Forget crown moldings, formal entries, family rooms separated from kitchens.
Modern architecture is less about style and more about lifestyle, according to architect Leonard Ng, a principal with lnAI Architecture, San Francisco.
"A modern home is in tune with the modern way of living," he said. In other words, it features an open floor plan, clean lines and no "decorations for the decorations' sake," he added.
The 2016 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour, slated for Saturday, May 14, is an opportunity to see just what modern looks like. The self-guided tour features five homes, three in Palo Alto, one in Mountain View and one in Saratoga.
Ng designed the brand-new spec house in the Green Acres neighborhood of Palo Alto. Although surrounded by mostly one-story homes built in the 1970s, the modern structure's footprint echoes its predecessor, sitting comfortably in the streetscape. Much care was given to protect neighbors' privacy, with the second story of the new home lining up with the second-story home next door, and no windows looking directly into a neighbor's space.
Although many associate modern with cold, harsh materials, Ng said, "We wanted to create a warm modern home," by using cedar and oak, hand-troweled, tinted Venetian plaster and plenty of large windows for non-artificial lighting.
Narrow horizontal Western red cedar siding extends from the outside indoors to encase a cube to the right of the entry. The "cube" contains a guest room/office, bathroom and laundry area and connects via a mudroom to the garage.
Entering the house, one is struck by the lines of sight: Straight ahead is a 40-foot-long glass wall with multi-sliding doors leading outdoors to what Ng calls "a horizon garden" designed by Emily Ang of EAD Landscape, where one can see layers of greens leading up to a backdrop of redwoods on the adjacent property. To the right is a "surprise" garden lined in rounded pebbles; those rocks are echoed to the left, where they sit under a floating stairway.
"We wanted to bring the garden/landscape into the house," Ng said.
"How a space feels has a lot to do with light. It's important to come from multiple sides," Ng added.
Light flows into the great room through the sliding glass doors, as well as through the clerestory windows above. On a second wall, next to the fireplace, is a large window with a cedar trellis ("that plays with shadow and light in a subtle way," Ng said), and on a third wall another window overlooks the surprise garden.
There are windows to the left and right of the floating stairwell, but none that face the neighbor's home. Ng explained that there is a lot of "borrowing light and overlapping light," which he demonstrated by showing how cutting out a dark corner of the kitchen allowed light to flow in across the stairwell.
Even in the master bedroom upstairs light flows in from all sides, including a skylight that straddles the bedroom and walk-in closet. Windows are located at appropriate heights to keep the space private.
Modern is also all about simple solutions, Ng said. For example, in the great room, cedar floor-to-ceiling paneling conceals a structural wall and the back of a large closet, which opens from a hallway leading to the surprise garden. The linear fireplace has no mantel, but the hearth extends across that end of the room. Flooring is wide, center-cut, white-oak planks with hand-scraped edges to give more texture, he added.
The kitchen is deceptively simple with its warm white and speckled gray CaesarStone countertops and walnut-stained rift-cut white oak cabinetry. All the appliances, which are faced with oak, recede into the background. "If you don't want to look at it, you don't have to," Ng said.
"The challenge (to choosing a dining-area light fixture) was to find a pendant that was kind of translucent and didn't interrupt the field of sight," Ng said, pointing to the dramatic Flos chandelier.
Simple yet elegant designs extend into the bathrooms, with the master bathroom sporting a Neolith counter in dark gray; large, square, white Wetstyle double sinks; wall-mounted faucets; and a medicine cabinet hidden behind the mirror. The universally designed shower has a minimal threshold with a floor that slopes down to a linear drain at the back. Light flows from the high window through the glass door. The toilet is housed in a frosted glass cubicle.
Since the house was built "on spec" with no particular family in mind, no window coverings are in place. But the design does include hidden automated shades in the bedrooms, Ng said.
Unseen, but important, features earned the home a Build-It-Green GreenPoint rating, including an albedo (cool) roof and water-efficient plumbing fixtures and landscaping.
Two more Palo Alto homes are included on the tour: a downtown condominium by Joseph Bellomo Architects and an Eichler updated by KC Cullen, Design for Living, featuring Henrybuilt white oak and laminate cabinets and a porcelain tile floor.
In Mountain View, the tour includes an Anshen & Allen-designed Eichler, built in 1954, touted as in "original condition" but with "tasteful updates" to bathrooms and kitchen.
Features not to miss in the LEED Gold-certified Saratoga home, designed by Srusti Architects, include the passive solar elements, green roof and water-efficient fixtures.
If visiting these five homes hasn't satisfied your craving for glass or modern lines, a 2010 modern home in Menlo Park designed by Carmel architect John Thodos recently came on the market. Its features include a glass-blocked front façade, glass-ceilinged gallery and frameless glass walls overlooking gardens. The 5,037-square-foot, five-bedroom home is offered for $8.5 million.
IF YOU GO
What: 2016 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour
When: Saturday, May 14, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Five homes in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Saratoga
Cost: $35 in advance online; $40 day of tour