank house on the property.
It was completed just prior to the April 18, 1906, earthquake but sustained little damage because of its solid construction.
The year is now 2019.
The Emerson House, labeled a historical resource by the city, has withstood the forces of nature and subsequent owners. And it looks pretty much the same – on the outside, that is. The exterior has been masterfully restored while the interior has been modernized.
“It feels very cozy and comfortable. It’s a historical house with modern amenities,” said Los Altos realtor Hiep Nguyen of Intero, who spearheaded the project for a local consortium.
In 2013, John Walker, the home’s fourth owner, planned to remodel it for himself and build a house next door. He received approval to subdivide the lot and relocate the house to a new foundation. However, he had a change of heart and, in the summer of 2017, sold it to Nguyen’s group.
Moving the house was the first challenge. It was jacked up, placed onto special dollies, rotated 90 degrees (so the entrance would be on Covington) and “pushed and pulled” into place on the new foundation. In addition, the tank house, which had been moved in the 1970s, was relocated behind the house, where it would have been at the turn of the century.
A 625-square-foot addition to the rear of the house made it possible to expand the kitchen and create a master suite.
Project architect Walter Chapman of Chapman Designs in Los Altos helped create what is now a 3,287-square-foot home (including 144 square feet in the water tower) with four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths.
“It was a challenge not knowing what we were getting into when we opened up the walls,” Nguyen said.
Another challenge, imperative to preserving the “look” of the house, was finding materials to match the original siding and flooring.
“The new recessed windows, in the original openings, are indicative of historical times,” Nguyen said.
The windows themselves are an interesting story. He replaced the originals with the latest energy-efficient windows; however, because they weren’t recessed like in the old days, he had to reinstall them.
Because of the age of the house, the living spaces are delineated as opposed to the open floor plans in vogue today. However, the coffered beam ceiling kitchen and adjacent family room are as open as can be. And there is a spacious dining room opening to the outdoor porch.
What was the parlor, to the left of the front door, is a cozy sitting area. To the right is a home office with a bay window and glass pocket door.
Interior designer Gina Viscusi Elson of Los Altos wanted to stay as true as possible to the historical value of the home while modernizing the interior. She chose neutral classic colors for the walls but had fun with Hudson Valley lighting throughout the house. The large-scale glass pendants in the kitchen are among her favorites and, in fact, the kitchen is her favorite room in the house.
“It has a beautiful layout, usability of space, stunning 5-foot galley workstation in the island and a book-matched backsplash,” Viscusi Elson said.
A custom Venta hood is above the six-burner Thermador range. The counters and backsplash are Italian Calacatta porcelain, which is durable, stain proof and etch resistant.
The original top-nail oak floor in the kitchen was refinished. The transition between old floor and new is seamless.
There are other nods to history in the kitchen. The cross-member style of the porch railing is repeated at the end of the island and also in the paned glass of a cupboard.
Jessica DeOliviera of Da Vinci Marble in San Carlos collaborated with Viscusi Elson on material selections.
There are three light-filled bedrooms upstairs and a “bonus” room – a small space tucked beneath the eaves that’s a perfect playroom. It, too, has a window.
A historical background report prepared by Urban Programmers calls the Emerson House an “important living monument to the evolving story of the families that came to the area and made it their home … and in doing so created the physical history of Los Altos.”
It’s waiting for the next family to take up residence.