The landscaped entrance to the wood-clad Low/Rise House is at the end of a Vermont slate walkway, and flanked by a board-formed concrete wall that separates parking from private garden; the wall’s formwork was re-used as floor joists.

The landscaped entrance to the wood-clad Low/Rise House is at the end of a Vermont slate walkway, and flanked by a board-formed concrete wall that separates parking from private garden; the wall’s formwork was re-used as floor joists.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Menlo Park, Calif., may be a hotbed of Silicon Valley innovation, but when it comes to architecture, the scenario is far less inspiring, trending toward a homogeneous spread of Mediterranean-style McMansions. Dan Spiegel, AIA, of San Francisco–based Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW), chose to eliminate wasted space and stylistic gestures in favor of smart living for two of his toughest clients—a pair of Stanford University professors who also happen to be his parents. 

At the house’s western end is a three-story tower that accommodates a guest suite on each floor. The roof deck overlooks the surrounding landscape, while photovoltaics from Builders Solar line the PVC-clad roofs of the two lower volumes. These panels bring in 90 percent of the house’s required electricity.

At the house’s western end is a three-story tower that accommodates a guest suite on each floor. The roof deck overlooks the surrounding landscape, while photovoltaics from Builders Solar line the PVC-clad roofs of the two lower volumes. These panels bring in 90 percent of the house’s required electricity.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


At 4,500 square feet, the Low/Rise House is relatively modest for the area, comprising two ranch-like, single-story bars that intersect at the center of the half-acre site. A three-level guest tower rises from the western edge of the structure. Sliding glass doors open the ground-floor living spaces to lush landscaping—designed by Spiegel’s wife and partner Megumi Aihara—as well as to the northern California climate, which “verges on magical,” Spiegel says. Opening the house to the outdoors has the added benefits of both natural ventilation and increased capacity for parties.

A slight rotation in the grid of the plans allows the living room bar to open up to the landscape.

A slight rotation in the grid of the plans allows the living room bar to open up to the landscape.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Although Spiegel opted not to pursue certification, he integrated many green features in the project. Flat rooftops host photovoltaic arrays that produce 90 percent of the energy used in the house. Additional energy savings can be found in the guest tower, whose utilities can be powered on or off via mobile apps to ensure that the space won’t draw power when unoccupied. This flexibility of space makes the house intimate enough for two, but still comfortable when the couple’s grown children visit. “A lot of times, flexibility is a placeholder for vagueness,” Spiegel says. “We wanted these spaces to be quite specific for each use, but to allow for different kinds of use patterns.” Plus, having a roof deck atop the tower affords views out to nearby Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and over the neighborhood’s tree canopy.

The living spaces in the lower volumes, including the living room, seen here, are all able to be open to the outdoors via sliding low-E glass panels from Cardinal Glass Industries. The floors are lined in Vermont slate, and exposed structural steel along the ceiling plane serves as crown molding.

The living spaces in the lower volumes, including the living room, seen here, are all able to be open to the outdoors via sliding low-E glass panels from Cardinal Glass Industries. The floors are lined in Vermont slate, and exposed structural steel along the ceiling plane serves as crown molding.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


The fact that this is where his parents live also means that Spiegel will have plenty of opportunities to learn lessons from it over time, to see how materials age, and to conduct in-person post-occupancy tests. As for the house’s punch-list? “It’ll be an ongoing thing,” Spiegel says.

The chimney is clad in hot-rolled steel, matching the exposed structural beams.

The chimney is clad in hot-rolled steel, matching the exposed structural beams.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Spiegel professed a desire to make the house as low-maintenance as possible, with durable finishes like the stone floor and cedar cladding that will weather for the next 50 years.

Spiegel professed a desire to make the house as low-maintenance as possible, with durable finishes like the stone floor and cedar cladding that will weather for the next 50 years.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Interior blends with exterior, thanks to sliding glass panels that also allow natural ventilation in the main living spaces.

Interior blends with exterior, thanks to sliding glass panels that also allow natural ventilation in the main living spaces.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


The master bedroom, in the eastern end of the house, features a white oak floor and Douglas Fir ceiling, and sliding panels that open onto a private deck.

The master bedroom, in the eastern end of the house, features a white oak floor and Douglas Fir ceiling, and sliding panels that open onto a private deck.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Landscaping by Megumi Aihara surrounds the Low/Rise House.

Landscaping by Megumi Aihara surrounds the Low/Rise House.

Credit: Bruce Damonte


Seen from the street, the single-story house has a minimal profile, with the exception of the 30-foot guest tower at the site's western edge.

Seen from the street, the single-story house has a minimal profile, with the exception of the 30-foot guest tower at the site's western edge.

Credit: Bruce Damonte



Drawings

Floor plans.

Floor plans.

Credit: Courtesy SAW



Project Credits

Project  Low/Rise House, Menlo Park, Calif.
Client  Withheld
Architect  Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW),  San Francisco—Dan Spiegel, AIA
Consulting Architect  OKB Architecture;  Peter Rose + Partners
Structural Engineer  Larry Cofer
Mechanical Engineer  Monterey Energy Group
Civil Engineer  WEC and Associates
Geotechnical Engineer  Murray Engineers
Landscape Design  Spiegel Aihara Workshop (SAW), Megumi Aihara
Landscape Contractor  Terra Ferma Landscapes
General Contractor  Hunner Associates
Audiovisual  Active Integration
Size  4,500 square feet
Cost  Withheld

Materials and Sources

Appliances  LG lg.com; Miele mieleusa.com; Sub-Zero subzero-wolf.com
Bathroom Fixtures  Dornbracht dornbracht.com; Hansgrohe hansgrohe.com
Cabinets  Capstone Cabinets capstonecabinets.com
Countertops  locally quarried Virginia Mist granite
Flooring  Camara Slate (green Vermont slate) camaraslate.com; white oak
Furniture  Miles & May milesandmay.com; Semigood Design semigoods.com
Glass  Cardinal Glass Industries Low-E cardinalcorp.com
Kitchen Fixtures  Blanco blancoamerica.com
Lighting  Bega bega-us.com; Cooper Lighting, Halo cooperlighting.com; Juno junolightinggroup.com
Masonry and Stone  JB Tile & Stone jbtileandstone.net
Steel  Newman Steel (structural) newmansteel.com; Welsh Ironworks (fireplace/chimney) welshironworks.com
Photovoltaics  Builders Solar builderssolar.com
Roofing  PVC
Windows and Doors  Dynamic Doors and Windows dynamicwindows.com