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Valley Views: A Landscape Among the Treetops in Portola Valley, CA

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Valley Views: A Landscape Among the Treetops in Portola Valley, CA

August 21, 2017

In Portola Valley, California—a forested, wealthy enclave just south of San Francisco, architect Malcolm Davis set to work expanding a midcentury modern, pitched roof house for a young couple and their growing family. But from the outset Davis and his clients were committed to preserving a single specimen oak tree that was integral to the character of the site.

The original house didn’t take advantage of the hillside site and the striking valley views it afforded, so during the remodel the ground floor was lowered by six feet. Stilts now support an upper floor. Despite the huge undertaking, “the reason we didn’t tear the house down and start over was that we didn’t want to lose that tree,” said the architect. “It was the genesis of the design, and the house was built around it.”

Davis—a member of the Gardenista Architect/Designer Directory—had the grounds re-landscaped and replaced dysfunctional decks and stairways with a simplified set of connecting bridges, a single outdoor stair, and a wraparound deck to take advantage of the sweeping views. The swimming pool and its flagstone patio were in good shape, and Davis added an indoor/outdoor “lanai” and a generous ipe wood patio for outdoor dining. Let’s take a closer look.

N.B.: Today on Remodelista, we’re featuring the interiors of the house.

Photography by Joe Fletcher, courtesy of Malcolm Davis Architect.

Above: On the ground floor of the guest wing, a “lanai” opens onto the outdoor dining porch and pool. The top floor is an art studio for one of the homeowners, who has a background in graphic design.
Above: The lanai serves as an indoor/outdoor lounge when the homeowners are entertaining.
Above: An outdoor dining table with Bertoia dining chairs sits on the water-resistant ipe wood deck, which has cutouts to accommodate a pair of existing trees.

The new decks, bridges, and stairway all float above the ground, anchored only by light footings to avoid disturbing the roots of the prized oak tree.

Above: An ipe-and-steel bridge connects the main wing of the house to the guest quarters and art studio, and links the art studio directly to the outdoor spaces.

One of the architect’s favorite features of the house is its cladding in two unusual materials: the Cor-ten corrugated steel shown here, and the shou sugi ban siding on the main wing, shown below.

Above: At night, the guest wing glows like a lantern.
Above: Architect Malcolm Davis stands behind the beloved specimen oak tree, on a new ipe-and-steel deck that wraps completely around the top floor of the main living wing.

The main house is clad in stucco and Shou Sugi Ban, cedar charred using a Japanese technique. The house is located in a wildland-urban interface zone, where risk of wildfires is high and homes must be fire-retardant. Because shou sugi ban is already charred, it’s inherently resistant to flame.

Above: Inside the main living wing, the dining room has retractable glass doors and a wraparound deck on three sides, making it an indoor/outdoor dining alternative to the outdoor dining patio off the guest wing.
Above: The pool was preexisting, as was the flagstone surrounding it.
Above: The land drops off sharply on the western side of the property, so occupants in the art studio and guest quarters feel like they’re living amidst the tree canopy.
Above: The hillside site sits like a promontory over the forest. The closest neighboring house, 500 feet to one side, is barely visible. The next closest house, down the hillside, isn’t visible at all.

See the interiors of the house today on Remodelista.

For more from the architect, see:

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