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Los Altos couple transforms a home deserving of preserving

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Matt Levine and Diane Duerr-Levine’s English cottage-inspired home in Woodland Acres in Los Altos is the fifth home they have transformed.

Diane Duerr-Levine and Matt Levine of Los Altos could be called serial home renovators.

Their English cottage-inspired home in Woodland Acres is the fifth they have transformed on their journey from the East Coast, where they met, to the West Coast. The first was in Princeton, N.J., followed by Manhattan (a circa 1854 home in Chelsea), Playa del Rey in Southern California and Deodara Drive in Los Altos.

“We take pride in preserving something that deserves to be preserved,” Levine said.

The couple discovered their current home on one of their walks up Arboretum Drive from Deodara. They were told the best view was at the end of the road, so one day Duerr-Levine stopped to look around.

“The property was overgrown and the view barely visible, but Diane could see its potential,” Levine said.

She had a good eye because today they have 280-degree views of Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley. Neighbors gather yearly on their 3,500-square-foot redwood deck to watch Fourth of July fireworks displays.

In 1999, the couple became the fourth owners of the house, built in 1954, almost the same day Levine saw the “for sale” sign. It has the distinction of being the last of the 120 custom-built homes in Woodland Acres.

Thus began a 20-month fully permitted renovation and upgrade during which the family lived in the house, doing it in stages. At one point, their children, Arielle and Sarsh, slept in sleeping bags in the dining room.

To convert the property from a “shadowed jungle,” they removed the eucalyptus trees and saved and nurtured six mature oak trees.

“We treat the oaks like children,” Levine said.

They landscaped both front and back yards, importing 120 tons of boulders from Jackson County (near Yosemite), and planted 20 trees. And they added the aforementioned deck plus an intricately designed 1,500-square-foot brick terrace crafted by a Mexican stone mason.

To bring the property up to earthquake/slide zone code, they replaced the original retaining wall (two stacked railroad ties) with one that is 12-15 feet high, 9-12 inches thick and 180 feet long.

“The Santa Clara County building inspector told me it could support a four-story apartment building,” said Levine, as he displayed a souvenir of the wall – a small bundle of rebar – that sits on a coffee table in the living room.

Reimagined space

The living room is inviting and light-filled, as is the house itself because of the 168 multi-pane casement windows. They contribute to the English cottage feeling along with the lavender-blue color scheme, brick facade and Tudor-style exterior walls and interior wood trim.

The Levines inherited the color scheme and rather than change it, they maintained it. For example, the Blue Onion wallpaper in the dining room and lavender-blue tile kitchen floor were preserved.

In addition, the wide-plank hardwood floors were refinished and the four Delft tile-framed wood-burning fireplaces were converted to gas.

Some interior spaces were reimagined, most noteworthy a barn-like attached structure that’s now a multi-level 2,000-square-foot cottage. The main level has a built-in banquette and desk; the upper level, an entertaining area with fireplace, wet bar and two balconies; the upstairs, a bedroom suite with balcony, walk-in closet and Jacuzzi.

A bathroom adjacent to the master bedroom in the three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house became a walk-in closet that retained the leaded-glass window. Another space was transformed into a home office and workout room.

Levine, a fan of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, likes the way the house flows from one end to the other – from family room to kitchen to foyer to an extensive gallery leading to the bedrooms.

Duerr-Levine likes the deck both when the sun is rising and when it’s dark and the lights of the valley twinkle at her feet. She also likes relaxing in the family room, which integrates work space, entertainment, a cozy fireplace and, of course, the view.

The family room is just a step down from the kitchen, which the couple remodeled a while ago. It features granite countertops, JennAir appliances and custom cabinets, some of which have stained-glass doors inspired by the home’s leaded-glass doors and windows.

In the breakfast room is a large round onyx table that’s a 1,000-pound souvenir of the couple’s Playa del Rey renovation. They were in Juarez, Mexico, selecting marble for the house and, when it was time to pay, they sat down at the table – the owner’s “desk” – and fell in love with it. After negotiating a price, the table was theirs.

The most recent renovation was the conversion of the unfinished basement into a 700-bottle wine cellar and tasting room. The walls are lined with memorabilia, accolades and photographs that bear witness to their personal achievements.

Duerr-Levine, motivated from childhood after being denied opportunities because of her gender, subsequently opened doors for women in consumer-packaged goods (first woman product manager for Lever Bros.) and among airlines (highest-level female officer, vice president for Continental Airlines). She also was the first marketing director for BART before embarking on a career as a wealth management executive, currently with Morgan Stanley.

Levine is a nationally acclaimed sports industry business, marketing and technology leader and innovator. He was employee No. 2 and played an instrumental role starting the San Jose Sharks and has counted among his clients the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland A’s, the Oakland Coliseum, the San Francisco Giants, the city of San Jose and the Stanford University Athletic Department.

With Duerr-Levine’s retirement approaching in June, the couple has put their home on the market with plans to spend six months in Europe. Perhaps they’ll find a house abroad to renovate.

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