Catching Up with the Client: The Lantern House

On the eve of the completion of the Lantern House, Feldman Architecture and Northwall Builders welcomed friends and colleagues into the Palo Alto home to celebrate the culmination of their joint efforts.  The late-October evening was warm enough for guests to mingle on the patio and stroll out onto the lawn.  Inside, they explored the expansive basement quarters and marveled over the master bedroom’s wide windows opening over the backyard.  Among the partygoers was the home’s owner, an entrepreneur and graduate of Stanford Business School who lives and works in Southeast Asia.  He had flown in for the week to see his nearly-finished home, a trip he had made only sporadically throughout the house’s design and construction.

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Indeed, the distance between the client’s home and the Lantern House in Palo Alto had created a new kind of collaborative design process: one mediated by video conference calls and fourteen hours of time difference.   At first, these challenges seemed daunting to the Stanford alum, who had always appreciated the proximity to the projects he’d been a part of in the past.  “I actually like to crawl on the floor and look at the lines,” he explained.  “The inability to do that was very tough.”  In order to collaborate on a project without regular visits to the site, he had to “redo his psychological disposition.”

Soon, though, he learned that collaborating remotely still afforded him the ability to engage extensively in the design process.  And, he learned to trust his team from afar; “The good thing is that I had absolutely the right team,” he says.  His design team was “rockstar,” his architects were “topnotch,” and their ability to work together was their most important attribute.  Feldman Architect’s Steven Stept, in particular, he says, possessed the ability to merge multiple teams into one: “Steven thinks two steps ahead.  He also thinks like a builder.”

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Not only did the client learn that collaborating across a great distance was both possible and rewarding, but he developed new aesthetic preferences, as well.  At the start of the design process, the home’s grey color scheme was never at the top of his priorities.  Now, he’s copied the Lantern House’s palette of “greys and whites mixed in with a little bit of glass” for his office in Southeast Asia.  Similarly, he was unfamiliar with roof gardens before working with Feldman, and is now very much taken with the concept and intent on installing lights in his own.  The most impressive feature of the new house, though?  The kitchen, says the client.  “I come from a place where the kitchen is tucked away and covered.  In America, the architecture is built around the kitchen,” he observed, referencing the home’s great room that includes both cooking and living areas and opens onto a covered patio through sliding glass doors.  As the largest room in the house that is filled with natural light during the day, it is certainly the hub of the home.

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During the process of designing and constructing the Lantern House, the client learned that his work would require him to delay his move back to the Bay Area; he would have to rent the house for 2-3 years before moving in himself.  This knowledge – that he was building a house for strangers in addition to himself and that his move to Palo Alto would not come on the heels of the project’s completion –- added a new challenge to the design process.  “It’s been difficult to be detached emotionally from the project, knowing it’s going to people who will not love it as much as I would,” he explained.  On the evening of the celebration, he was left with mixed feelings – thrilled to see the physical structure built from his ideas, disappointed that, at the end of that October evening, he would leave right alongside the rest of the party’s guests.

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Catching up with the Client: Nicole on Fitty Wun

“I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the noises,” reads a quote scrawled in red marker and attributed to the family’s oldest son, one of the many funny phrases salvaged from the three boys’ childhood and preserved on the wall in Fitty Wun’s kitchen as a Christmas present to their mother.   All of the quotes are goofy, both nonsensical and honest in the way that only small children can be, but this sentence in particular stands out as appropriate for the space.  From the kitchen, I look up into a three-story atrium that stretches from the ground level entry-way, through the home’s open public spaces, to the bedrooms and quiet office above.  Ringed with a steel staircase, this cavernous vertical space is often full of the clamor of boys bouncing off the walls, running their house through cycles of chaos and control, with their mother, Nicole, presiding over the activity from its central hub in the kitchen.  “The house completely deconstructs when everyone is in it, but this is a house that my kids can’t break.  We built this house to use it,” she says.

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And use it, they do.  On weekday nights, the family’s oldest son camps out at the corner of the table in the dining room at the front of the house, a pile of homework in front of him; his younger brother spreads his toys across the floor of the family room; and the third perches on one of the red stools at the kitchen island, close to his mother.  “This is where the school bus drops off.  This is my corner of the world,” Nicole says of the kitchen, where she often finds herself “flitting around, cooking, and checking on homework.”  From it, she can see through the dining room out on to the quiet Cole Valley street in one direction and into the family room at the home’s rear façade in the other.  She can call up through the atrium to any room in the house or downstairs to the family den, where cartoons of baseball parks across the country line the wall.  From her “command station” in the kitchen, she is constantly visually and audibly connected to her family; Fitty Wun is first and foremost a family house.

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The family first purchased the house in 2006, drawn to it not for the structure itself, but for the garden space behind it.  At that point in time, the house was just one floor, and all three boys shared a single room.  There was no way the structure could accommodate the family’s three boys, two cats, one dog, and active lifestyle; they began to develop concepts for the home’s renovation.  Among them were three ‘must-haves’ that remained intact throughout the entirety of the design process, and Nicole enjoyed watching her family’s visions turn into their quotidian spaces: “The process was really fun.  There was a lot of laughing.  I miss that process – the word collaborative was exactly what it was.”

