More than a half-century ago, when a prominent Bay Area heiress commissioned a home for a sprawling property studded with old-growth oaks and redwoods, she had one thing in mind: entertaining on a grand scale. Decades later, when a young couple purchased the property and began designing a new residence, they approached it with a different perspective: creating a comfortable family abode. They hired architect Charlie Barnett, designer Heather Hilliard and builder Matt Gomez to create a dwelling that would accommodate their modern lifestyle—complete with a gym and sauna, a media room, his-and-her offices, and a bunk room and playroom for their young children.
After determining the family’s needs couldn’t be met by the existing home, Barnett and design associate Gilberto Floresta decided to create a new, two-story structure with an elegant scale and a tempered formality. Working with the original residence’s classical, U-shaped courtyard footprint, they created a floor plan divided into distinct public and private zones. At the center, a two-story foyer—accessed by three glass entry doors and flanked by twin staircases—opens onto a living room with an almost 18-foot-tall window wall that “gives you an axial perspective of the site from the start,” Barnett explains. “This procession of spaces into the south-facing courtyard makes the house feel alive.”
The homeowners had a clear vision of their new abode’s aesthetic: “They wanted a very classic, timeless white house,” says Barnett, who paired white stucco- and French limestone-clad exterior walls with a black slate roof and steel windows that lend a sense of modernity to the structure’s traditional shapes and proportions. Inside, Hilliard, senior designer Fleur Keyes and Barnett collaborated on clean interpretations of traditional details, from the living room’s 24-foot-tall, coffered ceiling—which builder Matt Gomez’s team finished Michelangelo-style from atop rolling scaffolding—to wall paneling “that pays homage to traditional Shaker paneling, but is just 3/16 of an inch thick,” Gomez says. “We had to reinvent how we put it all together.” The thin profile “feels very fresh and contemporary,” says Hilliard, who amplified the effect in the dining room and study with atmospheric blue-gray paint colors, which also created “moments of intimacy in the sprawling house,” she says. “You feel really enveloped in the color and in the space.”
In the living room, three distinct groupings of furniture—in blue and gray wools, bouclés and mohairs mixed with creamy-hued parchments, linens and leathers—create a sense of coziness. Before the limestone fireplace, a teak armchair holds court with a tufted sofa and curvaceous armchairs. On the other side of the room, an intimate conversation area and game table are anchored by a carved-wood credenza designed to look like an antique. “I think it’s so important to have a mix of new and custom pieces and a few antiques to create a layered look that feels collected,” Hilliard says. Which is why, in addition to scouring the New York, Paris and Bay Area showrooms, the designers invited their client on a tour of Los Angeles shops. “We met her at 7:30 a.m. one day and said, ‘I hope you brought your running shoes,’”Hilliard recalls. “We covered a lot of ground looking for interesting pieces and she was really game for it.” The day’s finds include an Arrow pendant by Apparatus that illuminates the study’s plush upholstered chairs that “make you want to sit for a long time,” Hilliard says.
In the family wing, which overlooks a new pool and pool house, there’s a shift to lighter tones, including soft-white marble countertops and cabinetry in the kitchen, and cool-gray and warm-taupe furnishings under the family room’s tongue-and-groove wood ceiling. “The wife is blond, with sparkly blue eyes, so you can imagine how great she looks in these colors,” Hilliard says. “We always want our clients to look good in their homes.”
It’s clear the design team wanted them to feel good as well. “What’s key to this house is that it’s comfortable for informal family gatherings, but you can also picture a very elegant party happening in the living room and courtyard,” Barnett says. So, although this property’s history had a more imposing beginning, its future is all about laid-back California living.