In most residential backyards, the water feature is a modest affair. It might be a small pool sporting a clump of equisetum, there to provide a tiny respite from the rest of the designed environment.
But not in the case of a house designed by San Francisco firm Turnbull Griffin Haesloop in Atherton, a town in suburban Silicon Valley. The firm seized the chance to make an existing pond the central organizing idea for a new home located on a flag lot, an oasis set apart from the street. “We wanted to have the outdoors be the center of living on the site,” said architect Eric Haesloop, a principal at the firm that carries on the warm modernism of William Turnbull of Sea Ranch fame.
Though the existing home had a cracked foundation that made its renovation infeasible, the artificial 1,000-square-foot koi pond in the backyard, much beloved by the clients, was expanded and reinforced. It literally borders the new house. The home’s foundation is the retaining wall for the pond. The house flows out onto the pond, with terraces off the public gathering spaces as well as the master bedroom, or the pond flows into the house via a glassed-in niche along the hall that sets apart the bedroom wing.
The other structures on the property—a studio office and a pool house overlooking a lap pool—are grouped in a loose semicircle around the pond. “We pushed the buildings as far out to the edges as we could, inverting the typical model where the house is a big massing in the center,” said Haesloop. The gurgling pond and the landscape by Ron Lutsko, Jr. thus became the locus of energy, and the architecture, in restrained colors and simple shapes, is a graceful and unobtrusive mediator.
Pale beige gravel is used in lieu of formal pavers on the house’s wide forecourt, and whitewashed cedar slats cover the one-story facade. The effect of the sun-bleached colors and natural materials is a laid-back informality. The limestone flooring at the entrance continues into the house and out onto the terraces. Deep overhangs lined with cedar (in its natural color) lend warmth to the modern lines, while board-formed concrete walls—principally along the lap pool and pool house—create a sense of monumentality. Inside, the palette is equally subdued, with sycamore veneer covering walls of built-in cabinetry. The outside is ever present through walls of glass, with voluminous glass barn doors that lend an industrial chic to the domestic space.
From the start, it was clear to the firm that their clients were keen to embrace all the possibilities of outdoor living. “Even when it was raining, we would still meet on the patio under an umbrella,” said Haesloop. A large outdoor living area, complete with fireplace and outdoor kitchen, is off to one side of the pond. The master suite’s outdoor shower, in its own courtyard, equals the size of the master bath. And the house has no air-conditioning system other than the breezes off the pond that cool the house through the generous openings of doors, windows, and operable skylights.