A Saratoga couple didn’t have to go far to make a big change. While living in their traditional Mediterranean-style home for many years, they had been quietly hankering for something different. In particular, a striking concrete-and-glass contemporary gem in the same neighborhood. Originally created by architectural designer Robert Rockwood of Rockwood Design Associates, the low-lying house boasted statement-making rectilinear lines, mahogany detailing and large expanses of glass, which open up to lush grounds designed by landscape architect Todd R. Cole, now a co-owner of Strata Landscape Architecture. When the house finally went on the market, the couple jumped at the chance to purchase it.
“The wife had her eye on this house for a long time,” says designer Gioi Tran, a partner with Vernon Applegate in their namesake San Francisco firm. Tran was brought in after the wife searched for an urban designer with a strong portfolio of contemporary projects. “That’s all I do,” says Tran. “It was a good fit.” During his initial walk-through, Tran was immediately impressed by “the sophistication and simplicity of the architecture”—a visual sleight of hand, really, because such a look requires a high level of craftsmanship. “It’s very hard to execute a major home with such a clean-lined approach,” Tran explains. “The trims and the casings are all very seamless. Everything is flush-mounted, without moldings to hide imperfections.”
Inspired by the sleek architecture, Tran could easily have begun the interior design with what he calls a “monochromatic, streamlined European approach,” he says, adding, “but the client didn’t want a minimal modern house. They appreciate the volume of the space, the drama, but it still had to meet their family’s needs.” To strike that balance, Tran chose clean-lined pieces, a few bold geometric patterns and soft textures. He also chose a palette of muted grays, white and taupe that would not overpower the architecture or compete with the ample views from almost every room. Dashes of blue and orange provide lively accents. “The deep blue provides an anchor, and the orange adds movement,” notes Tran.
That color scheme plays out prominently in the great room, where the living and dining areas flow together in a large double-height space. Glass doors flank the room on two sides, opening the area to terraces and creating a strong indoor-outdoor connection. To center the flexible space, Tran designed a sprawling four-piece sectional to have several orientations and upholstered it with two shades of metallic Designers Guild fabrics. “You couldn’t just have a sofa facing in one direction,” he says. “The great room faces the pool and the courtyard, and the space is so big, I wanted to fill it in a way that isn’t cluttered. A larger sofa with different angles and shapes does that.”
Tran complemented that dynamic piece with a sofa covered with a midnight blue velvet-like fabric and a pair of De Sousa Hughes Palo Alto chairs in an orange faux hide. Tran, also an accomplished artist, picks up the blue shade on the opposite side of the room with an abstract acrylic piece he painted that hangs in the dining area. A second work by Myke Reilly, which Tran commissioned through art consultant Stephanie Breitbard of Stephanie Breitbard Fine Arts appoints the space furnished with a sculptural Jiun Ho table and Joseph Jeup chairs. “The goal was to have a well-edited room with selective pieces that go together in an unexpected way,” he says.
Although the house was certainly spacious enough for the couple, who have one of three children still living at home, the layout required a few adjustments to meet their needs. The original owners had a large part of the square footage devoted to a double-height artist studio rather than a grand master suite. Tran remedied the situation by adding a level to the studio, effectively dividing the space into two floors with a master suite upstairs and a masculine television and bar area for the husband on the ground floor.
Fortunately for Tran, the outgoing previous homeowners had passed along contact information for the original builder, Dan DeNike. “It was very challenging structurally,” says DeNike. “It was a great feeling to come back knowing the infrastructure. We document all of our projects from start to finish.” That documentation included as-built plans and full video images of the construction, which proved important for the structural engineer, Karel Cymbal of Westfall Engineers, in creating a new floor system for the suite. Such knowledge also proved helpful in maintaining design continuity. Details such as radiant Santos Mahogany flooring upstairs and Italian limestone downstairs needed to segue seamlessly from the existing spaces into the new rooms.
At the homeowners’ request, the new master bedroom quarters were designed to feel like a luxury hotel suite, complete with a mini coffee station, sink, under-counter refrigerator, washer, dryer and dishwasher. Tran continued the luxurious theme with a custom Poliform bed and framed the room with draperies made from an embroidered Jim Thompson textile. A built-in cabinet marked by frosted-glass panels divides the sleeping quarters from an adjacent study. The designer remade the master bathroom with a calming white palette of Carrara marble and crowned the room with a custom glass chandelier.
With the transformation complete, the homeowners expressed their thanks to Tran, both verbally and symbolically. “They were so happy with the way things turned out,” he says, “they’ve hired me to do their vacation home.”