Transformation in Los Altos: A backstory

California Homes is a regional magazine renowned internationally for features on design and architecture.  Articles range from old Hollywood remodels to Northern California contemporaries. We’re delighted with the cover story now on newsstands (Sept/Oct 2018), Transformation in Los Altos: Interior Designer Lisa Staprans designs a soulful home - especially because we know the fascinating story.  Here’s an insider view.

 The cover of  California Homes

The cover of California Homes

Meeting the challenges
Two things stand out in this surprising project.  One is the international collaboration, and second is how a remodel can be more successful than a tear-down.  

The 1950’s ranch remodel was challenging because goals were often in conflict.  Long sight lines and windows were desired everywhere, yet walls were needed for art, books and hidden storage. It had to be a friendly space for cooks, dogs, kids and books, and simultaneously sleek, minimal, and calm. A sense of connection to native plantings and gardens outdoors competed with energy efficiency, sustainable materials, and technology hidden in the background. Finally, without adding any square footage, a light, open floorplan was desired with multipurpose spaces (e.g,. living room + theater; root cellar + wine storage; hallways combined with libraries and conversation spaces).

Staprans Design led the transformation with significant collaboration from Panafold and Garde Hvalsøe, the Copenhagen firm that designs and crafts kitchens and furniture for remarkable chefs and others who love clean, contemporary design and wood cabinetry www.gardehvalsoe.dk. Garde Hvalsøe came in to create the transformed kitchen. Staprans Design incorporates architecture, construction and interior design under one roof. Staprans’ portfolio caught the eye of the clients, but the fact that the firm understood the colloquial language of Bay Area design and architecture clinched the job. Staprans’ vision, and the home’s linear 1950’s ranch bones, meshed well with the Scandinavian wood-centered minimalism core to the project. Panafold designed products and created design solutions throughout the process in close collaboration with Lisa and Armin, the principals of Staprans Design https://www.stapransdesign.com/.

 Conceptual phase: A design puzzle was uniting the kitchen fireplace and range. Wut Hwe from Panafold conceived of a linear soffit, shown in this early render. The finished work is featured on the cover.

Conceptual phase: A design puzzle was uniting the kitchen fireplace and range. Wut Hwe from Panafold conceived of a linear soffit, shown in this early render. The finished work is featured on the cover.

Collaboration
Collaboration with Garde Hvalsøe was astonishingly smooth, especially given the nine-hour time zone separation. After conference calls, a partner came to examine and measure the space. Once the Danish cabinetry arrived in big wooden crates, a carpenter arrived not far behind for the installation. (He was delighted to drive up California highways in a rented American muscle car.) The Danish team freely offered thoughts and their experiences. The whole process started right before Jul (Danish Christmas) and installation completed by the end of spring.

Panafold loved having memorable meals with the extended team. For instance, Lisa and Armin invited us all to a restaurant when Morten arrived from Denmark, and we started talking theft-resistant mailbox design.

  Left - memory of Mort thinking through the path of delivered mail! And the Panafold design to the right..

Left - memory of Mort thinking through the path of delivered mail! And the Panafold design to the right..

The design collaboration happened in person, over video calls, through email and through Panafold’s interior design collaborative software. Renderings and solutions by Panafold and Garde Hvalsøe, backed by the building expertise at Staprans, saved the day when we were faced with how to install an exhaust hood for a range next to a roaring fire in a fireplace, with its own prominent chimney. Wut Hwe’s solution was to eliminate the external exhaust hood, and to incorporate a fan into a linear soffit, as seen on the cover of the magazine.  

Materials
Stone, plaster and metals complement wood. The bathrooms, larder and kitchen use quiet, unpolished Ipanema Reserve soapstone. The mixture of functional soapstone and soft white marble in the kitchen and baths is a low/high combination that emphasizes the elegance and informality of the space. Metals include darkened brass, Officine Gullo brass sinks, and brushed nickel hardware. The exterior includes Corten for planters and the unique Panafold-designed mailbox.

In a sense, the wood was a transatlantic collaboration as well. A mixture of American walnut and cedar, European and American oak, play off one another in cabinetry, window frames, flooring and doors, the dark and light woods emphasizing linearity.  

Exterior & Energy
Wood gives character to the exterior, too. Panafold pushed the linearity of the wood with dark strips of cedar that recall Japanese shou sugi ban or traditional Norwegian pine tar-preserved buildings. Kit Halvorsen also designed dark porch ceilings that float from the entry patio to the entry hall, above the dining space and through to the outside. Lisa Staprans’ color palettes complemented both the dark wood in the sharp sun of a southern exposure and in muted light settings indoors.  Staprans installed expansive glass doors and windows to unite the interior with the native landscaping and raised beds (landscape design, Middlebrook Gardens).

 Chef Melissa King test-drives the new kitchen ( cabinets, Garde Hvalsoe; photo credit: James Carriere, courtesy of Staprans Design ).

Chef Melissa King test-drives the new kitchen (cabinets, Garde Hvalsoe; photo credit: James Carriere, courtesy of Staprans Design).

This remodel incorporated solar panels on the standing seam roofs for both household energy and for electric car charging. Deciduous trees and overhanging eaves shade the extensive glazing on the south in the summer, and let in warmth when the sun is low.  Programmable skylights help as well, as do heated bathroom floors.

A cold larder that combines wine and food storage is a way to avoid a massive refrigerator The cold room was influenced by Magnus Nilsen, a chef in northern Sweden, and his food-storage chapter in Fäviken. The small room is air-conditioned, with soapstone counters and a limestone floor that maintain temperature. Two app-controlled closable air vents take advantage of cool California nights, and ensure fresh air flow, important for fruit and vegetable storage.

Looking Back
Many of the design decisions were risky. Could so many designers work together?  Taking advantage of the original 1950’s clean lines, the project was also Scandinavian-inflected from the start, so it was a pleasant surprise when we ended up working with colleagues from Copenhagen.

 Panafold Software - used for communication and decision tracking. design@panafold.com

Panafold Software - used for communication and decision tracking. design@panafold.com

The result was not the tear-down the owners feared.  The original Bay Area ranch was preserved and renovated. Not tearing it down let the finished work reference the local building vernacular as well as respect the environment. All the spaces are used, days turning into long evenings of entertaining where talented cooks like to drop by and neighbors and friends linger.

Images by Panafold, except where otherwise noted.

Meg WithgottPanafold