A landscape can exist as a magnificent backdrop for a house. Or, a home and its surroundings can blend so seamlessly that you sometimes forget whether you’re inside or out. Of course, the great midcentury modern designers and architects had this idea in mind when they employed sliding glass doors, large window systems and open floor plans. But when designer Kendall Wilkinson and architect Ken Linsteadt recreated a house in the Bay Area, they had more in mind: a home that looks as if it were crafted from the very earth around it. “There are sweeping vistas of rolling hills and a beautiful sky,” Wilkinson says. “The light is golden and the landscape is ocher. We wanted to create something that would let the clients easily float in and out of that and feel the peacefulness of the landscape even when they’re inside.”
The clients, a couple and their young son, were living nearby when they discovered the property. Drawn to the beauty and solitude of the site, they purchased it and called Wilkinson. “I’d previously designed a home for this family,” she says. “They’re curious, intelligent and very interested in high-quality design and art. They wanted their new house to reflect that.” But before Wilkinson could begin placing the work of great designers and artists, she needed a great architect. The designer realized the house should be significantly reworked and knew Linsteadt was the right person for the job.
“It was Mediterranean in style,” says Linsteadt. “But the wife wanted something modern; she showed me images of square houses with flat roofs.” The architect reconciled the two with a design that balances a modern style with an old-world aesthetic. “I’m always trying to achieve timelessness,” he says. “I thought about what a modern house built four hundred years ago might look like.” What bloomed from his imagination is a series of rectilinear forms clad with materials that evoke the landscape. There’s gold-toned Minnesota limestone, creamy-colored plaster and lots of glass framed lightly with steel. “It was an epic remodel,” says the architect, who practically took the house down to its studs. “But I considered what was there.” One of the elements Linsteadt maintained was a sizable turret. “I loved its cylindrical form,” he says. “It reminded me of Le Corbusier’s great modern houses, so I played it up, making it a counterpoint to the linear forms.”
Landscape architect Terri McFarland, who worked with principal Ron Lutsko, Jr., thought of linear forms, too, when designing the home’s front terrain. “I created a plinth of long concrete walls and rows of Desert Museum paloverde trees to visually support the massing of the house,” she says. “The trees are lacy and open and they don’t obscure the architecture.”
Inside, Wilkinson and Linsteadt worked together to develop exactly the right materials for the interior architecture. “A house should look great without any furniture,” Wilkinson says. “The walls, floors, treatments and finishes should be incredible enough that if you took the building, shook it upside down and everything fell out, you’d be left with a beautiful canvas.” There are bleached European-oak plank floors throughout the house, and most of the walls display a textured plaster that catches the sunlight as it pours through the windows. Bronze fireplace inserts present as minimalist sculpture in the living room and near the pool. In addition, the same split-faced limestone used on the exterior reappears on the walls of the foyer as a way to unify the indoor and outdoor spaces. “It took time to realize what the materiality of the spaces would be,” builder Glen Sherman says. “We used many different textures and finishes,” construction manager Patrick McGuire adds, “but all of it came together as a cohesive look.”
Complementing that thoughtful backdrop, Wilkinson selected furnishings that would “bring the house to life with the personality of the various objects that are a reflection of the owners,” says the designer. The ocher-colored rugs and upholstered pieces she selected for the rooms further connect the indoor and outdoor spaces. “I added some green and blue tones because the clients’ son loves water,” she says. “You can’t get too crazy with color or the eye is unable to flow back and forth between the interiors and the landscape. I also didn’t include window treatments for the same reason.” The understated palette allows the iconic furniture and art to have the spotlight. For example, a framed view of a Deborah Butterfield sculpture in the landscape is seen from the library, where Wilkinson hung a bronze pendant by Hervé Van der Straeten above a midcentury bronze table designed by Philip and Kelvin LaVerne. In the entry, a massive metal-wire sculpture by Suzanne Tick pairs with an iron-and-glass buffet designed by Christophe Côme. The living room displays a Christian Liaigre chaise lounge, vintage Art Deco scallop-back armchairs covered with gold velvet, and a silvered-glass wall sculpture by Teresita Fernández. An enormous light fixture Wilkinson and Linsteadt designed and commissioned from Jeff Zimmerman features clusters of glass bubbles that cascade from the top of the stairwell down to the bottom.
“The furnishings are artful, but all are used in day-to-day living,” Wilkinson says. This is especially true of the massive tub custom-designed for the master bathroom. Made of faceted white onyx, it looks as if it were chiseled right out of the earth. “It’s exquisite, like so many of the things you see in and around this house,” Wilkinson says. “The home is a reflection of its owners. They are true connoisseurs and had a deep focus into studying and understanding the quality and craftsmanship behind the materials, furnishings and art. Their collaboration made it a truly enriching experience for everyone involved with the project.”