When the new owners of the historic, midcentury modern home designed by pioneering architect Roger Lee called Klopf Architecture to renovate the Stanford property, it had been virtually untouched since 1962.
Lee’s classic flat roofline, exposed steel beams, extensive use of glass and redwood panels for walls, and open floor plan with a focus on nature, all remained intact.
Architect John Klopf described the narrow, split-level home as a “wood-framed beauty.”
Despite its beautiful architectural bones, the home contained dated materials and finishes, single-paned glass, uninsulated walls and cramped rooms. There was even a squatter living on the property.
The family wanted to update and expand the home to make it more liveable. While there was work to be done, Klopf felt it was important to keep the spirit of Lee’s design intact, he said.
“There’s a language to every house — an architectural language,” Klopf said. “Understanding that allows the historical elements of the house to remain, and be brought up to a new condition or differently emphasized … and not washed away or turned into something inappropriate or completely different.”
For three years between summer 2017 and fall 2020, Klopf meticulously worked on renovating the home. Now, the public can have a firsthand look at the final results during the annual Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour on Saturday, May 20.
Sponsored by the Modern Architecture + Design Society, the self-guided tour gives the public an opportunity to visit and explore some of the best examples of modern architecture in the area, as well as to talk with the architects, designers and builders who had a part in creating the homes. This year's tour includes Lee's midcentury modern home along with six other private residences on the Peninsula and in Moss Beach.
One of the key design elements visitors will notice when exploring Lee's home is the view of the Stanford hills. Klopf said he immediately saw that the home had beautiful southwestern views of the surrounding hills and wanted to retain that as a focal point in the renovation.
“It’s important … that a home is restful and regenerative for people who live there. And part of that is to make a great connection with nature ... and let that blend of the indoors and outdoors really come to the forefront,” he said. “In this home, the owners can wake up and look out the windows, and nature is right there, and it’s beautiful.”
The full remodel, which added about 50% more floor area, included expanding the home by 1,100 square feet, as well as adding a 240-square-foot garage to the property. That newly built square footage was put toward expanding the kids’ bedrooms and adding an office space, laundry room and half-bath.
The original home, recognized as a “classic Roger Lee” midcentury modern design, showcases the functional, simplistic and straightforward elements that guided his work. Lee, who was among the earliest Chinese-American architects in the nation, was recognized by the London Architectural Review in 1957 as one of 40 U.S. architects who made a personal contribution to American Architecture. Before his death in 1981, the Oakland native designed about 100 homes, most of which were sold to middle-class Bay Area residents.
The 1962 Stanford home was one of his few Palo Alto-area projects and is deemed historical, which meant Klopf had to comply with the Stanford Real Estate Office’s stringent design review and protections. Nonetheless, Klopf’s firm was still able to make substantial changes.
The original kitchen was a small, enclosed space tucked into the back corner of the house. According to Klopf, the kitchen was built as a “utilitarian space only for working and not for socializing.”
Klopf opened up the kitchen and connected it to the living room. A cutout in kitchen wall now provides a view into the area from the living space and acts as an easy access point to serve dinner. Inspired by Lee’s design philosophy of melding the outside with the inside, Klopf also built a grill and prep area that extends outdoors beyond the kitchen.
"Conceptually, now we have this great big room with both the living room and kitchen connected,” Klopf said. “It gives a comfortable feeling for their living space.”
In addition to the grilling area, Klopf’s firm worked with Outer Space Landscape Architects to fill in an old, cracked swimming pool and create an expanded outdoor deck that now features a lounge area, fireplace, garden beds and extended living room space. According to Klopf ’s firm, the owners now spend most of their time in that outdoor space, which they call the “heart of the home.”
Stairs in the rear facade of the home were built to connect to an existing lower level that originally had a pool room with a bathroom and laundry and storage areas. The space was converted into a new family room and guest suite.
Klopf ’s firm also aimed to create more spaces in the home that would take advantage of the surrounding views. Taller windows that follow the angled roofline replaced narrow openings in the primary bedroom and were added to the new corner office — Klopf’s personal favorite part of the home.
The office is in the corner of the upper floor with one window facing the hillside and the other looking into the living space.
“That seems like the perfect place to work,” Klopf said. “If you work from home, then you can still feel a connection to your family and have beautiful access to the views.”
On the front facade of the home, a floor-to-ceiling, stained-glass window featuring abstract red, dark brown and yellow squares was restored, and an interior slatted screen from the original design was used to create a shade trellis over the exterior entry courtyard and outdoor living room space. Also in the spirit of maintaining a historical connection to Lee’s design, an original Malm fireplace — the centerpiece of the old living room — was restored with a new gas burner. These touches of restoration and homage to Lee’s original design were imperative in making the remodel both successful and respectful.
“We try to think about whether or not the original architect, if alive today, would come back and look at the house and say, ‘Oh, that was OK, or, wow, you ruined it,’” Klopf said. “We wanted to do something that we felt was in the spirit of the original design —something the architect would look at and maybe say, ‘OK, if I was doing that house now, for this client in this location, in this day and age, I might do it in a similar way.’”
Homes on the 2023 Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ages 10 and over are invited to attend. Find more details about homes and tickets.
This story originally appeared in Embarcadero Media's Fall 2021 Home & Garden Design magazine.