The owners of this Atherton residence did not start their life together in the quiet, leafy neighborhood. Initially, they were living in San Francisco—but as their family grew, so did the appeal of a smaller town. Not only did a new zip code provide a fresh start for the couple, but it also allowed them the opportunity to build a home from the ground up and explore their interest in classical architecture, all while creating a comfortable backdrop for family life. “They appreciate traditional lines and pieces with history,” says Lauren Nelson, the designer they hired to bring their vision to reality. “Our clients tend to lean more modern in their taste, so I loved exploring a classic aesthetic, while still having playful moments.”
“They wanted everything a young family would desire,” echoes architect David Buergler. “They were looking for a style that’s functional but beautiful, and nothing too stuffy.” Working in a Georgian vernacular, Buergler created a historically inspired envelope for modern life. “This isn’t your mom’s classic house,” he jokes. “It’s upbeat, joyful and light.”
This “tradition with a twist” nature of the home is evident at the front door. From the formal entryway guests can immediately see through the abode to a 32-foot glass wall opening to the backyard. It’s a type of dwelling that Buergler is known for creating throughout the Bay Area. Here, it was adapted for modern living quarters in a classical language, all built in collaboration with general contractor Jim Hart. “If you go to historic places like Williamsburg, it’s not the houses that put you in awe, but how the pieces relate,” Buergler continues. “Here, all the parts flow together so that the interiors interact with the outdoors, which makes it a fun place to live.” “We wanted to honor the home’s style with a soft and neutral palette,” says Nelson of the white, gray and blue hues chosen to reflect the husband’s Norwegian ancestry. She also opted for a Scandinavian approach to furnishings, selecting simplified pieces and an uncluttered look; eschewing a rug in the entryway, for example, to let the natural beauty of the walnut floors lead the eye into the living and dining spaces.
“They wanted a formal living room,” Nelson recalls, noting the clients’ fearlessness when selecting white upholstery. The space is an elevated mix of vintage and new—the 1940s-era armchairs are by Danish designer Viggo Boesen while the painting above the mantel is a commissioned piece by artist William McLure—as well as a study in contrast, with the piano and black klismos chairs bringing weight to the bay window’s sitting area. As in the entryway, the living room’s woodwork was painted two different shades: gray and white. “This allows the beautiful millwork to have a stronger presence, drawing your eye to the classic architectural detailing amidst the more modern furnishings,” Nelson explains. She again played with contrast in the kitchen, anchoring the lofty, all-white area with an island painted navy blue.
“To play up certain rooms and evoke different emotions, we decided some spaces could be a bit more adventurous,” Nelson continues. In the dining room, she gave the walls a wash of deep blue, dressed the windows with even darker velvet draperies in the same hue and added the surprise of a gray-green ceiling. Layered in color, “it feels tied to the other rooms because of balance and thoughtful accents,” she adds, pointing to the owners’ white-painted Gustavian chests that serve as a sideboard. “I’m mindful of not throwing good pieces away—use what you own,” she encourages.
Blues carry into the couple’s offices: his is a gray-blue, hers is an inkier hue. “Her work space pushes the envelope a little,” says the designer, who added dark linen shades for an edgy look. She also floated the desk from the wall for a lighter feel and to give the wife a better view of the garden and pool.
The upper floor is home to the family and guest bedrooms, the whole of which feels “soft and calming—like a warm embrace,” says Nelson. “These clients are ‘less is more’ people, so we exercised restraint throughout the house.” The result is a dwelling as serene as its neighborhood— a welcome respite for weary urbanites.