When he was brought in to design a modern home in Palo Alto, California, Tai Ikegami knew he’d have to focus on protecting and venerating the landscape, especially the beautiful old trees on the lot. The clients had already hired a landscape architect, and their focus was on creating a tranquil indoor-outdoor abode to take advantage of the Bay Area’s climate.
“The house is designed around a series of trees on the site – an oak in the front, another oak on the side, a redwood in the back. These are dramatic trees with a large scale,” says Ikegami, a partner at Feldman Architecture, San Francisco.
Ikegami began imagining the 3,800 square-foot home as a peaceful sanctuary that seamlessly connected the indoors to the landscape. “One of their highest priorities was to be in this shelter, protected, but have a sense of connection to the outdoors,” Ikegami says. “The design was about, ‘How can the architecture start to dissolve?’ So that while you’re sheltered, you’re still strongly connected both visually and physically to those outdoor spaces.”
Clear Connections to the Outdoors
Ikegami found his solution in floor-to-ceiling glazing. About 50 percent of the building is glass, including a retractable wall of glass doors in a great room that measures 40 by 20 feet.
Ikegami says they wanted to keep the material scheme as simple as possible to help the home recede into the landscape. Concrete and Alaskan yellow cedar combined with the ample diffused natural light allowed the architecture to feel connected to the natural elements outdoors – and having windows and doors with narrow sightlines was key.
“Our ability to work with the manufacturer, Western Window Systems, ensured that all the apertures on the ground floor really go from floor to ceiling,” he says. “This is a project where, if you look at the photos and squint your eyes, the doors almost disappears. This helps not only the visual connection, but also the physical connection to the outdoors.”
Separate spaces, connected through natural elements
Sactuary House was designed around three pavilions, breaking the building into separate sections, each with their own outdoor areas and unique natural views. And working around the grand trees was a critical part of the plan, raising the house to avoid and protect the roots and planning rooflines around spreading branches. The result was strong horizonal lines that made the most of the expanses of glass.
“Each area of the house has its own courtyard. It was about creating these individual vignettes of outdoor experiences that you can participate in while you’re inside,” Ikegami says. “So, having floor-to-ceiling glass units, whether it’s big picture frame windows or large sliding doors, was a huge part of our design.”
Clerestory windows were another feature that helped illuminate Ikegami’s design concept. “There are these high clerestory windows all over the central space, and just the amount of natural daylight and cross-ventilation we were able to achieve through those openings is a huge part of the success of the design,” he says.
Although the individual spaces all open to the outdoors, each area has a sense of privacy and intimacy as well. Even with the addition of a rental unit to the floor plan, the homeowners can have a sense of isolation and natural tranquility – just a short walk from the bustle of vibrant downtown Palo Alto.
Giving the owners their own space was constrained by the position on the lot, but Ikegami again made the most of the natural environment.
“The primary suite is the indoor-outdoor connection with the shallowest vantage point, because the primary suite is all the way at the back of the house. The glass opening in the primary suite is no more than 15 feet from the real outline, but because of the diversity of outdoor space and the different quality and relationship to it, that space ended up working out nicely,” Ikegami says. “It’s really intimate. We have this persimmon tree that almost kisses the building, and we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to keep it, but it’s just thriving, and being able to take that in when you’re in the master suite is pretty magical.”