While the family knew that space in the city was a luxury, their first ‘must-have’ was an open, communal living area, which they preferred to packing in extra bedrooms or bathrooms.  Today, the kids only sleep in their bedrooms; the family prefers to live together, in shared spaces, at the center of their home.  In addition to being set on an open central space, the family was intent on putting the outdoor spaces of their home to good use.  Nicole’s favorite spot in the house is its crowning green roof, and the sliding glass doors between the living room and the backyard where the boys and their friends congregate to play basketball and run barefoot are almost always open.  “That whole concept of living indoors and outdoors?” she says, “We actually do it.”  The third and final ‘must-have’ was a quiet office that would function as a pocket of calm in an active household.  The architects responded with a floating pod that hangs above the atrium and its echoes bouncing off the walls, presiding over the activity from a quiet, removed perch.  It’s where the oldest son and his father retreat to watch The Walking Dead every week; the pod has become the residence’s “man cave” as the boys grow older.  Still, their mother insists that no one in the family ever does more than “pretend to be a grownup,” and if the house has weathered well under the weight of growing boys’ feet, the family’s sense of playfulness has remained equally intact.  “Our idea of art is superheroes and Legos,” Nicole confides.

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I visited the home on a recent Wednesday morning, when a rare sense of calm had settled over Fitty Wun.  The family dog napped in the sunshine, the plastic figurines that usually lie strewn across the living room rug had been tucked away, and the home’s Hallmark swing hung still and empty.  The sunlight streamed in through one side of the atrium as we climbed the stairs towards the green roof, and by the time we descended back down towards the entryway, having explored the loft spanning the boys’ bedrooms and looked out through the master bedroom’s full height windows onto the green backyard, it filtered in through a second side, bound to peek its way through each edge of the atrium’s rim before setting.  No matter how many times the sun circles and sets, though, the home doesn’t lose its everyday, Lego-laden charm, says Nicole: “We love this house every single day.”

A Year In Review – Kat Hebden


A year ago I traveled from Auckland, New Zealand to San Francisco to work as an Architectural Graduate. I had not been to America before but chose to live in one city for the duration of my stay because I hoped to experience an intimate sense of place and people in such a diverse and vast country. On a Saturday afternoon I emerged from the 24th Street Mission Bart Station into a vibrant world of color and music. What followed was an unforgettable 13 months immersed in new landscapes and communities with the opportunity to be part of an innovative and design-focused studio, Feldman Architecture. I learned so much from my colleagues, who became mentors, neighbors and lifelong friends.kat4kat2Kat1

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In between exploring the hills of San Francisco I was lucky enough to visit ten states, but California with her redwood forests, endless coastline, lakes and mountains was home. My path quickly fell off the Lonely Planet page with the overwhelming hospitality of new friends and their families. I spent my first white Christmas listening to country in Yosemite, fished the shores of Tahoe on the Fourth of July, surfed the breaks of San Diego Thanksgiving morning and hunted for matzah in the Mission. It was great to be able to celebrate each holiday once and also to be in San Francisco to enjoy other occasions such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and title wins for the Giants and Warriors.

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My friends taught me how to shoot, how to shuck an oyster and crack a crab, how fast to run from each wildlife species and the intricacies of football. How to go forward on a horse and backward on a kayak and to be more adventurous, confident and spontaneous. I learned of site, materiality, climate and craft. The intent of the pilot visa I was issued is to encourage cultural exchange between our countries. I could not have imagined how much I would learn and now carry with me from this experience. The photos I have included are of California but remind me of the people I shared the memories with. I would like to thank everyone at Feldman Architecture for their support, incredible generosity and for every opportunity and experience they gave me.

Kia ora is a Te reo Maori greeting also used to give thanks and feels fitting here.

Kia ora friends,

Kat

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The Broad Museum

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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Broad Museum, a contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles, during its first few weeks of opening. I suppose it is only in our youth that we consider actions that require us to leave the comfort of our beds, drive for six hours, and arrive in a city at 5:00 AM for the sole reason of visiting a museum.

With no tickets, our only recourse was to wait in line. We thought we had arrived early. We also thought it was autumn. We were wrong on both counts. People actually cheered when an attendant emerged from the building pushing a cart full of water bottles.

Standing outside, it struck me that the museum’s building will inevitably draw its context from the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The contrasts seem clearly intentional: containment vs accumulation, repetition vs fragmentation.

 

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Within the museum, there is a very simple, but experientially, very strong differentiation between the lower and upper floors. I would liken it to the Titanic: the dark, subterranean underbelly of the engine room almost defies belief that just a few floors above, people are dancing in a sparkling, luminous ballroom.

In the lobby, the dark walls have been molded perfectly smooth. And within this polished surface, the gentle slopes and curves of the wall give way to a singular void, where people are swallowed whole to be led upward. It’s not merely a simple change in elevation; one quite literally emerges from the cave below into a place of light.

- Humbeen

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