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 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.
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 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. —Deane Madsen