When a busy Silicon Valley couple began searching for their family’s forever house, they saw more than a few impressive homes, but none of them offered what the parents of three children wanted most: a livable backyard. “I cared most about the outdoor spaces, and having the room to give my family the kind of yard that would draw us all outside,” says the wife.
So, when the pair eventually found a piece of property in Los Altos Hills, California, where a large, flat exterior was feasible, they decided their answer was to build a home from the ground up. “When I saw this particular spot, I was blown away by it,” says the wife. “My husband and I knew if we hired the right design team, we could create exactly what we’d been looking for all along, which was a house that made us feel like we were always outside.”
The three-year design-and-build process began with hiring architect Steve Simpson, who is known for his ingenuity when it comes to blurring the lines between inside and out. “We were very fortunate with this particular site, because of its orientation,” says Simpson. “The back of the residence opens onto a landscape with southeastern exposure, which is ideal for sun. So we maximized natural light in the house with lots of windows, French doors and sliding doors, which not only invited all that sunshine into the main living areas, but also exposed those interior spaces to the sunny backyard.”
Simpson, working with general contractor Gary Ernst, designed a home composed of stucco and limestone, where public areas open onto one another and natural light beams from one side to another. The absence of compartmentalized rooms helped the architect deliver a casual contemporary vibe, although the detailing in every space—from the geometric soffit details in the ceilings to the ornate custom stairwell—punctuates the home with sophistication.
“The house is part modern and part traditional, with a little Mediterranean DNA in its bones and sparkle in its interiors, thanks to Linda Sullivan,” says Simpson, who brought the designer onto the project in its nascent stages. “It was, from the beginning, a true collaboration.”
Sullivan, who has worked on many residences with Simpson in the Bay Area, wanted to create interiors that were sophisticated and serene—and didn’t distract from the views each space was designed to frame. “We kept to a fairly neutral palette, with a few surprise colors here and there,” she says. Deep indigo blue barstools deliver visual impact in the monochromatic kitchen, for instance, while the same color outfits the cabinetry around the bar. A lavender sofa adds an unexpected punch to the living room.
“Practicality was always top of mind,” adds Sullivan. “The clients were very specific about their desire for this to be a place where their children and their children’s friends could come and go from inside to outside, wet bathing suits and all, without having to feel too protective about the furnishings. They didn’t want anybody tip-toeing around the house.”
To that end, Sullivan made “livable luxury” her design mantra for this project. Sleek lines on furnishings give a nod to luxury, while performance upholstery promises longevity. Contemporary case goods such as consoles, desks and coffee tables boast minimalistic silhouettes, while backsplashes in the kitchen and bar deliver an element of glamorous surprise. Clean, white walls juxtapose with warm wood paneling and millwork throughout the spaces.
These contrasts keep things from feeling contrived, explains Sullivan. “We weren’t trying to make this house fit into a certain theme,” she says. “Instead, we wanted to come up with a design plan that would stand the test of time—as well as lots of indoor-outdoor living.”
The result matches the client’s early vision. “The transition is so seamless that when you’re inside you feel like you’re outside, and when you’re outside, you feel like you’re inside,” says the wife. “Every day, I watch my children playing in the backyard and every single day I feel more and more grateful that this is the place we get to call home.”