In a promontory north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Tiburon, a house was designed to be so woven into the landscape that it appears to be part of it. “My clients wanted to feel as connected to the earth as they could,” says architect Brooks Walker, who devised the modernist home as a family compound to host the residents’ immediate and extended families. “The architecture is a frame to allow that to happen.” Just as harmonious as the structure is with its surroundings, so too is the interior design with the architecture. “It was a close collaboration that looked to the land for inspiration,” says Nicole Hollis, the designer who furnished the rooms and worked with Walker to develop portions of the interior architecture and select finishes that speak to the wooded and bayside setting. “These clients love being on the bay and the idea of indoor-outdoor living. They wanted the interiors to flow seamlessly with the exterior.”
The couple, who moved to Northern California from Hong Kong with their teenage son to be closer to family, expressed being drawn to modern architecture specifically. Starting in that direction, Walker sat with them and pored over images of buildings designed by midcentury masters such as Cliff May and Frank Lloyd Wright. “We also looked at the work of William Wurster and Joseph Esherick,” he says. “Their designs have this absolute simplicity that I strive for in my own work because I want to create architecture that’s timeless.” Walker, who worked with project manager Anne Griffes and job captain Anja Hämäläinen, developed the concept for the residence as a series of low-lying rectangular forms that nestle into a hillside on the south side of the property and stretch toward the bay on the north, east and west sides. The central volume houses formal living and dining rooms and an open great room, which includes the kitchen and informal living and dining areas. Upstairs are the master suite and a second bedroom. Two connecting wings hold guest quarters.
When it came to materials, Walker worked with a palette that included Aegean limestone, western red cedar, zinc and board-form concrete. “The stone helps to anchor the structure to the site,” says the architect, who used the limestone for both interior and exterior walls. “The roof is standing-seam zinc, and there’s zinc siding, too,” he says. “It will weather and develop a subtle patina.” The western red cedar siding adds warmth, while the board-form concrete of the retaining walls has an understated sensibility. Walker also used plenty of glass to let in sunlight and cinematic vistas of the bay. “It looks like the house was chiseled into the site,” says builder Glen Sherman, who worked with project manager Yun-Ju Cho. “The house stands firm, poised and is exposed widely to the water and expansive views.”
For the interiors, Hollis, working with her residential studio director Adele Cunningham, created spaces that display a dynamic of-the-earth quality similar to aspects of the architecture. White-oak and bronze-and-glass cabinetry and Belgian stone counters supply refinement and rusticity in the kitchen, as do layers of varying textures employed elsewhere, including brass panels covering the formal living room’s fire surround. “The panels have a silver nitrate finish,” Hollis says. “It’s created by applying silver to the panels and then using a torch flame to achieve a live patina.” For the formal dining room, she commissioned a 2-ton cast-bronze screen by artist Michele Oka Doner. The piece has an organic aesthetic and calls to mind a kelp forest and the wonder of the bay. “It has a handmade feeling,” Hollis says. “I like things with a sense of craft or sleight of hand. They’re more soulful.” The light fixtures by Lindsey Adelman Studio in the dining room, a stairwell and the master bedroom exhibit a kind of idiosyncratic artisanship as well.
When it came to color, Hollis let the outdoors dictate the palette for the furniture and the fabrics. “I love color but find myself more immediately inspired by texture and materials,” says the designer. “There’s a lot of glass here, and we all agreed we wanted the landscape to bring in the color.” For the formal living room, the designer covered a pair of sofas with a dark gray silk-velvet to play off the water of the bay. A teak-and-leather bench designed by William Emmerson and a John Pomp cabinet with a brass top, a blackened-steel frame, ebonized ash panels, and glass-and-brass doors bring in brown and black tones that reference the earth and the bark of the trees outside.
The design for this home is most certainly an exercise in the art of restrained beauty, which lets the scenery around it take center stage. “The rear garden is vast with panoramic views of the bay,” says landscape architect Todd R. Cole, who designed the grounds and worked with project manager Will Saltenberger and project manager and assistant designer Annie Amundsen while he was a principal at Suzman & Cole Design Associates. “We saved a few pine and oak trees along the edge of a bluff and planted a broad lawn that leads to an infinity pool and enhances the feeling of tranquility.” Toward the end of the project, Cole cofounded Strata Landscape Architecture, and Saltenberger and landscape designer Stephen Suzman joined Zeterre Landscape Architecture, and the two firms finished the project together.
Although the epic setting is indeed compelling, so is the contemporary art collection the owners have curated to include works by Robert Rauschenberg, Xu Bing and Richard Misrach among others. “These clients requested a warm, open, modern home that would hold their extensive art collection,” Hollis says. “They have a minimalist and refined sensibility and are drawn to a materials palette that connects to the landscape. The house was created to support the art and the landscape and not to compete with them.”