When Mark and Tamara Murray purchased a home for their family in Atherton, California, south of San Francisco, they were prepared to take on a project. “We bought the house knowing we wanted to renovate it,” recalls Tamara. The 1948 home represented a hodgepodge of architectural influences, with a mixture of Tudor and Mediterranean elements, and a ranch-style floor plan which wrapped around a central courtyard.
When the time came to renovate, the couple didn’t hesitate to turn to Dan Spiegel and Meg Aihara of San Francisco-based architecture firm SAW to reimagine the home. Longtime friends, Tamara and Spiegel were college classmates, and had even collaborated on a previous project. The unusual challenge of the Atherton renovation was that there was already enough space—it was just poorly utilized. The home seemed to be swallowed underneath a massive roof—all inaccessible attic space—making the structure feel top-heavy. “This made the ceiling heights low and a lot of the spaces dark,” recalls Spiegel. “We looked for opportunities to cut away at the unused space—adding lightwells and skylights, stitching between rooms to create continuity, and expanding windows to integrate the landscape.”
Reorganizing the home’s geometry proved to be a complex undertaking—one that required careful study from day one. “The clients allowed us to do some exploratory demolition before the design work even started, stripping the house to the studs and allowing us to respond to the unusual geometric conditions from the start,” shares Spiegel. This investigation prompted the SAW team to introduce diagonal lines and voids as a counterpoint to the inherently orthogonal starting geometry of the home, creating a new sense of connection, height, and volume, while funneling light into the deepest spaces of the house.
“Subtracting” space through the angular voids allowed the interior components—nearly unchanged from a programmatic perspective—to become not only more visually dynamic, but also more open and unified. Materiality proved to be a critical piece of the puzzle, with the SAW team turning to Madera for a full-solution wood design package utilizing European oak that would highlight the bold architectural approach. Warm and textural wood tones would draw the eye to the soaring ceiling heights and geometric voids, accentuating the newly unlocked volume of the interior. “We wanted to use the same finish in a number of different ways,” says Spiegel. “It was essential to have all of these elements cut from the same stock and finished in the same way.”
The openness and connection throughout the home, once a central challenge, is now a favorite element for the clients. A generously-proportioned hallway opens visual and functional lines on the main living level, flanked by expanded windows and sliding doors.
While the wood tones on both floor and ceiling soften the space, the material is durable enough to support the family’s active lifestyle—proving that beauty and function can go hand in hand. “The natural light is reflected off the warm wood on the floor and the ceiling,” says Tamara. “It truly is gorgeous–even when our kids use it as a race track.”
Learn more about seamless wood design at maderasurfaces.com.