Cover A view of the home from the outdoor deck

Tranquility reigns in this California home, which was created as a calming and creative environment for meditation as well as artistic pursuits

Situated in the mountainous range of Portola valley in California is a residence attuned to its peaceful surroundings. “Wow” was certainly among the first words that came to mind for Bruce Wright, vice-president and principal of SB Architects, upon seeing the surroundings.

“I remember driving down and meeting our clients, talking to them about how spectacular the site was, and how we could integrate the architecture in a way that celebrates all of that,” says Wright. “It was really all about its location on this hilltop—the dramatic views of the oak trees, the valley, the views towards Mount Diablo in the east and the coastal range to the west.”

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Now empty nesters, the owners wanted a place where they could escape from the day-to-day grind of their stressful corporate lives to meditate and paint, as well as entertain their family and friends. Inspired by the hotels and resorts designed by SB Architects, the couple roped in the firm to translate that effortless style in their hospitality projects to their abode.

The design concept was to create a contemporary home that was an expression of the place and an expression of the family. We designed the house in a way that really celebrated their (the owners’) collection of art,” says Wright. “It’s in Silicon Valley, so they are surrounded by technology and they wanted a retreat from all of that. We created a variety of architectural millwork pieces that disguise TVs, so you can press a button and the TV is covered by a gorgeous wood panel. You really minimise the amount of distractions from the electronic world to focus on the sculptural nature of the house and the art.”

The clients also wanted their residence to embrace concepts of wellness and sustainability to create a serene space that improves their wellbeing. “Aside from having solar panels, sustainability is baked into our building codes,” says Wright. “The clients also wanted spaces to meditate and a kitchen where they can regularly cook healthy meals.”

Emphasising the property’s connection to the landscape was paramount. “That was one of the primary moves: to bring the focus to nature and connect that back with all these public spaces,” says the architect.

The firm worked closely with landscape architect Stefan Twilio to achieve such seamless transitions between the exterior and interior spaces. “He has been a big help in championing the idea of this indoor-outdoor concept,” Wright adds.

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Wright describes his firm’s philosophy as “modern but timeless”, with the goal of crafting approachable and experiential spaces. Everything about the couple’s needs was taken into consideration—be it their morning habits, or the ways they spend their afternoons and evenings. “We devised the site plan to create a series of buildings that reacted to their needs, but created spaces that capitalised on different times of the day,” he explains.

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A sense of transition was crucial—this is most evident in the main courtyard. “As you enter the courtyard, much like you do at a spa, you’re leaving the hectic world behind and entering through a beautiful garden gate that serves as the front door to the home,” says Wright. “Then, you’ll transition through an arrival court with stunning landscaping; all of these elements that create a sense of tranquility. You can hear the rustling of the leaves and you can see how the materiality of the architecture emphasises different aspects of the building.”

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Located in the main building of the property, the living room, kitchen and dining area are perched on the edge of a hill. The firm created an adjacent outdoor living room with a series of operable walls and sliding doors that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions.

The two-storey guest wing features rooms on the upper level that visiting family and friends can use. It comprises a junior master bedroom on the lower floor, a media room and a home office. A link bridge connects this wing to a meditation room, which also leads to the master suite, the most private realm in the dwelling.

The master bedroom offers spectacular views while affording direct access to outdoor amenities such as a hot tub and swimming pool. “We thought about this master suite as an elegant room that has private separation from the rest of the public happenings in the house. There are so many elements to the space that come to life in the evening glow, when the sun sets; it’s just this really warm, comfortable and serene place.”

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The garage is located in a separate building that also incorporates the wife’s art studio on the second floor. “Our client is a fabulous painter and collector of art, so she wanted to be able to find inspiration from the surrounding views that change throughout the day and create opportunities for artistic pursuits,” shares the architect.

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All in, the project was a collaborative process between the clients, whom the architects met almost weekly while working closely with landscape architect Stefan Twilio and interior designer Lorissa Kimm. Kimm hand-selected all the furnishings for this dwelling to ensure visual unity inside and out while complementing existing pieces from the owners’ previous home.

New additions include custom-made sofas in the living room as well as the bespoke millwork that signals the transition to various spaces. The architecture firm also commissioned Chris French Metal to create custom steel fabrication on the railings, stairs and the exterior. 

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“It’s a beautiful home. The photographs are great, but there is an amazing atmosphere that can’t be captured unless you are walking around the residence,” declares Wright. According to the architect, it’s a greater joy to hear that the owners adore their new abode. “What I liked most about doing this project was the positive relationship that we developed with our clients; getting to know them, learning about their daily rituals, their lifestyle.”

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