A Modest Single-Family Home Gets A Modern Update And An Adjacent Art Studio

For a couple of art collectors both deeply ingrained in Palo Alto’s cultural scene and busy raising four children, a modest house had served them well. But now it was tight, and the exterior was relatively nondescript. So, when the home next door – a total teardown – came up for sale, the clients knew it was time for a change.

“The original house didn’t have much to say,” shares architect Jerome Buttrick, who was retained to not only create a new structure on the purchased lot, but also reimagine the entire property for the family’s next chapter. Here, the clients wanted to create a place for their now-adult children, parents, or guests to visit and craft a show space for their expansive collection of art. “They had a stated preference for gallery simplicity on the inside. They didn’t want the architecture to make a big statement; they wanted the art to shine.”

It was decided that four buildings would exist on the property; in addition to updating the pre-existing main house, Buttrick’s Oakland-based firm Buttrick Projects Architecture + Design would conceive a 2,100-square-foot structure, dubbed the Art House, rebuild an on-site studio, and craft a climate-controlled storage facility for the clients’ ever-changing collection. Connecting them all would be a central courtyard gathering space.

To construct the Art House, Buttrick took the block forms of the main building and emphasized its volumes, designing cubic spaces that stack and hover. Solid and perforated corrugated zinc panels add architectural interest, but also serve to generate a play of light and shadow in the creamy white interior where similar metal sheets add interest to an airy staircase that links the main level with the husband’s study upstairs. “We always had this thought in the back of our heads that there would be dappled light,” reveals Buttrick, who also crafted an apartment for the couple in New York. “You can feel the arc of the sun through the day. I find when I design a room with light on four or more sides, people never complain. They always feel good in these spaces.”

Juxtaposed with the stone floors that seamlessly run from the inside living spaces to outdoor terrace are natural materials, including exotic Ipe and buttery oak. A sandblasted, poured-in-place concrete island anchors the kitchen, which features stained-white oak cabinets and vanilla-hued Heath Ceramics tile in both matte and shine.

“There’s an interplay of light that happens because you get the shimmery-ness of the gloss,” explains Buttrick of the backsplash. “It’s transformative.”

Adding to the home’s airiness, the designers were careful to not overly furnish the space, selecting traditional modernist pieces like Hans Wegner Wishbone seating, a B&B Italia Charles sofa, and Herman Miller Eames desk chair. “We didn’t want this to look dated, we didn’t want it to look flashy,” adds Buttrick of the interior design. “We were looking for stuff that does the job, is comfortable, and is classic nature.”

The only exception to the neutral palette is a fiery set of tables and chairs from Fermob in the courtyard. “That hot orange brings some levity to the yard,” quips the architect. “You need to add a little spice.”

Photography by Joe Fletcher.

For more like this Palo Alto home, be sure to check out this urban refuge in an adjacent neighborhood.

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