When general contractor Mark Kelley first saw the Woodside, California, dwelling that once belonged to Arjay Miller, former Ford Motor Co. president and retired dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he knew it was something very special. “It was a classic, midcentury, one-story house with tall ceilings and huge windows looking out onto a beautiful backyard,” Kelley says. “The home was really well built, and it was filled with furniture from the 1960s that people today would lose their heads over.”
Upon his death in 2017—at the age of 101—Arjay bequeathed the abode to his son and daughter- in-law, for whom Kelley, architect Steve Simpson, interior designer Linda Sullivan and landscape architect Bob Cleaver dreamed up a renovation honoring the home’s historical style while modernizing it for 21st-century life. “In essence, we tried to make everything better without making anything worse,” Simpson says of the challenge.
It’s another way of saying that central to the renovation was a profound sense of restraint. To that end, the architect reallocated space without changing the structure’s footprint: A couple of bedrooms became a home theater, the area for the kitchen expanded, a wine room was added, and two spaces transformed into the new main bedroom suite. Other elements were carefully preserved. The team left Arjay’s office, clad in walnut paneling, as it has always been, and the original front door received only a small upgrade of fluted glass, for the sake of privacy. Much of the hardware is also original to the abode, just powder coated in a darker finish for a fresh look.
Sullivan and her colleague, design director Silvia Hendrawan, took cues from the home itself as the pair decided how to revamp the interiors. “Arjay’s wife, Frances, was a designer and her taste was obviously fantastic,” Sullivan says. “For us, taking a different viewpoint on the interiors while still achieving the original vibe was really important.” This approach led them to select walnut flooring, millwork and cabinetry—unifying old and new installations throughout—to uphold the original style. They also opted for elevated, natural materials such as marble and fabrics in wool, cotton, mohair and silk to continue the residence’s timeless appeal.
Perhaps the most significant source of inspiration in the dwelling is the grand living room, which Simpson describes as “the kind of room you don’t find often in houses anymore.” It’s a large space with tall ceilings and abundant windows that look out on massive, old oak trees. “The original architect, Willard Doane Rand Jr., really captured California living, that indoor-outdoor feeling that we all like,” Simpson says. Here, Sullivan and Hendrawan riffed on the original design with punches of color in yellow, blue and purple. They replaced the fireplace surround with a limestone version and topped it with an antique mirror that bounces the light around the room. Smaller gathering areas allow for easy circulation and plenty of space for entertaining. “I love how the room feels like the existing home with an updated, modern twist,” Sullivan says.
Of course, some spaces were completely transformed—most notably, the kitchen. The design team opened the space to boost the room’s functionality and made aesthetic changes along the way. Plain-sliced walnut cabinetry by Henrybuilt offers a handsome counterpoint to the marble countertops and waterfall island. The blackened-steel custom hood now serves as a subtle focal point, and a trio of small over- island light fixtures helps illuminate the space without blocking the views to the backyard.
The new main bedroom is also an entirely fresh space. Sullivan incorporated a few nods to midcentury design—a custom, channel-tufted headboard and a bubble-like chandelier—while creating a sophisticated, serene vibe. Textural elements, including a mohair chaise lounge, leather benches and wood side tables, give the tonal room an elegant aesthetic that aligns with the home’s overall style.
The renovation was a kind of history lesson— both about Arjay Miller, whose brilliance in the business world and personal vivacity were well documented, and about the value of paying attention to the past. “Maybe if Arjay hadn’t had a vision for passing this home to his family, someone else might have missed all the beauty that was here already,” Simpson says. “But we respected the heritage of the property and the patriarch of the family, and we came out with something great.”