Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Warm Northern California Home Inspired by Mexican Modernism

Combining bold horizontal volumes and serene earth tones, architects Howard J. Backen and Loren Kroeger create a space for seamless indoor-outdoor living
Finding love again can be a golden opportunity—a chance to avoid past missteps, to explore new possibilities, and in the case of Anne and Edward Storm, to plan entirely fresh, forward-looking surroundings.

“Modernism is all about the future,” says Edward, a commercial real-estate developer, as he talks about the rigorous yet inviting residence he and his wife, an English professor, commissioned six years ago in Woodside, California, shortly after they wed. “The same is true of our relationship.”
Set on four rolling parklike acres punctuated with magnificent live oaks, the two-bedroom house the couple built for their life together—previous marriages and child-rearing behind them—is a retreat where golden light meets silver shadows, and solid surfaces give way to liquid accents. The creative team that Edward and Anne turned to, Howard J. Backen and Loren Kroeger, principals of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, was loosely inspired by the clients’ love of Mexico (they married in the Mexican highlands) and their admiration for the modernists Luis Barragán and Ricardo Legorreta, masters of sharply geometric houses that embrace their natural settings. For the Woodside project, Backen and Kroeger took into account the property’s geographical features, namely staggering views of the forested Santa Cruz Mountains.
“Where you are matters,” remarks Backen, a contextualist who is something of a Northern California stylesetter, especially to the winemaking elite of Napa Valley. His firm’s client list includes actor Robert Redford, film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Bill Harlan, the owner of the Napa Valley Reserve, a private wine estate executed in the sophisticated rural vernacular that is Backen’s signature—an aesthetic that will be on glorious view in a Rizzoli book about the architect’s work being published next fall.
Going modern—albeit a sensuous brand of modern—is somewhat unusual in Woodside, a pastoral community some 30 miles south of San Francisco, where Silicon Valley tech stars mingle with patrician equestrians. Although the Storms are drawn to buildings with a sculptural presence, they wanted their home to be unmistakably welcoming. “Barragán can be a little monastic, and Legorreta’s work is a little bunkerish,” Anne allows. “We like the feeling of structure and geometry but wanted something warmer.”

Where the midcentury Mexican modernists often employed planes painted in eye-popping primary colors, Backen and Kroeger utilized neutral hues and earthy materials: floors of parchment-color limestone, doors made of polished teak, and walls variously composed of stone, wood, and creamy Venetian plaster. Interior designer April Powers—she worked at Backen, Gillam & Kroeger before striking out on her own in 2009—created a complementary furnishing scheme. In the living room vintage Michael Taylor sofas clad in ivory monk’s cloth seem to blend into a wall tiled with Texas shell stone, while the dining room’s natural wicker chairs surround a table whose cast-concrete base appears as if it grew out of the limestone floor. The few works of art on display conform to the natural palette as well, such as a sepia-tone collage by Joan Brown in the master bedroom.

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