“If we had done a new house from the ground up, it would have been easier and not as expensive, but it wouldn’t have been as wonderful,” says Anjali Iyer, project architect on the renovation of Round House. In reality, the renovation was more of a reinvention, using the dynamic shape of the original house as inspiration for something more successful, more sustainable, and considerably more delightful.
“It’s nice to see the architects take a house that was probably pretty cool to begin with, but make it into something that will have a longer life ahead and that’s better than the original,” said one member of the jury.
The firm preserved the original foundation, which bought them maneuvering room from the planning department. “If we had taken down the original house, we would have been constrained to just 1,000 square feet,” Anjali explains. “Los Altos is notorious for their restrictions, but I respect them for that. They are always watching for overdevelopment.”
Despite its sex appeal, the existing house was neither well built nor particularly well designed, says the architect. “It was quirky. There are a couple of similar homes around, possibly just done by a builder. It was pretty rickety and not very comfortable. The windows were not sealed and drafty,” she says. “And the whole building was segmented—there was no true curve.”
So the architects decided to turn the pseudo-circular courtyard house inside out and fill in the central atrium with the kitchen. Placing the kitchen at the center of the house made a great deal of sense for a family focused on baking as a favorite activity. Radiating from the kitchen hub is a circular hallway, accessing a series of wedge-shaped bedrooms along the perimeter. A larger living room wedge extends beyond the perimeter and rests atop a plinth that holds the garage. From the new living room and an adjacent dining terrace are spectacular panoramic views to the San Francisco Bay.
“It was all about leveraging that geometry and amping it up,” says Anjali. “Once we decided to lose the courtyard and make the house a true circle, we could access those views.” But with this shape, including the circular hallway, comes the potential for disorientation. Anjali and her team inserted careful visual cues to anchor important spaces. “We have a slatted stair going to the basement, and other important markers along the way. And with the circular hallway around the kitchen, we added moments of interest and relief—like the patio space with curved doors that pocket away.
“Every decision was about balancing—what’s the lowhanging fruit and what areas do you splurge on and go custom?” she explains. In the kitchen, two flat banks of cabinets hold appliances and the pantry, while custom undercabinets, counters, and a peninsula carry the curve around the semi-circular island.
“It’s just magical with those shapes,” a judge concluded. “This is definitely a difficult typology and the architects took it and turned it into something fantastic.”
Los Altos Hills, California
Architect: Steven Stept, AIA, partner in charge; Anjali Iyer, project architect; Humbeen Geo, Feldman Architecture, San Francisco
Builder: Derek Gray, Bay West Builders, Redwood City, California
Interior Designer: Meera Agrawal (client)
Erica Deitchman, Variegated Green, San Francisco
Lighting Designer: Marissa Tucci, Tucci Lighting, San Francisco
Engineers: Ryan Billante, BKG Structural Engineers, San Carlos, California; Lea + Braze Engineering, Inc., Hayward, California; Romig Engineers, Inc., San Carlos
Project Size: 5,103 square feet
Site Size: 1.1 acre
Construction Cost: Withheld
Photography: Adam Rouse
Cladding: Accoya Shou Sugi Ban Siding from Delta Millworks
Countertops: Wilsonart quartz
Custom Cabinetry: Ralph King Furniture & Cabinetry
Entry Door: Blomberg swing/pivot door
Fireplace: EcoSmart Fire bioethanol
Flooring: Concrete micro-topping, hardwood, tile
Outdoor Grill: Viking
Refrigerator/Freezer/Wine Refrigerator: Sub-Zero
Tub: Aquatica Purescape
Window Wall Systems: Fleetwood multi-slide pocket doors